Bulgarians of the Week

Le Mystère Des Voix Rekindling the medieval sounds of the Bulgarian hilltops, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares pushes the female voice to bizarrely beautiful limits through daring chords, irregular rhythms, and Byzantine harmonies to create a strong, piercing audio tour de force. Formed 50 years ago, the 22-member, all-female choir makes its Santa Barbara debut on Monday, March 6 at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. One of the premiere women’s choirs worldwide, the group has collaborated with musicians from Stevie Wonder to the Tuvan Throat Singers since its 1987 introduction to the West. Singing in a six-part vocal arrangement and mostly a cappella, Le Mystère employs elements not normally found in Western styles, all while dressed in traditional village attire. Harmonies from both the Middle Ages and modern music are incorporated into nonstandard scales and vibrato-free melodies. Often considered folk, the music is actually highly sophisticated choral compositions from esteemed Bulgarian composers including Philip Koutev, Krasimir Kyurkchiyski, Nikolai Kaufman, and Petar Lyondev. The women’s bell-like sound is produced through special vocal techniques unique to medieval Bulgaria. To project calls among mountaintops, singers constricted their throats so that air must be forced out through the vocal cords, creating an intense, focused sound. A technique harmful to the throat due to air tension, the vocal range is restricted to only an octave to preserve the singers’ vocal cords. While this seems limiting, it allows for avant-garde harmonies and innovative chords. Selected from the rural corners of Bulgaria, each member acts as an informal ambassador to regional techniques. Conductor Dora Hristova seeks to meld the sounds of the archaic world with modern voices by emphasizing Le Mystère’s Byzantine and Thracian roots. Two of their four albums were nominated for Grammies, including one win for their 1990 self-titled record for Best Traditional Folk Recording. Call 893-3535 for tickets.  — Stephanie Cain

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