Voctave brings vocal magic to the Bach Festival

Orlando Sentinel

They were cheering at Knowles Memorial Chapel on Saturday night, not for Mozart or Bach, but rather for Menkin and Berlin.

The 84th annual Bach Festival is under way in Winter Park, and Saturday’s concert (repeated Sunday afternoon) provided something a little different for the venerable celebration of music and performance. Purists may scoff, but it’s probably fair to say that the work of Irving Berlin and Alan Menken means as much to contemporary music lovers as that of Bach and Mozart meant to their peers.

After all, a whole generation has grown up to the sound of Menken’s tunes for Disney’s animated movies, while the previous generation danced their nights away to Berlin’s tunes.

Headlining Saturday night’s concert was Voctave, the 11-member ensemble that reaches an international audience in the millions through its successful YouTube channel. For the first time, the a cappella group performed some of its selections with musical accompaniment — provided by the Bach Festival Orchestra — and it proved on the whole a successful and exciting collaboration.

The vocalists elevate the art of singing, successfully marrying precision in tone and phrasing with emotion. They are perfectly in sync as they pause for breaths between the exhortations to “listen,” “listen” in the Sherman Brothers’ “Feed the Birds.” At the same time, they capture the poignancy of the song, from “Mary Poppins.”

Jamey Ray not only sings with the group but arranges Vocatave’s repertoire, heavy on Disney music and showtunes, and he does so with an appealing mix of straightfoward style, deep harmonies and the right amount of surprises. The vocal flourishes have a purpose; they suit the song rather than providing an opportunity to showboat.

The “Disney Fly Medley” cleverly lets the male voices carry the melody of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” out of “You Can Fly,” while then the women pick up the lead for “When I See an Elephant Fly.”
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