Portara Choral Ensemble Joins Forces with ALIAS and Composer Paul Moravec

Portara was founded by a group of choral performers who wanted to collaborate with local arts groups, including ALIAS and the Nashville Ballet. Fully comprised of singers from Middle Tennessee, Portara’s mission is to integrate other art genres into their performances. A “typical” concert may include a live demonstration by a painter, a poetic reading, live musicians or even live dancers.

“Some choir concerts seem so static, so we wanted to add layers to the concerts,” says Portara Artistic Director, Shreyas Patel. “We perform at venues where you would not normally see a choir.”

“We wanted something a little different,” adds Portara Executive Director Lea Maitlen. “Shreyas and I, and a few other professionals singers in the area decided to found our own unique choir. It’s hard to believe we’ve come such a long way in only three years. It’s been a wild ride!”

Both Shreyas and Lea took a few minutes out of their busy rehearsal schedules (and teaching day-jobs) to talk about working with ALIAS and Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Paul Moravec.

Q: Portara has many exciting collaborations in the works with ALIAS Chamber Ensemble. How did you start working with ALIAS?

Lea MaitlenLea: ALIAS Artistic Director Zeneba Bowers and I knew each other when I was the Head of Marketing for NAXOS when ALIAS worked on their first CD – Hilos. Zen and I became instant friends and we started talking about collaborating. Two years ago, Portara sang at an ALIAS concert and we all really enjoyed performing together.

I introduced Zen to Shreyas, and we came up with this idea of talking with Paul Vasterling of the Nashville Ballet to collaborate. Our upcoming “Emergence” performance series with the Ballet and ALIAS really fits in with Portara’s mission to incorporate other forms of art. It’s a perfect myriad of ensembles.

Shreyas PatelShreyas: ALIAS’ collaborations are always remarkable, and I am so honored and excited to be working towards the Ballet Project with Paul Moravec. This is so unique in that three respected ensembles in Nashville — all in very different walks of their journeys — are going to work together for this amazing product! It is beyond my wildest dreams. Have you ever heard of such a collaboration?

Q: Can you give us a “behind the scenes” look at what it’s like working with ALIAS on the Moravec recording commission?

Shreyas: Paul Moravec is simply one of the easiest composers I have worked with. He is accommodating, humble, and just plain nice. It has also been nice to obtain so much knowledge and wisdom from having experts who have been through the process already. I definitely have to be on my “A Game” to keep up with the wisdom of Zeneba and Paul Vasterling of the Ballet. But they have taken me under their wings and have made this collaboration so easy for me to enjoy.

Lea: Paul is such a respected and excellent composer. For most audiences, he’s known more for his instrumental music, not his works with vocal elements. But his vocal pieces are excellent, beautiful complexities that we’re excited to help bring to life.

It’s truly a team effort. He is a composer – not what you would typically expect. He’s truly collaborative. He really takes in consideration all our needs, including Portara, ALIAS and the Ballet. He’s really conscious that he’s writing music for dance. Not every composer would do that. Some would just write. We’re really fortunate to have a composer – especially one of Paul’s caliber – who’s willing to be so collaborative.

Q: What are the biggest challenges of a cross-genre production, like the upcoming “Emergence” series with ALIAS and the Nashville Ballet?

Shreyas: It all needs to make sense! Each group has a very unique skill set, and they have to be able to emote the message of the music without being with each other. For example, we will provide a light scratch recording of the choral movements for the choreographers to begin their process, so they will depend solely on what we provide.

This means ALIAS and Portara need to have a solid understanding of the music at a very early stage, and that cannot change until the live performance. In addition, you need to have a clear vision with each artistic director. We have had a FANTASTIC experience together. We are all on the same page, which does not happen very often. I hope this will serve as a model for other organizations in Nashville that would like to reach out into the unknowns of collaboration!

Lea: I think one of the biggest challenges is tempo and being consistent. When you have people dancing to what you’re performing, you can’t change anything on the fly. We can be interpretive, but in limits. We have to remember there are steps being performed to every note. You have to reign in that “artistic license” that you would normally take in a performance – for when dancers are involved.

I was a dancer myself for almost 20 years. I choreographed at the university level, so I feel music at the dancer’s level. This collaboration with the Nashville Ballet is a personal dream for me. It’s been almost 20 years since I danced – so it’s lovely to be involved in the world of dance in a new way.