Professor Will Take Note When Grammys Are Announced

by Dennis Brown

When winners of the 41st annual Grammy Awards are announced Feb. 24, Alexander Blachly will have more than just a passing interest.p. An associate professor of music at Notre Dame, Blachly and his New York ensemble, Pomerium, have been nominated for a Grammy in the small ensemble category for their compact disc, “Creator of the Stars.”p. Blachly founded Pomerium in 1972 to perform music composed for the virtuoso chapel choirs of the Renaissance. The 15-voice a cappella ensemble is known for its interpretations of composers Du Fay, Ockeghem, Josquin and Lassus and has performed at numerous national and international festivals.p. “In 1972 I had a dream of a vocal group that functions like a string quartet, a first-rate group with musicians of the caliber to perform the great masterpieces of Renaissance choral music,” Blachly said. “While some of these pieces have been sung by church choirs – and still are and will be forever – I wanted to explore the music further, to take it to a higher level.” Renaissance choral music requires a very specific kind of voice, Blachly said.p. “The voices are modeled after the instruments of the time,” he explained. "The music requires flute-like, low-pressure voices with minimal vibrato and a very clear, light tone.p. “Also, to perform a cappella requires extremely focused and accurate tuning. It takes a special kind of singer, and Pomerium singers are all of this type. The result is extreme clarity of texture.”p. Members of Pomerium come and go, depending on personal circumstances, but the average tenure with the group is 10 years, according to Blachly.p. “This gives us a lot of continuity,” he said. “It’s really a very stable group for this reason, and it allows the group to have a certain personality.”p. Pomerium produced three album/CDs in its first 17 years, but has increased the pace in the past decade and now has a total of 10 recordings. Since the release of “Creator of the Stars,” Pomerium has released two more CDs – “A Musical Book of Hours” (Archiv Produktion) and “Musica Vaticana” (Pure Classics, available at this time in Germany only).p. “I have modest ambitions for the group, in that I intend to record about one CD a year. But my ambitions are immodest in that I believe we can do it at a much higher level yet, with improvements partly in recording techniques and partly in performance. Another factor, in addition to the production technique, is the environment of the performance. I still haven’t found the ideal combination. Singers sing differently in different environments. The goal, for me, is the perfect recording.”p. He added: “Pomerium is my life’s work. It’s the one thing I’ll never give up.”p. Blachly has been an active performer and scholar of early music for the past 27 years. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in musicology from Columbia University and in 1992 received the Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society in recognition of his achievement in the field of historical performing practice.p. Before joining the Notre Dame faculty in 1993 as director of choral music, Blachly taught early music and directed collegia musica at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania. With the Notre Dame Chorale, he has won a local following for performances of Handel’s Messiah with chamber orchestra each December in Washington Hall on campus. Blachly also has led the chorale on tours throughout the United States and, in May 1997, on a tour of Italy.p. Pomerium has performed six times on the Notre Dame campus. The ensemble presented a program of Italian works from the 14th century in 1991 in the Snite Museum of Art. Soon after, the group began a series of three concerts over the course of 13 months in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to help the University celebrate its sesquicentennial year, and a program of music by the 15th-century composer Antoine Busnoys followed in 1992, again in the Basilica, as part of a conference at Notre Dame on the 500th anniversary of the composer’s death.p. Pomerium returned to campus last March for a concert featuring sacred music from manuscripts copied for the Sistine Chapel choir in the early years of the 16th century.p. The award for which Blachly is nominated will not be a part of the televised broadcast of the Grammys. However, a live Grammy Webcast at , will provide an exclusive backstage perspective that will include coverage of all 95 awards.

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