An Interview with Kenny Miller, Executive Director of Helios

With just under two weeks to go, HELIOS: a modern renaissance will be joining Mill Avenue Chamber Players for the second concert of each of their 2016/17 seasons. The collaboration will explore the highly innovative music of 17th-century Venice, also known as The Republic of Venice to be held at Central United Methodist Church on November 5th and 6th.


We recently discussed this unique collaboration with HELIOS co-founder and Executive Director Kenny Miller.

Why did you decide to collaborate with Mill Ave Chamber Players?

As a contemporary vocal ensemble with one foot in the Renaissance and one foot in the present, we are always looking for ways to innovate and push the envelope of performance practice. I have had numerous performance experience with MACP both as a singer and audience member and have found them to share many characteristics with HELISO; musical dexterity, innovation, commitment to artistic excellence, the list goes on. Additionally, both ensembles are artists-in-residence at Central United Methodist Church/Urban Abbey and Phoenix College. To me this is a natural fit.

Why the Republic of Music?

The music is incredibly interesting and beautiful – and BIG! Large choirs of brass and voices typically performed these pieces. Since these types of resources are rare these days, it makes sense to re-voice some of the lines and while maintaining the integrity of the music re-define the forces needed. This type of thinking is at the foundations of HELIOS and MACP.

How did you select the music for this concert?

When we developed this program concept last year, we wanted to provide an experience of music from the 100-year high-point of Venetian music from Willaert to Monteverdi. It was quite a feat to agree on fewer than twenty of pieces from a catalogue of thousands! Some considerations included the forces required (we wanted at least a few 12-part pieces), aesthetics, and voicings. Finally, as with all of our performances, we looked for a balance of tried-and-true pieces with pieces that push the envelope.

Did you have any challenges assigning parts for the music?

Many of the pieces have very interesting and unusual voicings depending on the forces available at any given time. Additionally, each composer’s aesthetic choices (preferred lower voices over higher, etc.) provided some difficulties. In the end we attempted to pair voices and instruments based on the colors that are available and/or needed.

Why is this performance unique?

It is rare indeed for singers and instrumentalists to stand on stage together as equals. Whether it be opera, oratorio, Requiem masses, or symphonies, there exists a division between musicians with choirs thrown in the back and soloists pushed up front and instrumentalists sandwiched between or thrown in the pit. This concert all of the artists share the stage and are responsible for their own parts which contribute to the whole. It is truly a joy (and a whole lot of fun) to experience this type of collaboration, and all without a conductor!

About Helios:

Helios celebrates the beautifully and creatively crafted music of our artistic ancestors. We celebrate the triumph of history’s greatest composers whose innovations paved the way for music as we now know it. We celebrate the foundations of culture and society that have formed and informed our current way of being. We celebrate our ability to time travel through the aesthetics of early music. But mostly, we celebrate the shared experience of music that has the power to transform us artistically performed by the ensemble called Helios.

Helios. The divine personification of the sun. Offspring of Hyperion, the titan god of light and wisdom. We live and celebrate in the sun most every day. We in Helios want to add to that light by illuminating music of an earlier age in a way that also celebrates the aesthetic sensibilities of today. Early music does not belong in the dustbin of history, only to be shaken off to fulfill a curriculum design. Nor does it belong on a pedestal, out of reach and out of mind. It belongs in the light of our every day to exalt us. To develop us. To celebrate us.

Tickets for our November 6th concert are available online and at the door.

Rose French