- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
In 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!
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 email@example.com
- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
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
Edward 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.
Echo 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.
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- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
Mozart’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.
If 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.
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.
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- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
South Africa has very strong choral traditions, among them the call-and-answer style known as isicathamiya; a strong male tenor-lead melody contrasted against repeating chord progressions shapes this music. You’ll know the famous The Lion Sleeps Tonight of Solomon Linda; that is indigenous South African choral music from the 1920s. Now Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of best-known practitioners of the form, and one of the oldest and most successful choral groups in South Africa, is coming to Toronto.
The name isicathamiya derives from a Zulu verb, cathama, meaning to tread softly. Isicathamiya has been a staple of culture in South Africa for almost a hundred years. Culturally Zulu, this a cappella musical style has its roots in a much more robust foot-pounding centuries-old traditional Zulu culture of singing and dance. Structural reshaping of the economy under colonial rule in the early 20th century made traditional lifestyles of many indigenous people impossible. Men had to leave for work in white-owned industries, unable to own land, farm, raise cattle, receive education, or own property in many cases. In a colonial and apartheid-era urban context the strong movements of traditional Zulu mbube (“lion”) vocals and dance were both feared and frowned upon by European populations who believed that the men were fighting. So the dances were adjusted to fit this reality; tiptoes and slower, deliberate movement became the new vocabulary. Isicathamiya was born and has become over time an important social and cultural force for urban populations forced to work far away from homes and far from family. Communities would convene on Saturday evening, as they had Sunday off in respect of the Christian Sabbath. Now-legendary Saturday gatherings in Durban and Johannesburg are often all-night competitions due to the number of groups involved. Hundreds of people attend. The only times these competitions do not take place are during Christmas and Easter.
While isicathamiya has morphed and changed over the decades through colonialism and apartheid, dancing remains as a core part of the tradition, with choreography to match the vocals. It is a philosophical and physical approach to music connecting myriad influences of music, dance, indigenous culture, external influences and, importantly, Christianity.
You know some of the sounds of isicathamiya if you’ve listened to the Lion King soundtrack. Lebo M., a South African composer and artist, is the powerful voice that opens the soundtrack with Circle of Life. If you’ve seen the musical adaptation, Grasslands Chant and One by One are Western examples of this music tradition alive. (Read more about this collaboration in Chip Stern’s June 2003 Playbill article on Mark Mancina and Lebo M.’s “African Sound for Lion King.”) Ladysmith Black Mambazo was also featured on the Lion King II soundtrack.
Joseph Shabalala founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1960s and continues to lead the group. The choir is prolific, having recorded over 50 albums. They have received 18 Grammy nominations and four Grammy awards for their work. The documentary of the group On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom was nominated for an Academy Award. They’ve worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon, Lebo M. and Michael Jackson.
There are four opportunities along the Canadian side of Lake Ontario to catch Ladysmith Black Mambazo in action as they tour North America: February 14, Koerner Hall; February 15, the Grand Theatre, Kingston; February 16;the London Music Hall, London; and February 17, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St Catharines.
Some great shows in store. As mentioned before the year turned, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is joined by the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers in Fauré’s Requiem. February 1 and 2. Another early presentation by Soundstreams sounds especially promising: the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performing Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, works by Arvo Pärt and more, February 2, St. Paul’s Basilica.
2017 is an especially auspicious year for the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir as it celebrates its 35th anniversary. With Ivars Taurins at the helm, A Bach Tapestry, February 9 to 12, features a collection of songs from the extensive Bach library. Joined by instrumentalists, the choir will present several Bach works never before performed by Tafelmusik including the Kyrie and Gloria from the Lutheran Mass in G Major, commonly known as the German Organ Mass. The meat of the concert will be various cantatas selected by Taurins from the over 200 cantatas attributed to Bach.
To round off the end of the Tafelmusik season, the orchestra and choir will present Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. This eternally cherished piece is sure to please. May 4 to 7 at Koerner Hall.
The Peterborough Singers present “Canadian Women of Song” February 25 at Calvary Church, Peterborough. The choir’s director Syd Birrell has arranged popular tunes for the choir with Steve McCracken orchestrating the music for the accompanying band. Featured are works such as Susan Aglukark’s O Siem, k.d. lang’s Constant Craving, Jully Black’s Seven Day Fool, Jann Arden’s Good Mother, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Up Where We Belong. This performance is conducted by Pam Birrell, who will be joined by MC Linda Kash. Saturday February 25, 2017, 2pm. Calvary Church, Peterborough.
The Musikay Choir and Orchestra under maestro Stéphane Potvin present “Love is…” in Waterdown on February 11 and Oakville February 12. Coming just before Valentine’s Day, the ensemble will present a host of small works all influenced by stories of love. The light and beautiful selections include Handel’s gorgeous Lascia ch’io pianga (Let Me Weep), Monteverdi’s Lamento d’arianna lasciatemi morire (The Lament of Arianna, Let Me Die), and Orlando di Lasso’s Mon Coeur se recommande à vous (I Give to You All of My Heart).
The 150th anniversary of Confederation is being celebrated across the country throughout 2017. The Orpheus Choir presents the first large choral concert in the region to mark the occasion with “Beginnings: With Glowing Hearts.” Ruth Watson Henderson’s The Magic of God’s World and Derek Holman’s Laudis Creationis are featured alongside two commissions by Mark Sirrett and Laura Hawley. The Toronto Children’s Chorus will also make a guest appearence, February 26 at Grace Church on-the-Hill.
Conductor Noel Edison leads the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (in which I sing) and the Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Singers in “Sing Joyfully!” on March 4. Healey Willan’s not-often-performed An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts makes an appearance. This grand work, written for TMC in 1921, is perfectly suited to the choir. John Cameron’s arrangement of Elgar’s Nimrod, Lux Aeterna is always a delight. The program will also feature common hymns for sing-along.
Chorus Niagara presents their first concert of 2017, “The Farthest Shore: A Celtic Celebration.” Artistic director Bob Cooper leads Chorus Niagara, the Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir, Chorus Niagara’s Side-By-Side High School Chorale, soloists Maeve Palmer, Ryan Moilliet, Michael Driscoll and musicians of Celtic Connection alongside the Chorus Niagara Brass Quintet. Irish dancers will also join the musicians. The main feature is Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s The Farthest Shore on March 4 at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.
And finally, Tanya Tagaq, Christine Duncan, Jean Martin, Jordan Pal and Andrew Staniland are all featured in the first concert of the New Creations Festival of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra curated by Owen Pallett. This concert, March 4, will have strong improvisational and vocal elements and a guaranteed dynamic evening of music making.
Film Fun and Games: The Toronto Children’s Chorus presents “Celebrate at the Movies.” Alongside Andy Morris on percussion and Stan Klebanoff on trumpet, the choir invites the audience to dress up and sing along with hits from beloved children’s movies, February 25, 5pm at Randolph Theatre.
Speaking of film (and with apologies for straying far from my choral beat), there are lots of musical options for film, TV and game buffs in the coming months.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents “Disney-Pixar Ratatouille in Concert” February 18 at 11:30am and 4pm. This warm and hilarious movie is screened with the orchestra playing live under the baton of Sarah Hicks. (“Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark with Live Orchestra” on March 29 has been sold out for months).
The TSO’s Canada Mosaic Project is a pan-Canadian initiative designed to be part of the Canada 150 celebrations. Among many other concerts, “Lights, Camera…Orchestra!” is a special film-themed concert conducted by Earl Lee, the resident conductor of the TSO. It features a world premiere, and TSO co-commission with TIFF Kids, of Kjell Boersma’s film DAM! The Story of Kit the Beaver set to music by Erica Procunier played live by the orchestra. With additional fun provided with highlights from Star Wars, Jaws and Mission Impossible, this concert at 2pm and 4pm on February 25 is sure to be fun. Family friendly!
The Sony Centre also has some unique offerings in the coming months that will be great musical experiences. Presenting innovative and grand musical experiences, the Sony Centre gives us unique opportunities to experience global phenomena here in Toronto. “Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions” hits Toronto with full symphonic arrangements of every Pokémon game written in the last 20 years, May 6 at 7:30pm. This is a guaranteed sellout so buy early!
And we know that the Sony Centre is beginning a multi-year presentation of the Harry Potter films live in concert. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone runs June 27 and 28 at 7:30pm. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets runs October 12 and 13, 7:30pm. Expect to see all eight movies in the coming years. Tickets will sell out. Don’t get stuck on the platform; board the Hogwarts Express!
Just an FYI on the “Game of Thrones Live” concert March 4 at the Air Canada Centre I’ve already mentioned a few times. Top tier tickets began at $641.50 making this one of the most expensive musical experiences ever offered in the city. The entire concert is sold out.
Update Feb 1, 11am EST: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will not be performing Healey Willan's An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts at their March "Sing Joyfully" concert, and will instead perform this work at their Good Friday concert, titled "Sacred Music for a Sacred Space." For details, visit www.tmchoir.org.
- Written by Brian Chang
- Category: Choral Scene
Holiday music is inseparable from the joy of the season. Every choir has a performance in the next few weeks and while you check out your favourites and traditional hits, try something new and different. There are a host of options in my column this month. Financially, these concerts can help solidify revenue for arts organizations. Just like Indigo sells more in the holiday season than the rest of the year combined, choirs rely on the revenue from holiday concerts to be in the black. The National Ballet of Canada does this with an entire month of productions of The Nutcracker. Arts organizations are desperately in need of solid sales so that new and innovative programming continues to fill the rest of our months. So here we go. Onward into a season of staples!
Oh Lord, Messiah:
Ask a chorister about Handel’s Messiah and you will get a lot of opinions, mostly favourable. Some scathing. Some complicated. This time of year, almost every choir will perform Messiah in its entirety or at least the iconic Hallelujah movement.
Along the way, something is often forgotten – Messiah is not easy. It’s long and technical. It is nuanced and requires diligence and a strong artistic interpretation. It requires musical instinct for appropriate accents and separation, stresses and vowel placement on fugal runs. Sure, an average singer can jump in and go for it and muddy their way through the music but the result is just that – mud. I’ve heard so many versions of choirs belting out Hallelujah at the top of their lungs without regard for blend or nuance. I admit that this is a thrill and a delight to sing, but let’s not get carried away.
Any chorister who tells you they can do the runs of For unto Us a Child Is Born flawlessly every single time is probably not a very good listener. His Yoke Is Easy is another challenging number. Try saying the vowel “ee”. Now try saying it 12 times in four seconds. Then add various rhythms and try to get 20 people in a section to sing it all the same way. Another continuous sore spot is the tuning in the exposed Graves of Since by Man Came Death. Exposed chorales like this are tuning death for unprepared and undisciplined choirs. It is challenging! But also, incredibly fun.
Handel’s writing is also quite forgiving of mistakes. Since by Man Came Death, if heading towards tuning death, is suddenly whipped back into shape with a very loud Allegro from the orchestra. There are very few parts in which the various voicings of the choir are not supported by instrumentation.
I have sung over 20 performances of Messiah over the last few years, a rare chance to get to know a piece of music so intensely that I’ve developed my own personal approach to performing it. For me, the songs mark out a roadmap for the evening. After the doors close, latecomers are permitted to enter again usually after And the Glory of the Lord, which is about eight minutes into the whole performance. So I don’t usually relax until the bass soloist begins For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth. It isn’t the first time we hear the bass, but when he begins so quietly and begins a build over the 16ths, the effect is exquisite. The second half is my favourite. Getting to the Hallelujah isn’t even the highlight for me. My favourite aria The Trumpets Shall Sound usually hails the end of the final chorus. (Sometimes, Worthy Is the Lamb follows; however, it depends on the edits of the conductor.)
For me, there is no greater movement than Worthy Is the Lamb followed by the epic Amen. The grand D-major chord is a powerful opener to the end of the masterwork. On the very last page, the sopranos hit a high A followed by the tenors a few bars later. This is always the flashing exit gate to the song. For choirs, this is a moment of collective inhalation and exhalation that brings the grand work to an authoritative close. Pure joy when done right!
Oh Lord, Recorded Messiahs:
Toronto has played home to two iconic recordings of Messiah and may well add a third to the mix. Tafelmusik under Ivars Taurins released a recording of the work on period instruments in 2012. For many, this is a gold standard for Messiah interpretations. In 1987 (the year I was born), Sir Andrew Davis recorded a modern interpretation of the work including the forces of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. This recording has long been a staple of Messiah listeners across the world. Little did I know that I would then be part of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for a new recording to be released for the 2016 holidays. (See David Olds’ review in this month’s Editor’s Corner.) This new version (in which Worthy Is the lamb, by the way, is the final chorus) is the grandest interpretation of the work ever. These are all very different interpretations of the work and show the diversity of sound with the same music. (Tafelmusik doesn’t have a lost sheep braying though).
Oh Lord, Big Messiahs:
This year is unusual for the two biggest Messiahs. Normally Tafelmusik and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra productions overlap. This year, they barely do, with Tafelmusik all but done before the TSO starts. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir perform a period interpretation on period instruments under the baton of perennial favourite Ivars Taurins at Koerner Hall December 14 to 17. The ever-popular “Sing-Along Messiah” celebrates its 30th anniversary December 18 at Massey Hall.
The biggest game in town is always the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Roy Thomson Hall, December 18 to 21 and 23. Notably, the conductor changes every year. This year it’s Nicholas McGegan, conductor of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale who leads.
Oh Lord, More Messiahs:
Elmer Iseler Singers and the Amadeus Choir: December 2, 8pm at Metropolitan United Church.
Soundstreams presents “Electric Messiah,” a stripped-down four-voice, guitar and electronics concept. Vocal improv goddess Christine Duncan is one of the featured soloists: December 5 to 7, 8pm at the Drake Underground.
London Pro Musica and the #WePlayOn (former musicians of Orchestra London) re-create the Dublin Messiah: December 7, 7:30pm at First St. Andrew’s United Church, London.
Chorus Niagara is joined by the Talisker Players: December 10, 7:30pm at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.
Oh yeah, there’s other music this season!
The Upper Canada Choristers and Cantemos present a different take on holiday music with “Noche de Paz: an Old World and New World Christmas.” The feature is Argentianian composer Ariel Ramirez’s Navidad Nuetra representing a distinctly Latin American sound and rhythm. Cantemos, an 11-voice Latin ensemble made up of members of the Choristers, will perform a few smaller carols from Colombia and Peru: December 2, 8pm at Grace Church on-the-Hill.
The Tallis Choir of Toronto presents “Monteverdi: Vespers of Christmas Eve.” Artistic director Peter Mahon promises a period interpretation and performance that will evoke a Renaissance Christmas Eve in St. Mark’s, Venice: December 3, 7:30pm at St. Patrick’s Church, Toronto.
Singing OUT! presents “Not Another Fa La La.” There’s always choreography! Saturday December 3, 7:30pm at Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
The Oakville Children’s Choir presents three different sets of concerts. The first is “Stories, Songs, and Snow” featuring Lineage by Andrea Ramsey and Ngoma by Moira Stanley. Both composers workshopped with the choir on their visit to the Pacific International Choral Festival earlier this year: December 3, 7pm at St. John’s United Church, Oakville. The second, “Community Carol Concerts,” also at St. John’s United Church, takes place December 10 at 1:30pm and 4pm. The choir then joins the Oakville Symphony Orchestra to perform carols and the fun Suite from John Williams Christmas in the 14th annual “Family Christmas Concert”: December 11, 1:30pm and 4pm at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts.
The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents “Festival of Carols” with the Salvation Army Canadian Staff Band. (I’ll be in the tenors!): December 7, 7:30pm at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
Exultate Chamber Singers present “A Time for Celebration: A Canadian Christmas.” University of Toronto professor Hilary Apfelstadt’s Exultate Chamber Singers are always a delight. Featuring Ring Wild Bells by Stephanie Martin, O Magnum Mysterium by Timothy Corlis and a premiere of a new arrangement of Silent Night by Exultate singer/composer J. Scott Brubacher: December 9, 8pm at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church.
Univox presents “Serenity, Hope, Light” celebrating all the various holidays of the season. The feature is Bach’s Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden (Praise the Lord, all ye nations): December 9, 8pm at Christ Church Deer Park.
Pax Christi Chorale presents Ode on the Nativity by C.H.H. Parry with the Aslan Boys Choir and other guests: December 10, 7:30pm and December 11, 3pm at Grace Church on-the-Hill, as well as their eighth annual Children’s Messiah, at 4pm December 17 at Church of St. Mary Magdalene.
Echo Women’s Choir celebrates its 25th anniversary with “Ain’t Life Sweet.” Special guest Annabelle Chvostek joins the choir with a special arrangement of her song Black Hole. The choir will feature songs and arrangements by Vermont artist Brendan Taafe and Penny Lang among others: December 11, 7:30pm at Church of the Holy Trinity.
The super accessible and diverse City Choir presents “This Shining Night, a Bright-Hearted Concert.”: December 13, 7:30pm at St. Peter’s Church.
Incontra Vocal Ensemble (which I also sing in) performs “O Nata Lux:” December 14, 7:30pm at Regis College, University of Toronto.
That Choir: “Carols.” Most fun a choir can have, legally. ’Nuff said: December 18, 8pm at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Toronto.
The huge conglomeration of the Toronto Children’s Chorus ensembles (nine of them!) come together for their annual Roy Thomson Hall concert – “A Child’s Christmas.” Special guest, Stratford Festival veteran Geraint Wyn Davies will narrate the evening. A variety of instrumentalists including TSO musicians will join in the fun: December 17, 2pm at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.
The JUNO award-winning Toronto Mass Choir presents “A Gospel Christmas,” featuring special guests and a truly uplifting concert experience: December 17, 7pm at Bayview Chapel, Tyndale University College.
Oh Lord, a New Year!
Our double listing for December 2016 and January 2017 would be remiss without some highlights early in 2017.
Every year the Toronto Mendelsohn Choir hosts five or six emerging conductors in a weeklong intensive. This culminates with a free concert featuring the choir and the Elora Festival Singers: January 28, 3pm at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is joined by the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers in a performance of Fauré’s Requiem: February 1 and 2, 8pm at Roy Thomson Hall.
Soundstreams presents the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir featuring Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and more. February 2, 8pm at St. Paul’s Basilica.
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