Spiritual Life

Convivium's concerts combine spiritual & social relevance

Photo courtesy of Convivium
Eric Tuan, above, conducts Convivium, a group of 17 vocalists. The ensemble is slated to perform Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church.

As a senior at Stanford University in 2012, Eric Tuan already had a vision of presenting choral music that is socially relevant. The ensemble Convivium began then, with 17 vocalists that Tuan brought together for his choral conducting recital. They have not stopped singing together since.

“We want to perform repertoire that is innovative, thought-provoking and sometimes even controversial,” he said.

Convivium has sung at venues in the Bay Area including Bing Concert Hall, but its home base is Christ Episcopal Church of Los Altos.

As artists in residence at the church, Convivium has a place to rehearse and at the same time enriches the church’s music program. In addition, the group performs free quarterly concerts for the public.

For audiences in Los Altos and beyond, Convivium aims to offer music that is new to audiences and socially engaged. At the church in 2014, the group performed “Dispatches from the Singing Revolution,” which included music on Iraq, same-sex marriage and the environment.

A Bay Area native, Tuan grew up singing and playing piano with the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. In 2014, he was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which enabled him to spend a year earning his master’s degree in choral studies in Cambridge, England, which he noted is “one of the great centers for choral music in the world.”

In addition to his work as Christ Episcopal’s music director, Tuan teaches the high school ensemble of the Piedmont Choir, performs as a vocalist and is finding success as a composer. Several of his musical compositions have been published and performed at choral festivals.

Upcoming performance

Convivium is scheduled to perform “From Byrd to the Blues: An Evensong with Convivium” 4 p.m. Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church, 1040 Border Road.

“Evensong is a combination of readings, music and ritual,” Tuan said. “There is no sermon. If you have never been to a church service, it is comfortable. Evensong is a beautiful, artistic experience that lets you experience the divine in your own way. It is an artistic framework for people to experience the divine.”

The program will include the intricate polyphony of the Tudor composer William Byrd, haunting chant melodies from a Russian Orthodox composer and gospel music from the African-American tradition. Tuan will also play a piece by 20th-century avant-garde composer John Cage, who was a Zen Buddhist.

“We want to offer as many pathways to a spiritual experience as possible,” Tuan said.

Admission to the concert is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit ccla.us.

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