8 years ago

Volume 19 Issue 3 - November 2013

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  • November
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conservative, playing it

conservative, playing it safe with conventional sounds. His work oftentook melodies and obvious chord changes and nudged the musicallanguage sideways into areas that no one could anticipate or expect.A lot of mid-century music that is more simplistic – or more experimental— has dated more obviously than the best of Britten’s work.While Britten will likely be most remembered for his operas — whichcontain stunning choral sections, notably in Peter Grimes, Billy Buddand Death in Venice — his music also furthered the English cathedralchoral tradition.English choral music of the Renaissance and early Baroque wasbrilliant and accomplished, but then languished in the decades thatfollowed until the end of the 19th century, when it was revitalized bythe the work of composers such as Holst, Elgar and Vaughan Williams.Britten further enlivened this tradition in the 20th century withoratorios and anthems that balanced immediate appeal with inventivenessand innovation. Several concerts take place in the comingweeks that will give choral audiences a chance to hear some of thesecompositions.Toronto Mendelssohn Choir performs a Britten double billNovember 20, with his Saint Nicolas (1948) and The Company ofHeaven (1937). Saint Nicolas, of course, is the fourth-century Greekbishop and saint whose legendary exploits form the basis for themodern Santa Claus. But Britten’s cantata is thankfully free of anykind of cutesiness or sentimentality, and instead presents a portrait ofNicolas as vulnerable, dynamic and conflicted.Because the cantata was written to be performed in part by schoolchildren,the music is also both mischievous and exuberant, especiallyin the choral sections. St Nicolas has wonderful moments — anexciting musical depiction of a storm at sea which Nicholas calmswith prayer (“He Journeys to Palestine”), and a grisly but entertainingsequence in which children eaten by starving villagers are broughtback to life (“The Pickled Boys”).This work is great fun for children and youth to perform and attend,especially when staged. It really ought to be a Christmas perennial, afamiliar favourite on the level of other choralworks regularly performed at that time of year.Unfortunately, a performance of St. Nicolasis relatively rare, and a performance of his1937 The Company of Heaven is even rarer. Ihave never actually heard this piece live, andam looking forward to attending this concert.The theme of the cantata is of angels — the“company of heaven” — and their metaphysicalbattle with evil. Britten assembled poetry onthis theme from diverse sources ranging fromthe Bible to Christina Rossetti and WilliamBlake. Some of the poetry is set to music,some is recited. Britten combines his ownmusic with a setting of the hymn “Ye watchersand ye holy ones,” a standard of the Anglicantradition, and one that would have had deepresonance for a nation on the edge of war.Orpheus: Another opportunity to hearBritten comes courtesy of the Orpheus Choirof Toronto, which performs his 1938 cantataWorld of the Spirit on November 5. Britten wasa life-long pacifist whose loathing of cruelty,especially involving children, is a theme thatrecurs in many of his compositions. Brittenlived briefly in America during the beginning of WWII, in partbecause his pacifist leanings were not well received in pre-war Britain.World of the Spirit, a piece that draws on varied texts that express love,hope and tolerance, is both manifesto and plea. This performance isthe Canadian premiere of this rare work, so attending the concert is achance to take part in a bit of Britten’s own ongoing history.This concert also features a very special event. John Freund, a greatlover and supporter of music in Toronto, is also a survivor of the Naziconcentration camps Terezin and Auschwitz. He will read from hisLYDIA ADAMSCONDUCTOR and ARTISTIC DIRECTORoURseasonGet the Christmas seasonoff to a great start. Enjoythe TMC’s annual concertof festive music and stories—this year with specialguest Ben Heppner.Dec. 11, 2013 | 7:30 pmYorkminster Park Baptist Church1585 Yonge StreetNoel Edison conductorBen Heppner tenorJames Bourne pianoMichael Bloss organFestival BrassSING WITH THE ANGELS!Sat. Dec. 14, 2013 • 7:30 pmYorkminster Park Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge Street, Toronto(at NE corner of Yonge and Heath, just North of St. Clair)A Special Tribute to the Ontario Arts Council on its 50th AnniversaryBenjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols," works by J. Rutter, E. Daley, D. Willcocks,M. Wilberg and the winning compositions from the 27th Annual Amadeus SeasonalSong-Writing Competition.Featuring: Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto • Lydia Adams, ConductorBach Children’s Chorus • Linda Beaupré, ConductorErica Goodman, harp • Eleanor Daley and Shawn Grenke, piano and organTickets!.– 40.FESTIVALOF CAROLS416-446-0188 www.amadeuschoir.comMEDIA PARTNERBOx OFFICE416-598-0422 ext. seniors Vox tix– $ 76 $ 35– $ 70 $ 25 for 30 & under$ 120 VIP seatIng & post-concert reception with Ben heppner22 | Novemberr 1 – December 7, 2013

Toronto Mass Choir. See Quick Picks, Nov 16.memoir I Was One of the Lucky Few: The Story of My Childhood. Thereadings will be interspersed with choral music and visual imagery,in the kind of multimedia presentation that has become an OrpheusChoir specialty.I hope I’ve persuaded those unfamiliar with Britten to considerhaving a listen at some point this year. But I’m conscious that I’veneglected other groups in doing so, especially since the number ofchoral concerts taking place increases exponentially as the end of thecalendar year approaches. Here are “quick pick” listings for some November 1 – December 7, 2013 | 23

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