Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.

Canadian composer Matthew Emery’s musical setting “Peace, my heart” uses a poem by legendary Bengali poet and musician, Rabindranath Tagore. Emery’s composition is spartan and focused, somehow enabling deep mourning and peaceful contemplation to coexist within a single shape. Reflecting on the tumultuous state of current affairs, it’s going to be good to be able to get back to making collective music. The summer of presidential-inflamed white supremacy, the threat of nuclear war, the homophobic hatred in Chechnya, the loss of democracy in Venezuela, the imprisonment of elected officials in Hong Kong – there is a great heaviness throughout the world. The weight of recent events sits deeply in the minds, hearts, and souls of many people. As artists and enjoyers of music, our personal and communal healing often takes place in the context of music and to that we can turn our minds, hearts, and souls for healing. There is much good music ahead.

That Choir

At the beginning of August I lost an old friend who was only 31. Many of my memories with him were music related; we went through the same music program in high school. I can picture him vividly with flute in hand; I can picture him attempting clarinet; I can remember our conversations about Polish music. Music is all around us, and indeed, healing, if we allow it. At the back of the commemoration card, his family chose the poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

That Choir will feature Eleanor Daley’s iconic setting of Frye’s poem, In Remembrance, part of her Requiem in their first concert of the season, “That Choir Remembers.” That Choir has been busy, making itself one of Toronto’s busiest and most dynamic. Recently featured in Ramin Djawadi’s “Game of Thrones Live!” concert and “Hans Zimmer Live,” both at the Air Canada Centre, the choir is proving itself able to rise to a wide range of big occasions. These two events have been among the most amazing performances of live music I have ever, and will probably ever, witness.

This year, That Choir enters its tenth season under the direction of Craig Pike. Stay tuned for guest appearances as new concerts are announced.

Sistine Chapel Choir comes to St. Michael’s

Sacred Music Concert - photo courtesy of St. Michael's CathedralThe oldest operating choir in the world, the Sistine Chapel Choir, is coming to Toronto. Its official name, Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, describes its purpose – created for the Pope to serve in the Sistine Chapel. For centuries, the music and the ensemble were fiercely guarded and protected by the Church. The choir visits North America with several stops in the United States and Canada; on September 26, St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica will host them, a fitting celebration to launch and ambitious series of concerts in the recently renovated Cathedral.

This choir is very rarely heard except by those who are lucky enough to visit Vatican City during liturgy. It is for this choir that great Renaissance composers like Gregorio Allegri and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina wrote music intended to be sung in the Sistine Chapel itself. In the context of a growing fascination with Renaissance and early music, the Sistine Chapel Choir offers something unique. A direct descendant of the tradition, the choir also boasts access to the historical archives of music at the Vatican. In 2015, the choir released its first-ever recording, Cantate Domino, with performances directly from source materials and recorded in situ. The source in question, a 1661 version of the Allegri Misere, is especially haunting in its simplicity and the absence of the storied high C. Their second recording featured Palestrina and was reviewed by The WholeNote’s own Michael Schwartz.

St. Michael’s Choir School has quite a season of its own ahead, ambitious even by the standards of this storied choir program. Of note is the splitting of Handel’s Messiah into two performances, one for the Christmas season and another for the Easter season. The Choir School does not often perform Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece, and Peter Mahon, senior choir director, looks forward to teaching this music to another generation. Part 1 will be featured in Massey Hall in a contemporary interpretation featuring the 160 voices of the senior choir. In April, Parts 2 and 3 will be presented in a much smaller performance, with Mahon leading an early music interpretation with Baroque instruments and pitch. Alumni and early music specialists Simon Honeyman and Richard Whittall will be featured alto soloists for the performances along with Joel Allison, bass.

St. Michael’s Cathedral music programming is also turning to a new ticketing model, one with no ticket sales. Suggested donations are now the norm for this season. “Anyone can come and may pay only as they are able”, says William O’Meara, St. Michael’s Cathedral organist. “We all hope it welcomes those who may not be able to afford to go to regular concert series in the city.” This admirable choice will bring peace and music to many people who would otherwise not be able to afford the experience.

(And as an aside, St. Michael’s Choir School’s junior choir director, Maria Conkey, also takes on a new role this year, as artistic director of Young Voices Toronto, heading into its 31st season. Stay tuned for more news as Conkey takes the reins.)

Canadian Children’s Opera Company

Speaking of storied children’s and youth choirs, the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (CCOC) heads into its 50th anniversary season under music director Teri Dunn, also a choral instructor at St. Michael’s Choir School! The renowned Ben Heppner will host the CCOC’s October 26 gala concert at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which will feature performances by Richard Margison, Krisztina Szabó, Simone Osborne and Andrew Haji and a chorus made up of company alumni, many of whom have gone on to notable musical careers. Former music and artistic directors John Tuttle and Ann Cooper Gay will also conduct.

Their 50th anniversary season will also include the world premiere of The Monkiest King with music by Alice Ping Yee Ho and libretto by Marjorie Chan. This beloved Chinese folk tale will be brought to life by the CCOC in May 2018 as the CCOC under artistic director Dean Burry continues its pursuit of artistic, educational and cultural excellence.

TSO Doing Its Part

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has several big choral works planned this season, featuring the Toronto Children’s Chorus and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. September 27, 28 and 30, Brahms’ A German Requiem will be performed, including soprano Erin Wall and baritone Russell Braun. Just over a month later, the Toronto premiere of Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation will be performed by the massed power of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Measha Bruggergosman. Victoria Symphony Orchestra music director Tania Miller takes the podium, guiding the words of Suzanne Steele, Canada’s war poet, and set to music by Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan.

I bow to you and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.

As musicians around the region return home to start the new season, I will be there, diligently sitting in rehearsal, seeking that elusive balance of emotion and contemplation through music, and hopefully bringing peace to a few others along the way. Make sure to come out to as many performances as you can – audiences are an essential part of the musical process. See you out there and don’t forget to say hi!

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang. Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com

2209 Choral 1Alot of musical organizations go on break over the summer, but that doesn’t mean the end to opportunities for amazing music. Southern Ontario is lucky to have within a few hours’ drive several world-class music festivals, where there are lots of opportunities to see local and international artists at play. I’ve highlighted a few options for festivals and other exciting performances with a choral flavour.

Peter Oundjian at the helm

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Children’s Chorus are joined by soloists for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, for four performances June 21 to 24. This mainstay of choral performance is going to be a fun time. It also marks one of a handful of choral performances remaining in which you can catch Peter Oundjian on the podium before his tenure ends in 2017/18. In his remaining year, there are only three other opportunities to see him in action with a choir in Toronto before his departure. In September, Oundjian leads the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Brahms’ A German Requiem. In March 2018, he leads the Toronto Children’s Chorus in the premiere of Scottish composer James MacMillan’s Little Mass. And finally, his great send-off will be at the helm of Beethoven’s Nineth Symphony in June 2018. Flag these in your agendas and calendars. If you are a fan of choral music and Peter Oundjian, don’t miss!

The National Youth Choir of Canada

This year as part of Canada 150, the National Youth Choir of Canada (NYC) will tour Eastern Canada, performing alongside the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO) as part of the NYO’s Edges of Canada Tour. “This is a really unique year; we don’t usually do the choir every year,” says Hilary Knox, executive director of Choirs Canada. Just last year, the choir was convened under the baton of Michael Zaugg. “This year,” she continues, “the National Youth Orchestra was able to get a massive heritage grant to do a tour and to do collaborations as part of Canada 150.” Part of this work includes the National Youth Choir, who will perform and tour alongside the orchestra while also performing in their own concerts through Southern Ontario.

This year, the 40 singers of the choir are made up of musicians from every province and the Northwest Territories. Knox talks about their first-time use of YouTube auditions to have a broader reach for participants. “YouTube auditions allow us access to a number of singers we couldn’t reach otherwise.” Beverley Rockwell, a member from the Northwest Territories, enjoyed the YouTube option. “I found it quick, easy and painless,” she says. “Uploading to YouTube and sharing the link to the NYC committee was a good way to get everyone’s auditions easily, and for us to use the resources provided to us in this technological age.”

The NYC gives participants broad-based exposure to not only the choral world of Canada, but also the wider artistic community in the country. Rockwell is looking forward to this new experience. “To be experiencing it on the national scale is amazing,” she shares. “In the Northwest Territories, our choirs are small and everyone knows one another, very much like a family, but you can get quite stuck in the comfort of your surroundings…. Also, it’s a chance to gain perspective on how other singers from Canada grew up singing and how they view the wonderful country that is Canada.”

Calgary-based conductor Timothy Shantz – chorus master of the Calgary Philharmonic, artistic director of Spiritus Chamber Choir, and founding director of Luminous Voices – will lead the NYC in its a cappella pieces and solo concerts this year.

It’s a big year and an exciting one for the NYC – a chance to not only learn and perform but also to share in the intense artistry of performing with the National Youth Orchestra. “For us, to do a collaboration is so fantastic; it speaks so beautifully to our mission,” says Knox. “To bring the kids together, have them work together…it’s kind of unprecedented. The discussions we’re having with the orchestra are exciting.”

Catch them in action across Eastern Canada:

July 18 – Knox Presbyterian Church, St. Catharines, ON.

July 19 – The NYC stops by the Elora Festival to sing with the Elora Singers. Knox Presbyterian Church, Elora, ON.

July 20 – Stratford Summer Music. Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. Stratford, ON.

July 22 – Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON.

July 23 – Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. Maison Symphonique, Montreal, QC.

July 25 – Toronto Summer Music Festival. Edges of Canada Tour with the NYO. Koerner Hall, Toronto, ON.

The Elora Festival

The Elora Festival takes place in Elora, Ontario, from July 14 to July 30, and is without doubt the biggest Ontario festival featuring choral music. A mainstay in the quintessential Ontario village of Elora, Noel Edison – artistic director of the festival, the Elora Singers, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir – has programmed a pretty awesome feast of choral fun. The extensive choral highlights are below:

July 14 – Opening Night Gala: “Night of the Proms.” Under the baton of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra maestro Bramwell Tovey, the EFS will be joined by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for a colonial British romp to start the festival. Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 16 – The Elora Festival Singers are joined by the Guelph Youth Singers and the Festival Orchestra in Benjamin Britten’s Saint Nicolas cantata. Lawrence Wiliford (tenor) takes the lead as the storied Bishop of Smyrna. St. John’s Church, Elora.

July 21 – The Trinity College Choir of Cambridge University, UK, joins Michael York (bass) and Zach Finkelstein (tenor). This delightful concert will feature two Magnificats written by J.S. Bach and his son C.P.E. Bach. Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 22 – Mary Lou Fallis brings a comedic touch to choral singing with the Elora Singers and pianist Peter Tiefenbach in “Primadonna Choralis.” St. John’s Church, Elora.

July 23 – The Elora Singers and Festival Orchestra perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos No.1, No.5 and Wachet Auf. Knox Presbyterian Church, Elora.

July 23 – The Trinity College Choir of Cambridge University performs works by Arvo Pärt, William Byrd, Henry Purcell, and more! Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 27 – Celebrated countertenor Daniel Taylor joins the Elora Singers and Festival Orchestra in a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. St. John’s Church, Elora.

July 28 – Cantus, an American men’s ensemble, visits the festival performing songs from the all-male canon. Gambrel Barn, Elora.

July 29 – Celebrating the 150th year since Confederation, a multimedia, multi-artist performance will be staged at the Gambrel Barn featuring the Elora Singers, Richard Margison, Martha Henry, Jackie Richardson and Hugh Brewster.

July 30 – The Elora Singers close off with a concert of hymns that will include audience participation. St. John’s Church, Elora.

The Bach Festival of Canada

2209 Choral 2The Bach Festival of Canada takes place in South Huron, Exeter, Ontario from July 6 to 16. Gerald Fagan, who co-founded and leads this festival, is one of the most distinguished choral conductors at work in the country. Earlier this year, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada for his dedication and work. As an existing Order of Ontario recipient, he is known for his work with Chorus London, the Concert Players Orchestra, CHOR AMICA, the Gerald Fagan Singers, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir.

There are two choral concerts at the tail end of the festival. Fagan leads his choir, CHOR AMICA, in an intimate performance on July 15. Then, closing off the festival will be “Our Home and Native Land,” featuring the Festival Massed Choir, Festival Symphony Orchestra and soloists John Avey, Anita Krause, Leslie Fagan, and Colin Ainsworth, in performances of works by Ontario-based composers.

Elise LeTourneau, Jeff Smallman, Matthew Emery and Stephanie Martin will all have world premieres of their work at this festival. Matthew Emery, a talented and prolific composer, premieres A Song of Canada. Using thematic elements of Canada’s diversity alongside physical characteristics of its landscapes, Emery has crafted a 12-minute work for orchestra, mixed choir, children’s choir and four soloists. Emery’s text comes from the poem A Song of Canada, written by Robert Reid in 1913. “I adapted the final phrases of the work to exemplify what being Canadian means to me – the freedom to be loved and to feel safe,” Emery says. This adapted text reads: “I hear the voice of Freedom, Sing me joy, Sing me peace, Sing me worth, Sing me love, Voicing your notes that the world may hear, Sing me a song of Canada!”

July 15 – CHOR AMICA and the Festival Symphony Orchestra. Trivitt Memorial Anglican Church, Exeter.

July 16 – Gala Closing Performance: “Our Home and Native Land,” South Huron Recreational Centre, Exeter.

Quick Picks

June 3 – The Toronto Mass Choir presents “Gospel Island Grooves” in anticipation of their mission trip to the Dominican Republic. This is their big fundraiser for the trip, with guests Roberto Sanchez and Joy Lapps-Lewis. Humber College (Lakeshore Auditorium), Toronto.

June 4 – Acquired Taste is hosting their first performance, as part of Pocket Concerts! Rory McLeod, co-founder of Pocket Concerts, shares: “Acquired Taste is an amateur choir for professional musicians who normally use instruments to make music (many of whom play in top orchestras and chamber groups in Toronto). For this project, we’ve put our instruments aside and embraced the spirit of the amateur musician, learning how to sing while rediscovering the joy of making music for fun.” Mitchell Pady leads the group in its first performance, including works by Brahms, Fauré, Healey Willan, Palestrina, Thomas Tallis, and more. St. Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church, Toronto.

July 25 – Further north than Elora, you can catch the Trinity College Choir at the Festival of the Sound. Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, Parry Sound.

July 26 – Countertenor and early music specialist Daniel Taylor returns to the Stratford Summer Music Festival with the Theatre of Early Music. This incredibly refined, art-focused ensemble continues to be a pleasure whenever they perform. A choreographed presentation of the Allegri’s Miserere is on the program. The Avondale, Stratford.

August 11 – The Elmer Iseler Singers stop by the Festival of the Sound. Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, Parry Sound.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com.

2208 Choral Scene 1In a month when The WholeNote Canary Pages celebrates choral music and and features opportunities to participate in it, it’s fitting that there’s an incredible amount of amazing choral performance happening around the region. In this month’s column, on top of some great quick picks, SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival runs throughout most of the month; I’ve dug into the fantastic upcoming Royal Conservatory 21C Music Festival launch featuring the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Elmer Iseler Singers and the 21C Ensemble; and finally, Elisa Citterio, Tafelmusik’s new artistic director takes the stage for Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. What a bounty indeed!

SING! – A Guinness World Record Attempt!

SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival makes its return with events between May 11 and 28. This year marks the first for artistic directors Dylan Bell and Suba Sankaran, partners in FreePlay Duo, and masters of jazz and a capella arranging. “What makes SING! stand out is the sheer array of vocal artistry we offer in our various programs,” says Sankaran. “The ‘SING! In Concert’ series offers world-class groups from New York, and from our own backyard. ‘SING! In The Clubs’ offers a more intimate vocal experience, while ‘SING! Free,’ in the Distillery District, offers a weekend of multicultural and multi-stylistic acts, representing Canada’s unique cultural diversity, all free to the public. And ‘SING! and Learn’ offers educational outreach to schools, as well as public masterclasses where participants can work face-to-face with some of the greatest vocal ensembles in the world.”

During the festival, organizers hope to break two Guinness World Records: the most nationalities singing a national/regional anthem simultaneously; and the most nationalities in a simultaneous popular music sing-along. Bring your passports to show Guinness adjudicators and get ready to belt out O Canada. The pop song will be Rise Up led by Lorraine Segato, formerly of Parachute Club. On May 13 at 1pm, Distillery District Stage. Free!

Give Me A Head With Hair (please!)

Segato will also perform as part of the “O Canada! The Golden Age of Canadian Pop” concert, May 25 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Organizers have gathered the members of the original Toronto cast of Hair which premiered here in 1969. The musical, which opened Off-Broadway in 1967, shaped a generation and provided the groundwork for the modern musical as we know it, creating a fusion of rock, culture and social commentary in music theatre. This is a remarkable chance to see the cast throw back 50 years.

“We’re pleased to be a part of this one-of-a-kind festival celebrating vocal talent from Toronto and around the world, bringing the best performers and facilitators together at Canada’s premier a cappella festival,” says Bell. “We look forward to bringing our experience and observations to SING! Toronto, and to building on the momentum of the last six years to make SING! 2017 the best festival yet.”

21C – The RCM Welcomes the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra

The Royal Conservatory’s new music festival, 21C, is a gem of contemporary art, now providing its fourth year of programming with nine concerts, five days, 31 premieres, (12 world premieres) and 90 percent Canadian artists. Mervon Mehta, RCM’s executive director of programming, says, “We are thrilled to welcome the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Art Song Project and Soundstreams as our artistic collaborators and to have Unsuk Chin, a composer of international stature, in residence.”

The festival begins May 24 at 8pm in Koerner Hall with Johannes Debus conducting the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and the Elmer Iseler Singers with Lydia Adams, conductor and artistic director, and the 21C Ensemble. Featuring a host of Canadian and international composers, this promises to be one of the highlights of the festival. The concert will feature the Canadian premiere of American Matthew Aucoin’s The Orphic Moment taking inspiration from the “primal self-justification and self-glorification” of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Aucoin calls this a “dramatic cantata” exploring what would have happened if Orpheus had made the conscious decision to turn around escorting Eurydice back to the living as a deliberate choice of ultimate tragedy and, ultimately, of unparalleled inspiration.

Celebrated South Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s opera Alice in Wonderland first began as the composition snagS&Snarls. This scenic piece invokes the various parts of the beloved story. Canadian Samy Moussa, recently awarded the 2017 International Hindemith Prize by the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and his popular piece, Kammerkonzert will be featured.

The evening also features Toronto-based composer Brian Current presenting the world premiere of Nàaka (Northern Lights), the third movement of his River of Light multi-movement cycle, projected to be completed in 2018. Based on Dante’s Paradiso, Current’s inspiration for the entire cycle is the line: “And I saw a light in the form of a river, radiant as gold, between banks painted with wondrous springs.” Current furthers his thoughts on the piece: “No matter where we come from, or whom we pray to, a fascination with transcendence into light permeates nearly all of our religious beliefs and unites us. We are all part of the River of Light.”

Richard Van Camp, an indigenous storyteller, and Elder Rosa Mantla, both of the Dogrib (Tłįchǫ) First Nation in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, provided language and cultural contexts for Nàaka. Recognizing the deep cultural and physical relationship of the northern lights to the Tłįchǫ, Nàaka forms the Canadian contribution to the River of Light cycle.

The concert will also include Current’s The Seven Heavenly Halls, another movement of River of Light, which won the inaugural Canadian Azrieli Music Project Prize in 2015. The Seven Heavenly Halls (2015) was inspired by the Zohar (The Book of Enlightenment), the most important work of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). Central to the story is the concept of the Sefer Hekalot (the Seven Heavenly Halls) described loosely as the complexity of forgiveness within light, figurative and physical. Current describes the work as “a 12 minute journey for choir, orchestra and solo tenor based on the Zohar that traces a mystical progression where each of the seven ecstatic states is described by an orchestral colour.”

Tafelmusik – Elisa Citterio in Action at Koerner Hall

A momentous occasion is upon us May 4 to 7 in Koerner Hall with Italian violinist and early-music specialist Elisa Citterio taking the reins of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for the first time at Koerner Hall since her appointment as artistic director. Marking the end of Tafelmusik Chamber Choir’s 35th season, Citterio and Ivars Taurins lead the inimitable Mozart Mass in C Minor and Haydn’s Symphony No.98 in B-flat Major. British sopranos Julia Doyle and Joanne Lum are joined by Asitha Tennekoon, tenor, and Joel Allison, bass-baritone, as soloists. Don’t miss these performances!

QUICK PICKS

There are a host of music-theatre-themed concerts in May.

May 6: The Oakville Children’s Choir presents a fun set of showtunes in “The Best of Broadway!”

May 6: Further east, the Mississauga Festival Choir is also presenting pops in “From Broadway to Hollywood” at the Living Arts Centre on the same day.

May 7: Even further east you can catch Florivox, a treble choir, in “Be Our Guest” featuring songs from popular musicals like Wicked and Hamilton.

May 10: The Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts presents Missa Gaia/Earth Mass featuring 170 voices and the premiere of Paul Halley’s In the Wide Awe and Wisdom of the Night.

May 12: The Upper Canada Choristers and their Cantemos Latin Ensemble, with guests École Secondaire Catholique Saint-Frère-André Choir, present “Ubi Caritas et Amor” featuring Vivaldi’s Gloria, the Fauré Requiem and Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights amongst many others.

May 17: Elite ensemble Opus 8 presents another free concert in their series “H2O” – described as “no mere offering of sea shanties, but a phantasmagoria of all things aquatic, shipwrecked and watery.” If you didn’t know what a phantasmagoria was (like me) it’s a series of images like those of a dream.

May 21: The grand, sumptuous, spine-tingling, incredible, massive, tremendous, bone-shaking, tear-inducing, emotional powerhouse – Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” is presented by the Niagara Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Niagara.

May 25: The Leaside United Church Chancel and Junior Choir present “Broadway Bedazzled.”

May 27: VOCA Chorus of Toronto takes on Carl Orff’s hair-raising masterpiece Carmina Burana. Other selections include a world premiere setting for two marimbas of Ola Gjeilo’s The Spheres. Torq Percussion Quartet joins Elizabeth Polese, soprano, Michael Nyby, baritone, and Christopher Mayell, tenor, for a sure night of choral fire.

June 2 and 3: Right at the beginning of June you can catch the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (in which I sing) with guests, the Huddersfield Choral Society in William Walton’s bombastic Belshazzar’s Feast. This huge British work will be led by conductor laureate Sir Andrew Davis. Part of the continuing Decades Project, this epic work was chosen by Peter Oundjian forthe decade 1930-1939. Later, at the end of June, Carmina Burana featuring the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir finishes off the Decades Project for the 2016/2017 season.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com

The Easter season is upon us for April and as usual, the choral community has many fantastic offerings of sacred music to mark the occasion. First, we’ll focus on the Pax Christi Chorale’s Canadian premiere of grand Edward Elgar oratorio, The Apostles. For the non-sacred music inclined, Echo Women’s Choir has a fantastic concert inspired by American singer MILCK’s #ICANTKEEPQUIET campaign. Finally, a host of Quick Picks for the season are included.

Canadian Premiere of Elgar’s The Apostles

2207 Choral 1Edward Elgar died in 1934, aged 76. His work is well known to students of British classical music but he is best known for the eternal graduation hymn – Land of Hope and Glory, the end of Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. Equally gifted at orchestral and choral composition, often both, his work can usually be described as thick, dense and powerful. It is unusual that one of his grandest and biggest works, The Apostles, has never before been performed in Canada. Pax Christi Chorale under maestro Stephanie Martin is taking up the grand work.

Choral lovers here are more familiar with Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, last performed in fall 2014 with the Amadeus Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Elgar’s Enigma Variations makes frequent appearances on orchestral programs. The Apostles is the biggest piece he wrote. It requires the forces of six soloists, semichorus and double choir on top of arge orchestral forces. The personnel demands are one of the reasons why Martin believes the work hasn’t been programmed in Canada before. Pax Christi Chorale is joined by a stellar cast of Canadian talent: Meredith Hall, Krisztina Szabó, Brett Polegato, Lawrence Wiliford, Daniel Lichti, Michael Uloth and the Etobicoke School of the Arts chamber choir alongside an orchestra.

Pax Christi is no stranger to grand oratorios, having performed Elgar’s The Kingdom in 2012, and recently taking on Mendelssohn’s grandest work – Elijah – in the fall of 2016. Stephanie Martin conducts the two performances of The Apostles as her finale after 20 years at the helm of Pax Christi Chorale. She’s thoughtful and insightful about the music, identifying four key leitmotifs out of the many in Elgar’s masterpiece. She describes the work of singing through The Apostles as “peeling back the onion skin to reveal the leitmotifs that shape the music.”

Elgar was influenced by Wagner, who used the same compositional technique to inform the narrative of his musical stories. “It almost gives the music a sense of being a collage,” says Martin. “The music changes quickly, tonal messages change very quickly” throughout the music as Elgar delves into this story of Jesus and his followers. Many of the messages are hidden and not clear to a listening audience. Most interestingly, the final words of Christ “Eloi Eloi, lama sabachthani (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)” appear not in any sung lines but in a melody through the orchestra, words written above the orchestral line. Martin is superbly capable at leading her choirs through this work and deeply insightful at the hidden messages of the music.

As with the Verdi Requiem, the solos and choral lines are not separate and flow in and out of one another throughout The Apostles. “The oratorio is not constructed in a conventional way,” Martin says. “The soloists and choirs are integrated.” Usually singing different texts, overlaying each other, the resulting effect can be triumphant and bombastic as in “In Caesarea Phillipi” or unsettling and creepy, as in the “Tower of Magdala.”

Part IV of The Apostles, “The Betrayal” makes up the bulk of the second half of the concert. It focuses on the story of Judas Iscariot, sung by bass Michael Uloth. Elgar took great time and energy to humanize the story of Judas, showing him to be, as Martin says “remorseful” for his actions, ultimately believing in Jesus and his work. At the end of “The Betrayal,” Judas “falls apart as he realizes what he has done” as Martin describes, and he decides to take his own life. (Participants in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s Singsation on March 18 were treated to Uloth’s Judas and Martin’s approach as they read through The Apostles.)

Pax Christi Chorale presents the Canadian premiere of Edward Elgar’s The Apostles. April 29, 7:30pm and Sunday April 30, 3:00pm at Grace Church on-the-Hill.

#ICANTKEEPQUIET

2207 Choral 2Echo Women’s Choir, celebrating 25 years, continues to provide unique offerings that bridge the classical and contemporary choral spheres while always maintaining a strong commentary on issues facing our world. Their concert “We Can’t Keep Quiet!” takes its name from the #ICANTKEEPQUIET campaign created by American musician MILCK based on her song Quiet. An artist that “finds comfort in discomfort,” MILCK created the campaign to be a rallying call to break cycles of oppression and fear. The song was performed by a guerilla choir during the Women’s March on Washington, DC, on January 21, 2017.

Echo will be joined by a host of friends under the leadership of Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser. Frequent collaborator and artist-in-residence Annabelle Chvostek will take the reins for her song Firewalker. Including a host of different songs, Echo recently had a workshop with Hussein Janmohamed. Janmohamed is an Ismaili Canadian composer, performer, and educator who led Echo in what Gasser calls “a cultural and spiritual encounter.” Based on the title “Composing Pluralism: Music at the Intersections,” Janmohamed led the choir on a shared musical journey with inspirations from Christian, Muslim, folk, and other traditions.

“The whole thing was a big exercise in trust,” says Gasser. “Normally a workshop leader will work carefully to make a performance piece that’s almost satisfying to sing, all in one day… . But what he did was to open us up, as if he were operating on our compassionate hearts, and to trust that we’d understand how to make ourselves whole and ready to perform.” Janmohamed is a unique arts educator in his ability to open our ways of knowing and coming to music. He was similarly featured along with Shireen Abu Khader at SingOntario!, the recent annual Choirs Ontario festival, with a similar experience.

Gasser continues: “Hussein used a combination of the folk song Shenandoah, with an Islamic chant. He also trusted our community enough to sing the [Islamic] call to prayer (Azan), in an intimate way, that kept us open to sacred silence as a response.” Another song explored was the Dona Nobis Pacem, musically intertwined with a chant that asks Allah to bless Mohammed (peace be upon him) and his household with peace.

The choir will share the musical results of this journey they were led on by Janmohamed. Other features include Leonard Cohen’s Sisters of Mercy, a set of Georgian folk songs and Peggy Seeger’s Ballad of Springhill.

Echo Women’s Choir presents “We Can’t Keep Quiet!” celebrating their 25 th anniversary, Sunday, April 30, 3pm at Church of the Holy Trinity.

Sacred Music Quick Picks for the Easter season

The Easter season is second only to Christmas in activity for the choral community. Many choirs are presenting concerts themed around Easter and many fall on Good Friday. The offerings are wide and fantastic.

Apr 12, 14: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents “Sacred Music for a Sacred Space.” (I sing tenor in the choir.) Always a highlight of the TMC concert season, two performances are offered this year, a chance to catch some beautiful choral highlights including the transcendent Lux Aeterna based on Elgar’s Enigma Variations, the Allegri Miserere and some not-often performed gems from Healey Willan: How They So Softly Rest, written to commemorate the lives of servicemen lost from Willan’s congregation to World War II and his grand work An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts.

Apr 13, 14, 15, 16: St Anne’s Anglican Church presents “Holy Week and Easter” featuring sections from Schütz’s Johannes-Passion; Handel’s Messiah, and Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate.

Apr 14: The Toronto Beach Chorale presents “Mozart’s Requiem and More.” Featuring the eternally popular Mozart Requiem, the Chorale is including performed monologues from Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus. Salieri’s Te Deum is also on the evening’s program for the evening.

Apr 14: The Grand Philharmonic Choir presents Beethoven’s second most popular choral work, the Missa Solemnis, under the baton of Mark Vuorinen. This incredibly challenging work is a sure treat for choral lovers. Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the Missa Solemnis are hallmarks of the common mass. Pay special attention to the end of the Credo with its exceptionally difficult fugue in “Et vitam venturi saeculi.”

Apr 15: The Niagara Symphony Orchestra is joined by the Faith Chorale Gospel Choir, and the Laura Secord Secondary School Concert Choir in “Too Hot to Handel! –  The Gospel Messiah.” This glorious performance will feature blues, gospel, funk, jazz and more, all with familiar melodies we know and love. The original Gospel Messiah was the brainchild of the legendary Marin Alsop who conducted the premiere in 1993.

Apr 19: Edmonton’s Axios Men’s Ensemble visits Toronto’s St. Paul’s Bloor Street to present “Resurrection: Music from the Ukrainian Sacred Choral Tradition.” The feature is Father John Sembrat’s setting of the Resurrectional Divine Liturgy. Axios will be joined by Pro Coro Canada and a host of international friends including Boyan Ensemble of Kyiv (Revutsky Academic Male Capella), the Chorus of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Homin Municipal Choir of Lviv, and the Vydubychi Church Choir of Kyiv.

Apr 29, 30: Musikay presents Handel’s Messiah in two performances, one in Hamilton, the other in Oakville. The work, normally performed at Christmas, was meant to be performed at Easter according to Handel.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com.

2206- BBB - Choral 1.jpgMozart’s Requiem has captured the imagination of singers for centuries and continues to be a staple of choral repertoire the world around. It is wrought with emotion and feeling. Instrumentalists appreciate the compositional techniques and the understandable, intuitive flow of the music. Singers love the shape, grandness and dynamism of the music. Listeners love how it all fits together. But the Requiem is unfinished, which makes it the greatest piece of unfinished music ever written.

There is so much to like with the Requiem, from the powerful choral exclamation of “Rex Tremendae” and the gentle fragility of “Lacrimosa,” to the energetic fugue that finishes the written portion with “Cum Sanctis.” Many a chorister has fallen in love with this piece while hearing it or singing it for the first time. Many choristers are choristers because they heard and fell in love with this piece at some point in their life. Such is Mozart’s enduring legacy and ability. There is an extraordinary number of Requiem performances in the month ahead. It is also quite remarkable that none of these performances conflict; you could, in theory, see every single performance.

March 4, 7:30pm, the MCS Chorus presents Mozart’s Requiem. The program will also include Salieri’s Te Deum and short dramatic excerpts from the play Amadeus by Peter Schaffer at First United Church, Mississauga.

March 11, 8pm, Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra along with the Hamilton Bach Elgar Choir, Saint Joseph’s Church Parish Choir and the Grand River Chorus presents a requiem double bill with Fauré’s Requiem and Mozart’s Requiem, both in D Minor at P.C. Ho Theatre, Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, Scarborough.

March 25, 8pm, Voices Chamber Choir presents “Tallis and Mozart.” Ron Cheung conducts Mozart’s Requiem and Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah. Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Toronto.

March 26, 2pm, David Bowser, artistic director of the Mozart Project, and newly appointed conductor of Pax Christi Chorale, presents “Requiem and Farewell to a Soul Ascending.” Featuring a world premiere of Bowser’s own work, Farewell to a Soul Ascending, it will also include Mozart’s Requiem performed by the Toronto Mozart Players and the Hart House Chorus at the Church of the Redeemer.

April 1, 7:30pm, the Etobicoke Centennial Choir takes on the Mozart Requiem under conductor Henry Renglich. Other smaller works will be performed from Brahms, Rutter, Poulenc, Duruflé and Schubert at Humber Valley United Church, Etobicoke.

April 2, 2pm, the Hart House Chorus presents Mozart’s Requiem. This wonderfully unique, storied choir continues to be a high-quality ensemble made up of students, faculty, staff and community at the University of Toronto. David Bowser conducts at Hart House, Great Hall, University of Toronto.

April 2, 4pm, the Eglinton St George’s United Church Choir presents “Magnificent Mozart,” featuring a host of smaller works including Handel’s Zadok the Priest, Whitacre’s Alleluia and Mozart’s Requiem under conductor Shawn Grenke.

Get thee Hence, Elijah! Another great choral staple is Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah. As some readers will recall, in November last year, three of the largest choral groups in Ontario performed it on the same weekend, Pax Christi Chorale, Chorus Niagara and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This work is larger and more grand than Mozart’s Requiem; as such, it is hard to marshal the necessary forces to perform it effectively.

When sufficient power, technique, rehearsal and judicious artistic interpretation combine, there is nothing quite like a full performance of Elijah. It is discomforting with its praise and worship of Baal, it is exalting with its “Thanks Be to God,” it is comforting with its hymns “He Watching over Israel,” the ethereal “Lift Thine Eyes,” and the heartbreaking “Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord.” Elijah has, in my opinion, the most beautiful musical setting of the Beatitudes ever composed with “Blessed Are the Men Who Fear Him.” Elijah also has one of the most significant bass solos of any grand oratorio, “It Is Enough; O Lord, Take My Life.” It is the song of a broken man, lost in the wilderness, in need of guidance and love set to an evocative string accompaniment featuring a solo cello. Mendelssohn accomplished a unique success with Elijah. Once more popular than Handel’s Messiah, it is easy to see why the piece is so loved.

March 5, 2:30pm, the Georgetown Bach Chorale will be presenting “Choruses from the Great Masses and Oratorios.” The performance will include Haydn’s “The Heavens Are Telling” from the Creation, “Qui Tolis” from Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, “He Watching over Israel” and “Thanks Be to God” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, as well as selections from Brahms’ A German Requiem. Though not an entire presentation of Elijah, it will be a treat to hear this work presented along with other great songs from signature oratorios and masses across the choral canon.

March 25, 7:30pm, the Stratford Concert Choir presents Mendelssohn’s Elijah. With a host of soloists and a full orchestra, the ensemble will be led by Ian Sadler at St. James Anglican Church, Stratford.

QUICK PICKS

2206- BBB - Choral 3.jpgIf Mozart’s Requiem or Mendelssohn’s Elijah isn’t enough to satisfy your thirst for the great symphonic choir, there are a host of other grand options ahead. I’ve further highlighted a selection of other interesting choral performances throughout the region.

Mar 3 and 4: The Toronto Consort has been providing some exceptionally captivating music of late. For “Triptych: The Musical World of Hieronymus Bosch,” they are welcoming Dutch early music group Cappella Pratensis to Toronto. Conducted by Canadian Stratton Bull, the eight-member, all-male ensemble specializes in the music of Josquin des Prez amongst other composers of Renaissance polyphony. For this particular concert, they are presenting Triptych: The Musical World of Hieronymus Bosch.Typical for the ensemble, they will perform around one large book using original notation as well as the Brabant pronunciation of Latin; at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Mar 19: York University’s Concert, Chamber and Men’s Choirs present Carmina Burana. This big, bombastic, iconic choral work of Carl Orff is well-loved for its eccentricity, technical breadth, and satisfying aural experience. Lisette Canton conducts at Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, Toronto.

Apr 1:The York University Gospel Choir performs with Karen Burke at the helm at the same venue.

Mar 19: Music At St. Thomas’ presents the “Choir of Men and Boys from Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa.” Matthew Larkin is the conductor of this all-male choir that was founded in 1891 and remains the only remaining all-male choir in service of an Anglican Cathedral in Canada. Here they perform a run-out show at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church, Belleville.

Mar 25: The Elmer Iseler Singers help celebrate renowned soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian’s new CD. “The Journey to Canada from Armenia” will feature Armenian sacred music of the 13th to 20th centuries with Lydia Adams at the helm; St. Anne’s Anglican Church.

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Apr 1: The Guelph Chamber Choir presents Bach’s St. John Passion. This is another great staple of grand symphonic choral works, but like any Bach, notoriously difficult to prepare and execute. The Guelph Chamber Choir under Gerald Neufield will present this concert with tenor James McLean in the lead as the Evangelist; at River Run Centre, Guelph.

Apr 1 and Apr 2: Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra present Brahms’ German Requiem. Another great choral symphonic work, Brahms’ Requiem is a musical setting of several passages from the Bible selected by Brahms. It is not a Latin requiem mass like Mozart’s or Verdi’s setting, but rather, a requiem in the German language; at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Oakville.

Apr 4: Take advantage of this opportunity to see the University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s Annual High School Choral Festival.” Local high schools like Unionville H.S. and Lawrence Park C.I., among others, will be joining director of choral activities, Hilary Apfelstadt and other faculty for a one-day intensive. Featuring individual performances and workshopping, the various choirs will also workshop a combined piece which they will perform together at the end of the day with Faculty of Music ensembles including the Men’s Chorus, the Women’s Chamber Choir and members of Young Voices Toronto. The workshops are free to attend and run from 9am until 12pm and then 1pm to 3pm at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang Send info/media/tips to choralscene@thewholenote.com

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