Classical music: Vancouver’s fall choral calendar is a feast of premieres

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Four of Vancouver’s top vocal ensembles have come up with different strategies for our return to an (almost) normal fall

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Unlike our original musical teams, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Vancouver Opera, as well as our main concert presenters, the choirs use their own set of rules for the fall season.

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Starting after a long summer break, most vocal ensembles give their first performances in late September or early October. Remembrance Day is increasingly commemorated with choral events, then comes the torrent of seasonal music beginning in late November. That means four of Vancouver’s top vocal ensembles have come up with different strategies for our return to an (almost) normal fall.

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The era was when choirs were considered to be rather laid back and conservative in their programming. Not anymore. Contemporary music by a diverse selection of composers and a strong selection of premieres characterize Vancouver’s fall choral calendar.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir, led since 2019 by Kari Turunen, is our own fully professional choral ensemble. Its concert season began last week but continues on October 14 at St James Community Square with Time Bends, a program built around a new commission for choir and electronics, Runs Deep, Bends Time, by Peter Hannan.

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Then, on November 4, at the Pacific Spirit United Church (née Ryerson), the VCC celebrates the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia, with choral music by women, including three contemporary Cecilia: Cecilia Livingston, Cecilia Damström and Cecilia McDowall. The classic Hymn to St Cecilia by Benjamin Britten, with lovely text by WH Auden, completes the program.

Memories of Self-Isolation by Frank Horvat will premiere in November, courtesy of the Vancouver Bach Choir.
Memories of Self-Isolation by Frank Horvat will premiere in November, courtesy of the Vancouver Bach Choir. Photo by frankhorvat.com

The Vancouver Cantata Singers are a hybrid formation mixing a few professionals with the best amateur singers. This season, the VCS is celebrating Paula Kraemer’s 10 years as Artistic Director with a unique event, Light of Humanity, on October 22 at Christ Church Cathedral. There will be more Britten, and a work by Estonian master Arvo Pärt, as well as works by five contemporary Canadian composers.

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The highlight of the concert is the premiere of Lux Humanitas (Light of Humanity) by composer-in-residence Craig Galbraith. Galbraith’s previous commission, Coeli and Terra, won the ensemble the prize for Best Performance of a Canadian Work at the 2019 Healey Willan Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs.

On October 29 at Christ Church Cathedral, Musica Intima’s Hiraeth program also highlights contemporary repertoire, in this case music inspired by nature and reflection, the nostalgic concept of longing for a place or moment summed up by the word hiraeth in Welsh. The playlist includes music from Joanna Ward, Ramona Luengen and Gabriela Lena.

It's the turn of the Vancouver Bach Choir of Messiah in December.
It’s the turn of the Vancouver Bach Choir of Messiah in December. Courtesy photo, Vancouver Bach Choir

The Vancouver Bach Choir is our oldest and certainly our largest vocal ensemble, encompassing an entire family of choirs. Its flagship ensemble presents Reflections for Our Times on November 12 at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church, a program featuring two major contemporary works, Mass for the Endangered by Sarah Kirkland Snider and the world premiere of Memories of Self-Isolation by Frank Horvat, both compositions very informed by the trials and tribulations of the recent past pandemic.

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Rushing the season a little, it should be noted that the VBC ends the fall with this juggernaut of the great traditional songs, Handel’s omnipresent Messiah. There is the agreement of a chorister to share this treasure of the choral repertoire; this year, it’s the turn of Leslie Dala and the Bach Choir to perform it at the Orpheum on December 10.

Messiah may be the grandest single piece offered this fall, but there’s one last big event to mention: A Choral Feast by the Vancouver Chamber Choir, November 27 at the Orpheum. The idea here is to showcase the diversity and complexity of our choir scene: “A one-day pop-up festival of Vancouver’s superb little vocal ensembles: the Laudate Singers, musica intima, the Phoenix Chamber Choir, the Vancouver Cantata Singers and the Vancouver Youth Choir in a choral music tasting menu.

  1. Vancouver-based composer and musician Loscil, aka Scott Morgan, performs at the Chan Center EXP Series on October 1.

    Ambient Drones And Minimalist Whispers Launch Chan Center EXP Event Series

  2. The French ensemble Diabolus in Musica will explore the music of 11th century France in its program A New Spring for the World on October 28 at Christ Church Cathedral.

    Classical Music: Early Music Vancouver’s Fall Offers Ambitious Centuries-Long Tour

  3. Lizzo presents The Special Tour at Rogers Arena on November 7.

    Fall Arts Preview 2022: 31 things to do, read and watch in Metro Vancouver


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