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Volume 20 Issue 6 - March 2015

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Beat by Beat | Choral

Beat by Beat | Choral SceneMusic for theMasses?BENJAMIN STEINGoing back to graduate school this year has made me terrifiedof making declarative statements about music, choirs or prettymuch everything else. What I had previously assumed to besafe, boring statements of fact have turned, each and every one, intopoints of heated argument.For instance, previously I would have in all innocence said thingslike “next week I am going to hear Mozart’s Mass in C Major.” Now, nosooner are the words out of my mouth than I feel compelled to explain(before someone points it out) that I am actually attending a concert,not a church mass like the one at which Mozart’s music would havefirst been heard; and that I realize that the C Major chords beingsounded will not bear any resemblance to the timbre and tuning ofthose imagined by Mozart; and that I am aware that the sweepingassumptions about the nature of Time implied by my use of the words“next” and “week” are presumptuous and not provable.I’m not kidding! Individual words are the subject not just of discussionsand articles, but of entire books. Heavily contested terms to bothponder and avoid: “music,” “metre,” “sound,” “sonata,” “Haydn,”“Beyoncé,” etc.Masses: I mention all this because of the nature of March and Aprilchoral concerts, many of which feature musical settings of the Mass,and other sacred texts, to coincide with the Christian holiday of GoodFriday and the six-week season of Lent. The last time I was at a traditionalchurch mass was almost 20 years ago at a friend’s wedding. ButI have sung in and attended performances of many masses of all typesand styles since that time, and that is probably not an uncommonexperience, especially for people involved in choral music.When we hear a concert version of a mass, what is our relationshipto the music? Is it a religious experience, an aesthetic one or somekind of combination of the two? How – and why – did Mozart andHaydn become part of a pantheon of classical music demigods, ratherthan the down-to-earth musical civil servants of the European courtsthey actually were? (Short answer: it’s kind of Beethoven’s fault, butlet’s not get into that now.)Speaking of Mozart, Haydn and masses, on March 15 Hart HouseSingers perform Haydn’s Paukenmesse (Mass in Time of War), acrowd-pleaser since its premiere in 1796. And on March 20 and 28 theexcellent Exultate Chamber Singers perform “O Be Joyful,” a concertthat includes one of my favourite Mozart pieces, his Vesperae Solennesde Confessore K339 (Solemn Vespers), as well as settings of Psalm 100by Palestrina, di Lasso, Schütz and Mendelssohn. On March 7 OrpheusChoir performs “TheSoul’s Journey,”featuring Englishcomposer JohnRutter’s appealingRequiem setting. Theconcert also includesa rare opportunityto hear JamesMacMillan’s SevenLast Words from theCross. MacMillanis a Scottishcomposer who hasbeen recorded andperformed extensivelyin the U.K.,Exultate Chamber Singersand it’s great that the OC is making his work available to be heardlive. On March 28 Orillia’s Cellar Singers perform “Light Perpetual,” aconcert that features Canadian Eleanor Daley’s setting of the Requiemmass as well as Fauré’s celebrated version.Passions: Passion settings, which describe the events of the Christ’scrucifixion and resurrection, also take place this time of year. Theseare usually settings of the Christian Gospel texts. As with Masssettings, Passions have moved to a concert experience from theiroriginal church role.On March 10 and 11 Toronto Mendelssohn Choir performs ArvoPärt’s Passio, a setting that at least one critic found too reflectivefor the savagery and drama of the Passion story. I disagree. Pärt’sversion is haunting, and a large group like the TMC can convey thework’s scope and grandeur. Audiences from all over the world haveresponded enthusiastically to Pärt’s modern take on classical tonalstructures. For those who would like to explore his work further, onMarch 7 and 8 Kitchener’s DaCapo Chamber Choir perform his settingof the Magnificat text in a concert titled “O Earth, Return.”Bach’s St. John Passion is the textbook example of this genre,and Tafelmusik’s interpretation of this work, performed everyfew years under the direction of Ivars Taurins, has become somethingof an institution in the city. Performances this year take placebetween March 19 to 22. As well as the virtuoso choir and orchestra,the performances offer a chance to hear the acclaimed English tenorCharles Daniels in the role of the Evangelist.On April 3 The Georgetown Bach Chorale will be performing thesame work in their home town. This month there is also an opportunityto hear another noted Bach tenor, Rufus Müller, in Kitchener-Waterloo, in the Grand Philharmonic Chamber Singers’ performanceof Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This companion piece to the St. John isperformed more rarely, in part because of its larger scope and instrumentationneeds, but many consider it Bach’s greatest choral work.Personal: I try not to use this column to mention any concertin which I’m taking part, but I have to make an exception for theMetropolitan Festival Choir’s “The Grace of Mourning: Music for Good26 | March 1 - April 7, 2015

an Ontario government agencyun organisme du gouvernement de l’OntarioFriday” on April 3. Along with the crowd-pleasingFauré Requiem and German Romantic composerJosef Rheinberger’s Stabat Mater, the MFC isperforming a rare work that merits the interestof choral aficionados, Hugo Distler’s hauntingTotentanz (Dance of Death). Distler was a Germancomposer of great courage and principle, whoactually committed suicide rather than be draftedinto the German army during WWII. His musicallanguage borrows from the Lutheran motet traditionthat extends from Bach back to composers likeSchütz, Schein and Eccard. Borrowing rhythmic andmodal elements from this 16th- and 17th-centuryrepertoire, Distler’s music offsets the harsh austerityof the text with great empathy and compassion.Quickly: Two younger choirs deserve yourattention and support in upcoming concerts. OnMarch 15 That Choir performs “That Choir: Unplugged,” with choralversions of music by Pentatonix, Mumford & Sons and Imogen Heap,among others. And on March 28 the Univox Choir performs “Kühl/Caliente,” a concert in support of Doctors without Borders.The Vienna Boys Choir is a venerable choral institution well-establishedfor crowd-pleasing concerts and enjoyable repertoire. They areperforming in Midland on March 24, Guelph and Brampton March 25,Burlington March 26, Kingston March 27 and St. Catharines March 28.And finally, a special note: this month the Elora Festival Singers willbe travelling to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall. They will beperforming a sneak preview of their program on March 8 in Elora.Benjamin Stein is a Toronto tenor and lutenist. Hecan be contacted at Visit his website at ADAMS, Conductor & Artistic DirectorJoy of Singing:The Magic of Song!2014 • 2015 TORONTO CONCERT SERIES40Of Heart and Tide:The Gift of WATERGuest Host BEN HEPPNER, C.C., AMADEUS CHOIR HONORARY PATRONSpecial Guest ROBERTA BONDAR, O.C., O.ONT., M.D., PH.D.Sat. April 11 th , 2015 • 7:30 pmTrinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Jeanne Lamon Hall 427 Bloor St. W., Toronto(1 block west of Spadina)Presenting works by Whitacre,Schafer, Henderson and featuring aworld premiere by Sid Robinovitch:“Of Heart and Tide”, commissioned inmemory of Geoffrey and Irene (Gene)Parsons. Breathtaking photos byDr. Roberta Bondar on the theme ofwater intertwined with the beautifulsinging of the Amadeus Choir.A multi-media event not to be missed!FEATURING:Amadeus Choir ofGreater TorontoLydia Adams, conductorChristopher Lee, fluteEd Reifel, percussionShawn Grenke, pianoConcert SponsorSandraParsonsTICKETS -416-446-0188 • www.amadeuschoir.comPETER MAHONSales March 1 - April 7, 2015 | 27

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