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Volume 15 Issue 10 - July/August 2010

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Choral Oasis in EloraB e

Choral Oasis in EloraB e n J a m i n S t e i nSINGERS WELCOMEAmateur & ProfessionalAuditions for 2010/11 Season:• •Welcome Yule• •Handel’s Messiah• •Gala CabaretDavid J. KingCONDUCTORSUMMER SIGHT-SINGING & VOCAL TECHNIQUE 416 225 2255Sunday October 24 • 3 p.m.Kaffeemusik500 Years of English SongSaturday December 4 • 8 p.m.O Magnum MysteriumOpening Notes • 7 p.m.Music & Mystery2010/2011Mark Vuorinen Music DirectorSaturday April 2 • 8 p.m.Josquin: Motets and ChansonsOpening Notes • 7 p.m.Sunday May 15 • 3 p.m.KaffeemusikBach and NumerologyCONCERT SEASONSubscribe now for the best seats in the house!Christ Church Deer Park(416) 763-1695 • torontochamberchoir.caWhat do a Medieval mystic, Santa Claus and Elvis Presley havein common? They are the centerpieces of contrasting concertsin Southern Ontario this July and August. Stylistic extremesare quite common in any healthy choral scene, but in the summer,when many choirs are on hiatus, the relative paucity of concertsmakes the contrasts even more noticeable.The Elora Festival (July 9-August 1) has as its centerpiece the excellentElora Festival Singers, who are performing a range of musicfrom works by Beethoven, Vivaldiand Handel to a Broadway concertwith the great Jackie Richardsonas soloist. But if I had to pick oneconcert to go to during the festival,I would opt for their performanceof Benjamin Britten’s oratorio St.Nicholas, on July 25.Britten is hardly a neglectedcomposer, but I have always beencurious as to why his St. Nicholasisn’t performed more often. Writtenin 1948, it shows all the poiseand dash of the young composer ofPeter Grimes, combined with thegenuine friendliness towards theaudience – not an especially widespreadattitude in 20th-centurycomposers – of The Young Person’sGuide to the Orchestra. Thesubject of the work is of coursethe Medieval bishop who was thesource for the modern Santa Claus,Noel Edison, conductor ofthe Elora Festival Singers.and with Christmas concert attendance often being the economic anchorfor many choral groups, I would have thought that this clearlyseasonal work could do well against more familiar seasonal offeringsby Handel, Bach, Monteverdi and others.One possible explanation for St. Nicholas’s relative rarity in concertis its unusual scoring. Written in celebration of the centenary ofthe English boy’s school Lancing College, Britten made use of theschool’s comprehensive musical resources to score the piece for tenorsoloist, an adult mixed choir, a children’s choir, two pianos, organ,percussion and strings. To quote a character in Robertson Davies’sA Mixture of Frailties, it is “just the size to be neglected.” He mighthave been referring to St. Nicholas.Britten’s conception of St. Nicholas himself is filled with nuance.Outwardly powerful, stern yet benign, the true character of the bishopis one of doubt and conflict. This powerful tenor role alternatesbetween quiet soliloquies and fiery sermons, while the choral movementsencompass childlike playfulness, pageantry, savage cannibalism,a wonderful depiction of a storm at sea and finally Nicholas’sdeath and ascent into sainthood. It is a rare treat to hear this work inconcert, especially this time of year.The Medieval mystic mentioned above is Hildegard of Bingen, andher music is the focus of a concert on August 8 given by Schola Magdalena,a five-voice ensemble of female singers based out of Toronto’sChurch of St. Mary Magdalene. Hildegard was a medieval polymathof almost Leonardian scope, and recent researches into both earlymusic and the work of female composers has brought her work, neglectedfor centuries, into new focus.Medieval scholars often struggle with lost or incomplete sourcesin their attempts to shine a light on the past. They have been luckywith Hildegard, who left behind a clear legacy of songs, poems,books and letters that gives us insight both into the times in which shelived and the mind of an individual artist. Performers of her music20 THEWHOLENOTE.COMJuly 1 - September 7, 2010

have found a richness of invention, in which melody can be made toilluminate and enhance the meaning of the text in a way that can bechallenging with even the most beautiful chant.From a Medieval cleric to a modern composer’s take on a Medievalsaint, to the proverbial King of Rock and Roll may seem like aunlikely leap – especially in a choral context. But Elvis Presley wasa deeply religious man, who loved singing gospel music as a vocalwarm-up prior to giving concerts, and whose earliest musical influenceswere the choirs and quartets that he heard attending church asa young child. On August 20 Hamilton’s Brott Festival Choir and NationalAcademy Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony,in good classical fashion. But on August 4 the orchestra is joined by aGospel choir to perform Elvis: The Way it Was with vocalist StephenKabakos. Though the concert will likely focus on Presley’s pop songs,anyone familiar with Presley’s gospel singing can hear clearly the degreeto which a song like “Suspicious Minds” draws on that influence.Performing popular music in a choral context is much trickierthan it might seem. Ease with syncopated rhythms is an essential partof the performance of popular music, and classically trained musicianscan struggle to free themselves from the straightjacket of notatedmusic, in which syncopation is often difficult to convey convincinglyand idiomatically. An awareness of the backbeat (accents ontwo and four in a 4/4 measure) needs to inform the performance at alltimes, and often singers must re-jig their vocal style as well. A legatovocal line that serves Handel and Mozart is usually too heavy andrhythmically undifferentiated for popular music.I predict that even choirs mostly accustomed to classical repertoirewill begin to delve with increasing frequency into the world of popularmusic. The challenge for choirs and choral directors will be torecognize that good execution of popular music takes skills that classicaltraining has neglected, and adjust and even re-train accordingly.The term “performance practice” is often applied to early music:equal care and respect is needed in the area of popular and vernacularmusic as well.Some last notes.The Elmer Iseler Singersperform on July11 at Westben, and atParry Sound’s Festivalof the Sound on July 30and August 8. The 2010Ontario Youth Choir,directed this year byIwan Edwards appearThe Elmer Iseler Singers.from 27-29 August, inLondon, Orillia and Torontorespectively. And in a final Gospel context, at Toronto’s FringeTheatre Festival (June 30-July 11), the play “Maurice Carter’s Innocence”will feature a Gospel choir onstage, helping to illuminate andtell the true story of a miscarriage of justice that led to one man’swrongful imprisonment, and of the determination of those who foughtfor his release.Toronto Classical Singers2010/11 SeasonHandel: Messiah (Highlights)Sunday December 5, 2010Morten Lauridsen: Lux AeternaMozart: RequiemSunday February 27, 2011Mendelssohn: ElijhaSunday May 1, 2011Conductor: Jurgen PetrenkoThe Talisker Players OrchestraInteresting in joining email: or call416-443-1490 to arrange an auditionSeason Tickets: Adult: Senior/Student: Single Tickets: Adult: Senior/Student: To order: or 416-443-1490www.torontoclassicalsingers.caBenjamin Stein is a tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted MAHONSales Representative416-322-8000pmahon@trebnet.comwww.petermahon.comJuly 1 - September 7, 2010 THEWHOLENOTE.COM 21

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