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Volume 17 Issue 4 - December 2011

  • Text
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • December
  • February
  • Theatre
  • January
  • Symphony
  • Choir
  • Musical
  • Arts


Seasonal Music’sSpecial PlaceB E N J A M I N S T E I NThe modern holiday that we understand as Christmas is a constructthat arises from many different sources: a combinationof pre-Christian winter solstice iconography; appropriated andre-interpreted prophetic Hebrew texts; various writers’ telling andretelling of the life and deeds of the mysterious, charismatic publicspeaker and teacher Joshua Ben Joseph (later more familiarly knownas Jesus Christ); and the sung and spoken sacred texts of hundredsof millions of Christians around the world.Complicating the “modern” Christmas still further is the North loosely based on the third century Greek bishop Nicholas of Myra.Mercurial, harsh and irascible, the historical Saint Nick would havebeen a poor front-man for the vendors desperate to lure us to theshopping malls. He’d have been more likely to smite busy shoppersthan to invite their children to sit upon his knee, wish list in hand.It is not hard to imagine both Joshua and Nicholas togetherin some extra-worldly sphere, watching our frantic salterello ofcards, gifts, parties and food with bemusement and despair invaried measure.In the midst of this singular historical stew, music holds a specialplace in Christmas celebration. For many the pleasures of hearingand singing seasonal songs and carols is a welcome antidote toChristmas’ confused blend of commercialism, celebration, spiritualityand dogma. The marvels and portents that accompany the birth with one of the two most primal aspects of life–its beginning.Christmas music at its best combines joy with contemplation, theearth-bound with the marvellous.The performative nature of Christmas concerts makes themsimultaneous celebrations of, and comments on, the phenomenon ofChristmas. Below are some concerts of note for the coming season.On December 10, the Tallis Choir recreates a Christmas Eve massas it would have been heard in Quebec in 1725. The concert includesCharpentier’s Messe de Minuit and carols by baroque composersfrom Quebec and France.Between December 13 and 30, Theatre Columbus reinterpretsthe Nativity story, in an outdoor theatre presentation at the historicEvergreen Brick Works. The audience is advised to dress warmly.Theatre Columbus is a creative workshop of a theatre company, andthis version of the Nativity story clearly falls refreshingly into theirreverent/revisionist category. A different choir will provide musicalaccompaniment for every performance.The , or the Song of Mary, is a text taken from theGospel of Luke. It is an attempt to see the events of the Nativityfrom Mary’s point of view. Women who have experienced giving how well it succeeds. In any case, it has been set by many composers,and on December 8, English visitors, the Tallis Scholars, oneof the world’s eminent chamber choirs, will be performing severalof these diverse settings. Toronto Choral Society also looks toEurope, if somewhat further east, performing “An Eastern EuropeanChristmas” on December 14. As well as including Eastern Europeancarols, the concert provides an opportunity to hear a Franz Lisztsetting of the mass text, the Missa Choralis.Two great writers, Dylan Thomas and Charles Dickens, wrotevery differently enchanting commentaries on the nature ofChristmas. Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales is rooted in thereal and physical, the tangible sensory understanding of a specialevent seen through the primal senses of a child: All the Christmasesroll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlongmoon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at Dickens’ A Christmas Carol combined his central theme of thestruggle between greed and charity with a vastly entertaining ghoststory that has made the character of Ebenezer Scrooge almost Christmas iconography.Two choirs combine music with each of these literary works:Annex Singers combine A Child’s Christmas in Wales with worksby Sweelinck, Joubert, Walton and Lauridsen on December 10.Then on December 18, Guelph’s Dublin Street United Church includesthe work in “A Victorian Christmas,” with the Trillium Brass Dylan Thomas alone, the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir performs“A Welsh Christmas” on December 7 and 11.Theatre Columbusbrings MarthaRoss’s The Story tothe Evergreen BrickWorks, Dec 13–20.Generosity is the theme of A Christmas Carol, which appears in Dett Chorale teams up with the Choir of St. Timothy’s AnglicanChurch to sing in support of the Senior’s Health Centre of theNorth York General Hospital. On the same night, the RunnymedeUnited Church Choir performs their Dickens-themed concert, whichincludes an appearance by tenor Ben Heppner, in support of the TheStop Community Food Centre.Special church pageants and carol services are also an integralpart of this season. The Church of the Holy Trinity’s nativity pageant,a popular draw, runs between December 9 and 24. EglintonSt. George United Church’s December 11 carol service includesBenjamin Britten’s iconic Ceremony of Carols. Peruse the choral choices and choral groups that you might have previously missed.In the multicultural GTA, some choirs acknowledge and explorethe mid-winter festivals that take place in non-Christian cultures,such as Hindu Diwali, the African-American Kwanzaa andChanukah, the Hebrew festival of lights and gifts.On December 14 the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir’s free “ChanukahConcert Live” includes songs in Yiddish, Hebrew, Ladino andEnglish. North York’s Alexander Singers and Players combineChristmas and Chanukah music at “A Festive Concert” onDecember 10.Hart House Singers and Echo Women’s Choir present interestingprogrammes of world music on December 4 and 11 respectively.These types of concerts are a welcome antidote to the seasonal saturationof familiar songs and carols that, while beautiful, lose someof their appeal after the 1000th hearing.And of course, no December choral column would be completewithout a mention of what has become Christmas’ most emblematicchoral work, Handel’s Messiah.So there, I’ve mentioned it. Let’s move on now. It’s alwaysinteresting to investigate the varied programmes that choirs messiah16 thewholenote.comDecember 1 – February 7, 2012

TIM MATHESONchoose during the Christmas season. Drawing on the vast repertoireMessiah of music from different times and locations Messiah allowschoirs MESSIAH to create unusual MESSIAH MESSIAH.Oh, all right. Can’t you Handelians take a joke? It’s a greatcomposition. I love it! So quit spamming my website and hackingmy documents. I promise to venerate Handel’s Messiah until the endof my days. And tell that strange alto from Kitchener she can takedown her aria recording, Ben is Despised, from YouTube.Part of the fun of hearing such a well-known work is experiencingthe varied interpretations that different soloists, conductors andchoirs come up with. Increasingly, musicians are bringing a creativedisrespect to this piece, toying with orchestration, interpretation andeven improvisatory aspects of it, to keep it fresh and interesting. Yeta simple, straightforward performance, well executed, allows thebrilliance of its construction to shine through as well. My recommendationis to attend a Messiah performance by a choir unfamiliarto you. So many groups are performing this work — takethe opportunity to acquaint yourselfwith a choir that you have not yetseen perform, and expand yourknowledge of the GTA choralscene. We have even appended ahandy “Messiah QuickPicks” to thiscolumn (see next page) to guide youin your that even Christmas’ familiarcalendar date is not an agreed-uponfact. On January 8 the Vesnivka Choirand Toronto Ukrainian Male ChamberBen Heppner.Choir present “A Ukrainian ChristmasConcert.” Eastern European Christmasculture can be wonderfully rich andmystical, and is a link to Christianity’soldest roots. Could it be that this concert — presented at a timeat which the rest of us are glumly contemplating our credit cardstatements — is the only one here that would have made any kind ofcultural sense to the historical Saint Nicholas?to reconcile the Apollonian ideal of the holiday with life’s oftendisappointing realities. But as I hope I’ve made clear above, amonolithic Christmas tradition does not in fact exist, and nevermakes sense to each of us. Relieved of the obligation to enact anideal version of Christmas, one can instead pick and choose, discardtogether to create your own understanding of the season.LOOKING AHEAD TO JANUARY: After the December revels comesthe new year’s hangover. The only solution, of course, is musical“hair of the dog” — i.e. more sybaritic choral excess. The Januaryand February concerts mentioned below can feed this entirelyhealthy addiction.Between January 18 and 22, the Toronto Symphony Orchestraperforms Mozart’s d minor Requiembefore his untimely death.Brahms then takes over on February 4. Two concerts to choosefrom are a concert by the Larkin Singers that includes Brahms’Liebeslieder Walzer, and Kitchener’s Grand Philharmonic Choirperforming Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem and Arvo Pärt’s Credoand Cantus in Memoriam.Finally, on February 2 and 3, Soundstreams presents theAmadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers in an intriguing presentationof The Sealed Angel by Rodion Shchedrin. Shchedrin is a livingpiece of history, a Russian composer who lived through the Sovietera and who continues to work today. The staged performanceincludes the participation of ProArteDanza dance company.Ben Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist.He can be contacted at his website at Iseler SingersLydia Adams, Conductor E2011 ~ 2012 Toronto SeasonHandel’s MessiahCanada Council Conseil des Artsfor the Arts du CanadaISFriday, December 2, 2011 at 8:00 pmMetropolitan United Church, 56 Queen Street E.The Sealed AngelFriday Feb. 3, 2012 at 8:00 pmKoerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music273 Bloor Street West, near Avenue RoadProfoundly moving, this hypnotic choral drama is oneof the most important Russian works of the 20thcentury.In collaboration with Soundstreams,The Amadeus Choir and ProArteDanzaSaturday, April 21, 2012 at 8:00 pmProcter & Gamble Great Hall, Ontario Science Centre770 Don Mills Road, south of EglintonIn collaboration withthe Amadeus Choir,the Ontario Science Centre andthe Roberta Bondar FoundationDr. Roberta BondarMusic of the SpheresSpecial Guests:Dr. Roberta Bondar,Shawn Grenke, pianoONTARIOSCIENCECENTREEISTheROBERTA BONDARFOUNDATION TMONTARIOARTS COUNCILCONSEILDESARTS DELONTARIO ’416.217.0537 www.elmeriselersingers.comPETER MAHONSales Representative416-322-8000pmahon@trebnet.comwww.petermahon.comDecember 1 – February 7, 2012 17

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