Early-music vocal groups are all the rage, and “the rage,” in classical music, can last a very long time. Think the King’s Singers, founded in 1968; Chanticleer, 1978; or the Sixteen, 1979. But new groups spring up all the time, and one of them is now based in Washington: The Thirteen, started in 2012, moved here a couple of years ago and have been establishing themselves in the DMV ever since.
Credit Matthew Robertson, the group’s energetic founder, a young conductor, organist and singer who is native to the area and returned here after starting his career at Oberlin and further stations around the East Coast. Drawing on some of the leading freelancer singers on the scene — a “scene” loosely extending from Boston to Florida — Robertson has created a flexible group equipped to tackle music new and old, from masterworks of the Baroque to “The Little Match Girl Passion,” for which composer David Lang won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize.
The Thirteen — its numbers actually fluctuate from concert to concert — has five recordings under its belt but also seeks to create a firm home base in the D.C. area, performing each concert three times: once in Alexandria, once in Washington and once in Bethesda, at the church (Bradley Hills) where Robertson is also music director. Its programs are consistently inventive; even its annual Christmas-season programs are studded with new and unusual work alongside familiar hits, and next May, the ensemble will premiere a new opera, in concert, by the composer Scott Ordway. In performance, the singers’ voices are distinctive, blending in a sound that’s more colorful than the average early-music group’s white-noise, straight-toned norm.
This weekend, the Thirteen presents a program of what it calls “our most beloved English-language composers” from Thomas Tallis, the 16th-century English composer, through Benjamin Britten to Caroline Shaw, 37, who has collaborated with Kanye West and won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for a choral work. The program also includes a tradition of American music, songs from the Sacred Harp, a 19th-century vocal tradition in New England and the South that’s associated with a songbook of that name, printed in shape notes — notes that have different shapes depending on where they fall on the scale, an aid to reading music.
The Thirteen: "Tallis Through the Looking Glass"
Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria; Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Church of the Epiphany on G Street NW; and Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. thethirteenchoir.org. $30, $25 for members of D.C. choruses; $10 for students.