Graz–The vocal hotspot

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A recommendation for a cappella fans.

By Peter Martin Jacob, EVA vice-chairman and owner of the a cappella agency “magenta”.

Every year in July there is a fixed date in my calendar: “Vokal Total”, the international a cappella competition in Graz, Austria in which the who is who in a cappella meets annually. Where else can you see a cappella acts from all over the world in three days, plus meet the movers and shakers. Just Graz alone which lies by the river „Mur“ is already worth a trip. What a beautiful, picturesque town it is: UNESCO world heritage and former cultural capital city of Europe, it is also center for design and furthermore Austrias´  second largest city. Last but not least Graz is a city of culinary highlights. Even if some residents  think of their city as rather “provincial” it is more than exciting for the international a cappella traveler and the aca party atmosphere here is just unique!

In July the weather is hot and Italy is not far away, which one is reminded when watching the sun shining from the “cielo azzuro”. This year from July 20th to 24th was no exception. The main location being a cathedral style dome inside a mountain hill with ample space for 600 spectators was a welcome refreshment in midst of the heat. There were twenty groups to watch this year. The festival was kicking of on Monday open air in the heart of the city which is very good programming by the organizers. On “Kaiser-Josef-Platz” the central market square many Graz residents could see what is a cappella brings to their city.  Overall the competition in this years  15-year jubilee of „Vokal Total“ was not quite as high class as in the last two years, however there were of course still some real highlights:

 

My favourites this year:

  • Chilli da Mur – female vocal power from graz with four awesome ladies – powerful, fresh, sexy. Way to go!
  • Tuuletar – four finnish ladies – innovative, creative,  finnish ethno ambiende. Very cool!
  • Vocafonia – mixed ensemble (2 F, 2 M) from Vienna – winner in the classical category – very VERY good, communicative, friendly and warm way of addressing the audience.
  • Framest from Latvia– mixed group (2 F, 3 M) – very convincing in classical as well as jazz. Winner in the jazz category.
  • Zenith from South Korea – mixed group (2 F, 3 M)  - winner in the pop category – groovy, swingin´, cool.
  • Beat Poetry Club – five girls from vienna – Groovy and lots of power with their beatboxer – good ideas, but can be taken even further in terms of sound and variation.
  • Triu from Vienna – a true surprise – how simple yet highly musical they came across even with just three members.

A jury made of famous members discussed the contributions to the competition, awarding the groups with diplomas (gold, silver and bronze) and of course the infamous “Ward Swingle Award” in the categories pop, jazz, classical and beatboxing. Personally I find it would be even cooler if the decisions are explained openly so the audience could actually relate better to the ranking of the groups in the competition.

Surprisingly unfortunate was the performance by Taiwanese group “Heaven-sent gift” which was not such a heavenly experience. The group was simply not ready yet to perform in front of an audience and by still appearing it was both not very comfortable neither for the audience nor the singers. Unfortunately also the Graz based group “Kuchl-Quartett” couldn´t live up to the level of such an international competition. It would be good to pay more attention to the quality of the selected groups.

In the comedy category there was no group awarded with a first, second or third prize this year. The jury explained that none of the competing acts reached the high level of the groups in the recent years which they had a point with. All groups received a bronze diploma but instead it would have been better to just cancel this category. The festival organizers however wanted to have all categories present in the jubilee year but I think in this case they should have decided for a ranking because a competition just screams for a winning group. But of course this is a matter of taste and opinion. One likes group A better, the other one group B. Long live diversity!

I have a lot of respect and admiration for the team of organizers led by Peter Schiri and Manuel Brandtner. To set up such an event with people that are doing this in addition to their normal day jobs during the week this is really something. Chapeau! So at the end of the competition there is always the award winners concert, in which all the winners and special award winners are performing again which is just a beautiful thing. The dome is filled to its maximum capacity during that time.

Also for the first time this year my agency magenta was giving out the “magenta talent trophy”. As a former bass singer in “Six Pack” I know first hand how important it is for talented bands, to get support in the beginning phase. It is a very rewarding experience to see how a group evolves and improves over time. Hard work definititely pays of in arts. So the magenta trophy comes with a workshop financed by myself as well as a performance. The prize in its first year was given to “Hörband” from Hannover, Germany. They were coached by famous German vocal arranger and singer Oliver Gies, and are directly invited to the SANGESLUST a cappella festival 2016 in Bayreuth.

Now for the culinary ending: Besides the city itself  its´ surroundings are beautiful. The region of Eastern Styria with its castle “Riegersburg” and the factory of famous chocolate manufacturer “Zotter”. You could even go for a trip to Slovenia. My  personal highlight: The South Styrian “wine street” which can only be described as a mixture of the Shire and Tuscany: Vast green hills with wine, and the Alps on the horizon.

Life could definitely be worse than that. Go and enjoy! 

Peter

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