QUINK AND A NOD: Dutch vocal quintet slated for Venue Visitation sings music from nine centuries
Musical groups of all kinds have drawn on word-play for their names — from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Chanticleer (Geoffrey Chaucer’s “clear-singing” rooster in The Canterbury Tales) and Anonymous 4 (a quartet named for the unknown author of a famous 13th-century musical treatise). But one Dutch vocal ensemble may have gone those groups one further, by basing its name on a triple pun. Take the Latin word quintus (a fifth or five of something), and add to it the Dutch words kwinkeleren (to sing like bird) and kwinkslag (a witticism) and you have Quink — a delicious five-voice ensemble established in 1978 that has been riding the top of the international music scene for three decades. The dual reference to singing and humor is intentional, the members say, because despite an earnest attention to precision, magnificent vocal blend and top artistic integrity, Quink wants the world to know that it doesn’t take things too seriously. (Or as one founding member, soprano Machteld van Woerden, wryly understated it: “The members have thus viewed their style as light and not always serious in approach.”)
In only its third appearance in Kansas City in its 32-year history, Quink — two sopranos, an alto, a tenor and a bass — performs music of Byrd, Finzi, Vaughan Williams and others on February 6th at Visitation Catholic Church, as part of the Visitation Fine Arts Society’s prestigious concert series. The program, titled Sacred and Profane, is a rare opportunity to hear a group The New York Times praised for “elegant phrasing, impeccable intonation and … purity of tone.”
Quink might be Dutch in origin — and its members all trained in Holland’s incomparable musical culture — but its outlook is as international as Holland itself. It has toured the world for three decades and has performed more that 300 times in the United States alone. “Holland was a trade nation from the 16th and 17th centuries,” said tenor Harry van Berne, a member of Quink since 1982, on the phone from Holland recently. “And during those centuries an incredible number of people came from all parts of the known world to settle in the Netherlands.” Holland has retained its cosmopolitan outlook, with a culture containing elements from all over the world.
Quink’s program on its current U.S. tour is a reflection of that outlook, with music from England, the Netherlands and Hungary. The quintet’s repertoire is vast, spanning several centuries and also including folk, gospel and popular music. The inspiration for their formation in 1978 was the six-voice British ensemble, the King’s Singers, founded a decade earlier — but instead of the typically British all-male sound they decided to use women for the treble parts.
The first half of Sacred and Profane consists of the five movements of William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, interspersed with sacred and secular five-voice motets and partsongs related to the corresponding movements of the Mass. The Kyrie Eleisonmovement, for example (“Lord, have mercy”), is followed by a partsong by the 17th-century English composer Robert Johnson titled “Save me, o Lord.” Some of the pieces are in a style similar to that of the Mass, Harry van Berne says, others are consciously different. But all are performed in a manner that transcends the purely religious connotations of the texts. “If they are performed in an authentic way, convincingly and with a feeling for the deeper meanings, then they should make for good listening for anyone.”
Striking the right vocal blend is critical for an ensemble like Quink: Five voices are especially “exposed,” and each time there is a personnel change, great care must be taken to find just the right voice. “The blend of the group is very important for Quink,” Harry says. “We always look for a kind of ‘bridge’ from one voice to the other, and the kind of color that matches the rest of the voices.” The group has had numerous members through the years, including Harry’s wife, Machteld Van Woerden. They have benefitted from the rich tradition of Dutch artists such as Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, with whom they have worked directly through the years. “The focus on early music was always very big in Holland, and it still is,” Harry says.
Contemplating touring brings to mind the vicissitudes of the road, Harry says, and the exciting and alarming things that can happened. He remembers one moment when a cold-and-cough remedy he took had an unexpected result. “I had this terrible dry cough; my throat was itching all day. So I bought something at Wal-Mart that said it would kill this itch. And it really worked, and I was very happy. But then I had to sing some very high parts in sort of a falsetto, and suddenly it felt like my whole larynx was paralyzed. I couldn’t get a sound out. It was a very awkward feeling.” Surprisingly, Harry says that in 32 years the group has only canceled two or three concerts, “and that was not just because one of us was sick, but when more than one of us was sick. We don’t stop when one of has a cold, because we’re very experienced singers and we know what to do.”
The current members of Quink are Marjon Strijk, Mariette Oelderik, Elsbeth Gerritsen, Harry van Berne, and Kees Jan de Koning. The concert is February 6th at 8 p.m. at Visitation Church in Midtown. Call 816-235-6222. For more information, go tovisitationfineartssociety.com.
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