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Vienna Boys Choir concert hits sweet notes of success


More than 500 years after Emperor Maximillian I laid the groundwork for the Vienna Boys Choir, a Hays audience reveled in the choir's sweet voices. And had it not been getting past the choir members' bedtime late Tuesday evening, folks at Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center would have been disappointed to let the evening's magic end.

Choirmaster Manolo Cagnin was a delight to watch during the Encore Series event as he conducted with a lift of his finger and a crash of percussive bass on the piano. I loved seeing him leap from one musical style to another, dragging the children, albeit apparently willingly, behind him.

As the 23 members of the choir fidgeted a bit with occasional impish smiles, bright harmonies poured out during the evening of sweet-sounding surprises.

Their repertoire, from Johann Strauss Jr. to Paul Simon, showcased the musical diversity of the choir, as the boys rounded out a two-month tour of the U.S. with their Tuesday performance. The 100-member Vienna Boys Choir is divided into four touring groups, which travel with a choir master and tutors. Ranging in age from 10 to 14, it's a bit difficult to envision how much discipline is required for youngsters to produce such consistent, flawless music.

However, their clear, angelic voices were easier for me to enjoy with my eyes closed, as I could visualize the joy that might be on the faces of youngsters sharing such a gift of music. Viewing the concert with eyes wide open, it seemed the boys either were exhausted from touring or not the least bit delighted with many of their selections.

The choir, with its wide-ranging repertoire has toured the world, appearing in Vietnam, China, Singapore, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South America. This is Cagnin's third tour of North America with the boys.

Founded as the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle in 1498, the choir originally performed only for the imperial court, at Mass, at private concerts and on state occasions. In 1926, the choir began performing outside the chapel, performing motets, secular works and children's operas.

Clad in their traditional sailor suits, members of the world-famous choir showcased their instrumental talent during a few selections, and solos scattered throughout the evening gave individual members their moment in the spotlight.

The sincerity and warmth of the choir's rendition of "Gabriella's Song" created an emotional draw, while their young voices hit amazing heights with Hadyn's "Insanae et Vanae Curae." But I think it was the choir's fun, frolicking attack on Blue Danube that truly completed the evening for me.

Leaving the audience wanting more, the Vienna Boys Choir wrapped up with a unexpected medley which included pop hits "I Will Follow Him," and "Shout." Their fresh faces and undeniable musical discipline gave audience members a true connection to the centuries-old tradition of the world's first "boy band."

Dawne Leiker is a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.