The Vienna Boys Choir will be home for Christmas, but not before the group finishes a tour that will bring it to our region for three concerts this week.
The 24 boys, each blessed with an angelic voice and dressed in a crisp sailor suit, will perform a holiday concert Tuesday at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside.
Then, it's off to Harrisburg on Wednesday, where the boys will sing at the Whitaker Center, and to Stroudsburg, Pa., on Thursday for a night at the Sherman Theater. The nine-week, 44-concert tour will end in Virginia before the boys return to Austria.
Many choir members already are seasoned globetrotters by age 14, said company manager Tania Jastrebov.
"Half of this group has already toured throughout Asia. Just before coming to the United States, they played a series of concerts in Dubai," Jastrebov said. "It's a wonderful way to see the world."
The 100 singers who attend the choir's boarding school are divided into four touring choirs named after legendary Austrian composers: Bruckner, Haydn, Schubert and Mozart. Each group has a distinct repertoire. The Haydn choir is barnstorming the East Coast.
At the Keswick, the concert will offer two themes. The first half will feature a diverse set of sacred and classical music enlived by a smattering of folk and popular songs. (Acknowledging the state of the global economy, the boys will be singing Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Harold Arlen's "Stormy Weather.")
The second half is devoted to Christmas music sung in several languages against a snowy backdrop.
Though most of the boys hail from Austria, the choir draws from an international talent pool. The Haydn group includes a lad from San Francisco and a set of twins from Canada, Jastrebov said.
The boys are accompanied on the road by two educators, who use tour stops to teach lessons using the local sights and geography.
"Our goal is that the boys have enough possibilities to get to know the country and its people and to become acquainted with their customs and their culture," said the choir's spokeswoman, Anna Weingant.
In New York City last week, the group ascended to the top of the Empire State Building after a brisk tour of Rockefeller Center and the Museum of Modern Art.
Do they ever spontaneously break into song, say on a skyscraper's observation deck?
"Not usually," Jastrebov said. "We sing at concerts only."
On several concert stops during the tour, the choir's conductor has held backstage auditions for singers. But because of tight scheduling through Pennsylvania, Jastrebov said, local singers would need to apply through the school's Web site to try out next year.
Not even the Rolling Stones can top the choir's longevity. This year marks the 510th anniversary of the choral group, which was founded by Emperor Maximilian I in 1498. During its five centuries, it has become the definitive boys' choir on the planet.
"When people are thinking about a boys' choir, they are thinking about the Vienna Boys Choir," said Jeff Smith, music director of the Philadelphia Boys' Choir and Chorale.
"No matter where they sing, you can be sure that there is always a great demand," Smith said. "Everybody wants to see them because they are so famous."