In the Chorus Niagara concert program, artistic director, Robert Cooper, warmly welcomes us to the start of their 30th season, and what a treat for St. Catharines to host this wonderful 100-voice symphonic ensemble that, thanks to Cooper, takes on increasingly more difficult pieces. This evening, it’s Michael Tippett’s challenging A Child of Our Time that Cooper later jokingly refers to as a “choral quagmire.”
Four superb soloists include Canadian soprano, Johane Ansell, mezzo-soprano, Lauren Segal, Canadian tenor Andrew Hajl and baritone, James Westman, all in extremely good voice but with Ansell particularly crystal clear and soaring.
The concert starts on a depressing note, the chorus singing –
The world turns on its dark side. It is winter.
Is evil then good?
Is reason untrue?
We are lost.
We are as seed before the wind.
We are carried to a great slaughter.
The work was inspired by events that affected Tippett profoundly, the assassination in 1938 of a German diplomat by a young Jewish refugee, and the Nazi government’s reaction in the form of a violent pogrom against its Jewish population called Kristallnacht. Synagogues were burned, Jewish homes and businesses attacked and destroyed, and thousands of Jews arrested, some stoned or beaten to death.
The program includes the final movement from Srul Irving Glick’s Symphonic Choral Cycle: The Hour Has Come, which is brief, poetic and offers much-needed optimism.
The oratorio employs a traditional three-part format based on Handel’s Messiah, structured in the manner of Bach’s Passions. An original feature is Tippett’s use of five African-American spirituals, which carry out the role allocated by Bach to chorales. This seems odd at first, but it is incredibly movingly, the
soulful music transcending time and place, uniting the polar extremes of desolation and hope. Tippett suggests that these songs of oppression possess a universality absent from traditional hymns.
At the end, mayor Walter Sendzik commented on what “a gift” we were presented tonight in “one of the best concert halls in Ontario.” He presented the key to the city of St. Catharines and thanked Cooper for his considerable work and his achievements in Niagara. Dr. Robert Cooper is one of Canada’s foremost choral musicians, choral director of Chorus Niagara and the Orpheus Choir of Toronto. He has taught at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music and conducted the National Youth Choir of Canada and A Celebration of Canadian Choral Music at Carnegie Hall. In Cooper’s typical ah-shucks fashion, the humble conductor directed the praise to his appreciative chorus.
Saturday, December 14, Chorus Niagara will Welcome Christmas with a stocking stuffed with festive carols, seasonal songs and heart-warming stories brought to life with the theatrical flair of actor Benedict Campbell who spent 15 season at The Shaw Festival.
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