Reviewing Eurovision Choir of the Year 2017 Written by on July 25, 2017

The songs have been sung, the judges have judged and we have a winner of 2017’s inaugural Eurovision Choir of the Year. Lisa-Jayne Lewis takes a look back at the evenings’ programme and the variety of choral music on show in Arena Riga.

Yes, yes, I know I’m a bit late with this, I’ve been working on a secret project with a song contest artist which you will no doubt find out about in due course! (ahem – Ed). I do hope you were watching the inaugural Eurovision Choir of the Year, and unless you’ve been under a rock for the past two days you will know that Slovenia’s choir Carmen Manet took the title; second place was given to Wales and third place to Latvia.

Celebrate Diversity

I know this was the theme of this years Eurovision Song Contest, but we really saw it come to fruition in Riga. There was a vast diversity of musical and choral styles in the programme, a little something for everyone I’d say. Jazz, chamber, folk, wine-song, African close harmony and a few mad moments along the way, were all showcased by the nine choirs who competed, here’s a bit of a run down (with some opinion) in case you missed it…

We open with a beautiful video which, if nothing else, will make you want to visit Riga, the sun rises over the city and we are treated to some great shots up the river. We move into the arena where representatives of each choir are joined by 600 other singers in a mass choir piece called Fly to Paradise, composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre who is one of our hosts of the evening. We meet our other host Eva, a well-known cultural TV presented in Latvia.

Each choir is introduced by a short postcard video, similar to the Song Contest and Junior Eurovision, first up is Estonia…

ETV Girls Choir, Estonia

They are choosing to present one entire piece, however it comes in several movements, beginning quiet and ethereal and moves into a more declamatory section. The all-girls choir moves around the stage creating several formations, they are dressed in traditional Estonian costumes, and every one of them has French braids in their hair. The piece finishes with some dramatic vocal sliding and torch lights. This is a wonderful merging of choral singing and folk music, great openers to the show.

Academic Choir of Aarhus, Denmark

Our first mixed choir of the night therefore naturally producing a fuller and rounder sound with the addition of male voices. We begin with the first piece which is somewhat traditional, possibly what you’d expect from a choir, it does in fact remind me a little of the choral section at the beginning of Riverdance. We then move into a very quirky and bold piece for the second part of their programme. I give full credit to those taking the solo leads, they’ve been asked to do something pretty outrageous, which is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Les Pasteureaux, Belgium

In our first view we see the boys in assorted colour polo shirts with black shorts and trousers. I hate to go straight for the outfit choice, but it’s so uncreative and unimaginative that it sets me up to think their programme is likely to be a bit dull. The first piece is good, but kind of what I expected, it’s a great example of timing control. The pause in between the two pieces is just on the wrong side of uncomfortable. The second piece feels like the wrong song for this choir. Almost like they thought we have to do something contemporary or everyone will think we’re old fashioned, yet I think it comes across that this choir is not used to singing this style at all. I want authenticity in the Eurovision Song Contest, I want it in Choir of the Year too please.

Jazzchor Freiburg, Germany

We start with some vocal beat boxing and a sound that wouldn’t be out of place in a remake of The Lion King. This is a little bit cheesy but the sound is very impressive, African close harmony is not easy to do at all without wandering off the notes and I must say I’m pretty impressed. The monochrome colouring looks good, sticking to black and white and allowing each performer to choose their own outfit works really well. The second piece is equally cheesy but good – and hey, it’s Eurovison (of sorts) after all, we need a little bit of cheese. There is some great harmony work and the beat boxing continues and definitely adds a nice finish to this performance. Think what you’d like, I’d buy their CD!

Carmen Manet, Slovenia

A stylish and classy look and feel coming from the ladies of Carmen Manet. The grey/green colour story looks just stunning on TV, before they’ve even started I’m expecting great things from this choir. A beautiful ethereal and soft start to their programme, with a beautiful vocal tone exhibited by the soloists and the choir as a whole. There is storytelling throughout the performance, they are not just singing the song, they are telling the story of the song too. Whilst the choir move through a few different styles, they all feel authentic and, correct, for want of a better word. This choir lack nothing for not having any male voices in it, a well thought out and executed programme.

Béla Bartók, Hungary

Wine and singing, what’s not to love! There is nothing like the power of a male- voice choir. This choir have the ability to present the bold and forceful passages as well as the softer more gentle phrases, transitioning between the two with easy and calmness. It’s very easy in a choir to show too much anticipation of what’s to come and that can leave the audience feeling uncomfortable, none of that here. Hungarian wine-song genre showcased brilliantly. I just wished they’d necked the wine at the end of it – I bet they wanted to!

Côr Merched Sir Gâr, Wales

Of course we are expecting to hear the Welsh language here and that is what we’ve got with the first part of the programme. I have to say I’m not loving the outfit that they’ve chosen, it’s a bit too old for a choir of secondary school girls and the colour is not great on TV, however the ethereal Celtic sound generated by these ladies is amazing, so pure and so fresh, it’s no wonder Wales has such a great reputation for music. A programme in three parts, the last being probably the most well-known piece of music Wade in the Water, their arrangement of it is amazing, true to the song, yet true to them too.

HardChor Linz, Austria

Another nation known for it’s classical music, but you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to discover another layer of Austrian music. HardChor Linz are not exactly hard-core as the name would suggest, but more quirky, folky and generally entertaining. Choral singing can be fun and entertaining, it doesn’t have to be standing in rows making cathedral-style sounds or operatic arias. The is folk choral music at it’s most happiest, most relaxed and most fun. It certainly won’t be up everyone’s street, but it’s got me smiling (I know, I’m a little biased *waves Austrian flag up high).

Spīgo, Latvia

I’m not surprised they put the home nation at the end, knowing it would get a big reception from the crowd. This choir have really bought us full circle, from where we started in Estonia with folk choral music back to that genre. The traditional costuming and the musical programme all serve to showcase Latvia’s rich musical heritage. And yet for all that tradition, this feels like a modern choir. There is a beautiful blending of the ancient and modern and each girl looks very comfortable in her part. It is great to see a female conductor too, the only one of the evening, in a role completely dominated by men.

Not-so-Eurovision

So, the three judges made a decision and Slovenia was announced the winner, truth be told that was the one part of the show that was a bit of an anti-climax. Yes we had three world renowned music heavyweights giving their soundbite comments and ultimately deciding who would win, but where were the international juries, the sense of jeopardy, the 12 points?! Maybe it will come in the future, maybe this was a year of experimenting to see if it could work as a part of the Eurovision family of events, so I’ll let them off, but if you’re doing it again we need a bit of voting drama, and maybe some hosts who can actually host without looking smarmy or wooden, though of course we know that the words ‘Eurovision’ and ‘hosting’ have never been exactly comfortable together!

Let’s do it all again!

Yes let’s, really, I mean that. It was a great show and as someone who has sung in choirs and vocal harmony groups since the age of 12 (I’m now almost 40) and performed everything from Handel to Conchita and quite a lot in between, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Viewers were introduced to a wide collection of choral genres, choir types and national cultures – long may Eurovision Choir of the Year continue!

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