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UW-Eau Claire's Concert Choir Receives Prestigious Award in Italy

RELEASED: July 17, 2006

Gary Schwartzhoff receives award for Concert Choir
UW-Eau Claire Concert Choir conductor Gary Schwartzhoff received the choir's special award from Michele Capasso, president of the Fondazione Laboratorio Mediterraneo, in the Palatine Chapel of the Royal Palace of Naples during the choir's recent Italy tour. (F.L.M. photo)

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Concert Choir and its conductor Gary Schwartzhoff, traveling and performing in Italy with Concert Choir alumni July 8-15, received a stunning surprise before their July 11 performance at the Duomo in Naples. The Fondazione Laboratorio Mediterraneo, an organization that promotes peace, understanding and cultural exchange between the people of the two shores of the Mediterranean and the rest of the world, presented the ensemble with "un premio speciale," a special award, in recognition of their contribution to the choral art and the promotion of world culture. The choir's performance included the premiere of "Mediterranean Hymn."

Michele Capasso, president of the F.L.M., presented the choir with the award in the Palatine Chapel of the Royal Palace of Naples, where the group also performed. Capasso emphasized the political significance of the performance of the "Mediterranean Hymn" by an American choir. Reading from the award plaque, Capasso stated that the award was given "to the Concert Choir of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, for their ability in combining their vocal style with the melody and rhythm of the Italian music, and for their contribution, through their art, in spreading the importance of the dialogue among cultures, testifying to the role of music as a language that brings people and countries together. Their music is a chorus of affirmation."

Capasso also told the group that F.L.M. has presented similar awards to world leaders such as Kiro Gligorov, first president of the Republic of Macedonia; King Juan Carlos I of Spain; King Hassan II of Morocco; King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan; Cardinal Etchegaray, president emeritus of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace; Julio Fuentes, a respected journalist and military correspondent killed while reporting in Afghanistan; the Israeli singer Noa; Lea Rabin, former first lady of Israel and a noted speaker for world peace; and many others.

Established in 1998, the "Premio Mediterraneo" is given to institutions and individuals engaged in work in categories such as peace, culture, art, diplomacy and information exchange.

Schwartzhoff accepted the special award on behalf of the Choir and invited Capasso to join them in performing the "Mediterranean Hymn" at the concert in the Duomo. The Concert Choir has since been invited to record the hymn for a new compact disc to be released by the F.L.M. in 2007.

"It is indeed an honor for both UW-Eau Claire and the Concert Choir to be recognized on the world stage in such a manner," said Schwartzhoff, speaking by phone from Italy. "It's humbling to be among such award recipients as King Hussein of Jordan and Lea Rabin."

Val Knobloch '81 of Eau Claire was one of the Concert Choir alumni members performing that evening after receiving the award.

"It was an incredible feeling," said Knobloch, "especially performing in the Palace of Naples and in the Duomo, knowing it was more than 500 years old, and seeing what the passion and power of music can do in promoting international cooperation."

Marcia Van Beek, director of major gifts for the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, was another Concert Choir alum thrilled to be there when the award was presented.

"It was just so wonderful and so totally unexpected," said Van Beek. "We felt like we were so graciously received by the people of Naples. And especially as non-Italians, non-Mediterraneans, to be recognized with this award — I think we all just felt very humble."

The F.L.M., founded in Naples in 1994, values the different cultures of the countries of the Mediterranean and works to share values, combat inequality and construct peace. Calling itself a "Euro-Mediterranean network for cultural and social dialogue," the F.L.M. hosted the evening performance at the Duomo in collaboration with the Royal Chapel of the Treasury of Saint Gennaro and the Naples Provincial Committee of the National Union for Native Place of Italy, under the patronage of the American Consulate in Naples.

The UW-Eau Claire Concert Choir has traveled to Europe on eight concert tours between 1964 and 2006, performing for occasions like the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the D-Day Invasion in France and in famous venues such as St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Iglesia de San Gines in Madrid and the Jesuitkirche in Heidelberg. It wrapped up this tour of Italy with a performance in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican City in Rome.

For more information about the award, contact Schwartzhoff at or Van Beek at More photos and information are available online.



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