There is something innately human about the experience of listening to a great choir. It could be the fact that we all have the ability to sing and contribute our collective voices to sound as one. It could be the live experience, where we have the ability to hear a rendition of something in a place and in a way that will never be experienced again.

The Bach Elgar Choir is a group of voices that understands this incredible power, and led by Artistic Director Alexander Cann, are poised and ready to open their season on November 16 at Melrose United Church.

At first glance, the connection between the programmed music may not be apparent. Brahms’ German Requiem was composed in 1865, and is performed in the German language (hence the name of the piece). The Bach Elgar Choir will provide English-language translations alongside the sung German for audiences to follow along in the music. Requiems are also generally known as masses for the dead, and the music frequently utilizes biblical passages that relate to judgement day.

By contrast, the opening piece on the Bach Choral Singers concert, Open Road by Canadian composer James Rolfe is a response to American poet Walt Whitman’s creation of the biblical figure, Adam, before he falls: life-embracing and open-hearted. To Cann, though, the connection is much clearer.

Open Road is both a contrast as well as a complement to the Brahms,” says Cann. “There is a similar ideal of invention, freedom of the spirit and burgeoning joy at play in both works, though from very different perspectives.”

Brahms’ Requiem stands out from other popular classical requiems as he utilized text that focuses on comforting the living, rather than favouring prayers for the dead. The result are lyrics that examine the sympathy and comfort we can provide to each other in times of tragedy and finding solace and peace together, commented Cann.

“The Brahms Requiem is one of the greatest pieces in the choral repertoire and requires a strong well-balanced choir- which we [The Bach Elgar Singers] have. . .It is truly not a “sad” piece in any respect. Rather it takes the listener on a grief journey and for anyone who has experienced grief- and that’s most of us- Brahms is a doorway to peace and beauty.”

As a testament to his efforts to make the Requiem accessible to large groups, Brahms’ composed an arrangement of his Requiem for piano solo and piano duet. However, the Bach Elgar Choir will perform alongside a twenty-five piece orchestra, with many of the instrumentalists rooted in the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO). The Bach Elgar Choir and the HPO have a long-time close connection, with the Choir having made regular appearances on the Orchestra’s season (next appearing in May 2020 in the iconic Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony).

The Choir has also invited two notable soloists to join them for the November 16 performance. Soprano Leslie Fagan (making her debut with the Choir) has performed in venues such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and is a favourite of CBC Radio. Baritone Clarence Frazer is a Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio alumnus who will be joining the Bach Elgar Choir fresh from a national tour of La Boheme with Against the Grain Theatre, where he received praise for being “so naturally gifted, he can walk into any role and make it sound like it was meant for him to sing.”

For Cann, the November 16th performance of Brahms’ Requiem and Rolfe’s Open Road is just part of the Choir’s drive to achieve a high artistic standard in their annual season, which has previously included masterworks such as Bach’s Magnificat and Beethoven’s Mass in C Major.

“As a large, robust and musically sophisticated choir, we are capable of transmitting the deep emotions Brahms intended to convey.”

Who: Bach Elgar Choir
What: Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem)
Where: Melrose United Church (86 Homewood Avenue)
When: November 16, 2019 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $35 General Admission; Discounts available for seniors and students
More Information or To Buy Tickets: Eventbrite or at the door (cash only)

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