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Bella Voce Camerata debuts with ‘Match Girl’

Andrew Lewis director BellVoce | HANDOUT PHOTO

Andrew Lewis, director of Bella Voce | HANDOUT PHOTO

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Bella Voce Camerata, 7:30 p.m. March 22, Grace Lutheran Church, 7300 Division St. , River Forest. 3:30 p.m. March 23, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman Ave., Evanston. $15-$38. (877) 755-6277;

For its spring program, the respected a cappella ensemble Bella Voce will not rely completely on the human voice. Artistic director Andrew Lewis has added a one-per-part chamber ensemble, which will play occasional concerts during the ensemble’s coming seasons.

“By adding instrumentalists we can expand our programming,” Lewis said. “Bella Voce has great, talented singers and this will enable us to do more with what we have.”

The director, who has been at the helm of Bella Voce since 2006, did not make the decision lightly. “This dream has been swimming around in my head for some time now,” he admitted, and added that the number on the upcoming program which finally prompted the addition was the “Little Match Girl Passion,” a piece for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass-baritone, each playing a percussion instrument.

The work won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize after it premiered in Carnegie Hall, where it was performed by Paul Hillier and his Theatre of Voices.

Bella Voce performers include soprano Kirsten Hedegaard, playing the brake drum. “It’s a round rusty-looking piece,” said Hedegaard, who is married to Lewis, “but I think I have the easiest instrument to play.” Mezzo-soprano Lindsey Adams, is playing the crotales, which are little round resonant chimes; tenor Patrick Muehleise plays the glockenspiel, and bass-baritone Eric Miranda plays tubular bells and the bass drum.

The composer has combined two elements, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and the Hans Christian Andersen story about a poor child who freezes to death on the street trying to sell matches on New Year’s Eve. It was performed at the Ravinia Festival in the Martin Theatre last August.

“We’d planned since last season to perform ‘Little Match Girl Passion’ this spring,” said Hedegaard. “We thought ours would be the first in the area and when we heard Ravinia was doing it, we were a little disappointed. But now we think that our performance will benefit from second-form PR, because it is such an unusual piece of music. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

In contrast with the 21st century work, the program also includes “Membra Jesu Nostri,” (The Limbs of our Jesus), a cycle of seven cantatas, composed in 1680 by Dieterich Buxtehude, of which Bella Voce will do several. It is scored for instruments and five voices, four of them who had performed the “Match Girl.”

“The other soprano is Laura Lynch,” Hedegaard explained. Instrumentalists will be organist Jason Moy, Jerry Fuller playing bass violone, Craig Trumpeter playing the gamba, and violinists Marty David and Emi Tanabe.

Hedegaard, who is also a conductor, has been a member of Bella Voce since the days when it was called His Majesties Clerkes and directed by Anne Heider. “I started singing with them when I was a junior at Northwestern,” she said. “I left and came back several times.”

Now she and Lewis live in Highland Park with their three young sons and she performs with Bella Voce as her schedule permits. Like most musical couples, they are involved in multiple organizations. She is a lecturer in voice and choral ensembles at Loyola University’s Lake Shore campus and is also director of music at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington.

In addition to being artistic director of Bella Voce, Lewis is music director of the Elgin Choral Union and has been guest conductor of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. He is choirmaster at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston and is on the conducting faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“The addition of our Camerata is a new path for Bella Voce,” Lewis concluded, “but we will continue to give regular concerts with our full ensemble. We’re not taking anything away.”

In fact, Bella Voce will close its 2013-14 season Saturday April 26 in River Forest and 3:30 p.m. Sunday April 27 in Evanston with the ensemble presenting an a cappella program titled “Spring Renaissance 2014.”

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