Where angels sing and devils fiddle… And a murderous cellist plays Bach

More than 500 years ago, an Austrian emperor formed an elite choir to provide accompaniment to the church mass. The members of the choir were talented boys between the ages of 10 and 14 whose voices had not yet broken, and who would leave their families to devote their young lives to rigorous musical training.

Today, the Vienna Boys Choir consists of about 100 choristers divided into four touring choirs. The four choirs give around 300 concerts and performances each year in front of almost half a million people. They visit virtually all European countries, and are frequent guests in Asia, Australia and the Americas. The music performed on tour varies from folk songs, polkas and children’s operas to Bach and works by contemporary composers. But at home, they still provide the music for the Sunday Mass in Vienna’s Imperial Chapel, as they have done since 1498.

On Oct. 23, the famed choir comes to Fargo-Moorhead. The performance is second in the season line-up of the MSUM Cheryl Nelson Lossett Performing Arts Series, which actually opens a week earlier, on Oct. 18, with an Olympic-sized performance of all six Bach Cello Suites. The musical Olympian is cellist Zuill Bailey, fresh off the stage at NDSU, where he will have performed Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote with the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony in its first concert of the season. Bailey’s interpretation and his recent recording of the Bach Suites, number one on the Classical Billboard/Soundscan Charts for several weeks, are considered the world’s current best.

Fans of the HBO series Oz will recognize Bailey as the cello-playing prison inmate who murdered an orchestra’s concertmaster by stabbing him with the endpin of his cello onstage before a concert. He’s also been featured on soundtracks for another television show —  Homicide: Life on the Streets. Bailey says he relishes opportunities like those to bring cello music to new audiences, but most of his days are spent concertizing, teaching and serving as Artistic Director of the El Paso Pro Musica Chamber Festival and Series in Texas.

The Harlem Gospel Choir brings its joyous brand of music to town on Feb. 17, the third event of the Series. The choir has sung for Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and with Bono, Lyle Lovett, The Chieftains, Diana Ross and many others. Several local singers from high school, church and community choirs will join Harlem Gospel Choir on stage for one number, learned earlier in the day in a masterclass led by members of the choir.

Closing the season April 30 is a gypsy violinist and his band of musicians from Budapest. Roby Lakatos is called a “devil’s fiddler,” born into a legendary family of gypsy violinists descended from Janos Bihari, labeled by many Hungarians as the “King of Gypsy Violinists.” Lakatos has been described as a scorching virtuoso and a thrilling entertainer. He’s bringing three other “gypsies” with him — his second violinist, a cimbalom player and pianist Frantisek Jánoška, winner of the International Franz Liszt Competition in Hungary in 2002.

All performances are in the Roland Dille Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. All performances except Bailey’s are in Hansen Theatre. Bailey performs on the Gaede Stage.

Tickets for the Series are available now and can be purchased online at www.mnstate.edu/perform or by calling the MSUM Box Office at (218) 477-2271 Monday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. The ticket website also provides links to more information about each artist performing in the Series this season.