Haydn's Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war) is so called because it was written in 1796-97 as Napoleon’s forces were advancing towards Vienna. In German-speaking countries it is often referred to as the Paukenmesse (Timpani Mass): the timpani does play a significant part in the mass, especially in the Agnus Dei where Haydn uses a brilliant drum solo to heighten the intensity of the movement’s prayer for mercy and peace.
The mass has many extraordinary touches. The overall feel is optimistic and confident, appropriate to the basic key of C major, but the beautiful cello and bass singer duet at the Qui tollis in the “Gloria”, the deeply moving Et incarnatus est in the “Credo” and the gorgeous harmonic colouring at so many moments mark this mass as the work of a great composer working at the height of his powers.
Spotlight on North America. Saturday, January 26 at 3 pm EST.
Interim Conductor David Fallis has put together a program featuring works by Canadian and American choral composers for the TMC’s 2019 free community concert. David notes
“We want to shine our spotlight on three key areas: the exciting new generation of Indigenous artists across Canada who are leading contributors to so many aspects of our cultural life, choral music included; local Toronto composers from Healey Willan to Stephanie Martin; and the fact that some of our most alluring melodies are folksongs whose origins are obscure but which live on in lively arrangements by important composers.”
This concert is a wonderful opportunity for people to hear the Grammy-nominated 120-voice Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and discover some stunning contemporary choral music, including two works by Andrew Balfour, the prominent Winnipeg composer of Cree descent.
Leslie Barcza, barczablog. Toronto is Messiah town, as I’ve joked before. Handel’s most popular Biblical oratorio is everywhere at this time of year.
Tonight I took in the second of six offered this week by the Toronto Symphony, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists under the baton of Johannes Debus, the Music Director of the Canadian Opera Company. We’ve heard him lead operas at Four Seasons Centre, I wondered what he’d be like leading an oratorio down the street with the TSO & TMC.
And in fact it was the cleanest clearest Messiah I’ve heard at Roy Thomson Hall.
Arthur Kaptainis, ludwig Van Toronto. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Handel’s greatest hit every December, generally with a new conductor. Our Messiah maestro this year is both familiar and surprising: Johannes Debus. On Monday, the music director of the Canadian Opera Company oversaw a performance in Roy Thomson Hall that was agreeable in particulars but lacking something in drama.
The stars of the show, numbering about 110, were in the loft. Clearly, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has not lost interest in this annual assignment. “For unto us a Child is born” was exuberant and the stresses of “Let us break their bonds asunder” were spot-on. Sections were perhaps not of exactly equal strength — we all know which letter comes first in SATB — but counterpoint was vigorous and the tone was lucid at all dynamic levels. This great institution seems to be thriving under the interim supervision of David Fallis.
Brian Chang, Choral Scene, The Wholenote. Toronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Matthew Loden and I are chatting about the beloved cultural phenomenon that is Messiah in Toronto. Sitting in his office overlooking Roy Thomson Hall, I can see the iconic webbing of the edifice, a physical nest that cradles the music hall. In a few weeks, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and guests, under the baton of Johannes Debus, will present a major six-performance run of Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece.. (Full disclosure: as regular readers of this column know, I sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and will be on stage for these performances.)
“We live in a very disjointed and fractured time right now. I think that the human condition is to long for a kind of togetherness, to find your place with people,” says Loden, speaking about the need for a space for an event like Messiah. “Increasingly, we keep finding ways to disintegrate relationships. When you have a moment where you can come together collectively and still have an individual experience while feeling the music coming off the stage with a couple thousand other people – that is really powerful.” With these TSO performances alone, 15,000 people will experience the majesty of the most iconic of Toronto classical-music traditions.
Starting with the 2019/20 season, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will hire its own professional core of singers. This professional core will replace the Elora Singers, the acclaimed professional chamber choir who for 20 years formed the professional core of the TMC.
The 20 members of the professional core will participate in all TMC and TMC/TSO rehearsals and concerts. Contractual details are being finalized, but will include a two-year agreement and increased stipend. Auditions for the new TMC professional core will be held in early 2019.
Read through or download the concert program.
Jenna Simeonov, Schmopera.
There was a moment of particular vitriol in Bramwell Tovey's brief remarks before giving the Toronto Symphony Orchestra its downbeat for Britten's arresting War Requiem. He said, "When the sun goes down, and when the sun comes up - and in the rain - we shall remember." It was a pointed, verbal bite directed at a US President who, 100 years after the official end of WWI, was too small and weak to pay an in-person visit to an American military cemetary outside Paris; he cited rain as his excuse, which is in horrific taste even as it is thinly-veiled code for pouting and narcissism.
There was bile on Tovey's tongue that rang into Roy Thomson Hall, and its effect lingered long enough to dovetail into the first bars of the War Requiem. I have always found something magnetic and charismatic about Tovey, and as silly as it may sound, to hear him indulge in a brief moment of personal feelings about the meaning of war and commemoration felt akin to hearing a friend's firsthand experience with tragedy.
David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews.
Amid the ominous chimes cutting through the languid sounds of lower strings and percussion, came the words of the Latin mass for the dead, “Requiem aeterna”. The unmistakable musical reference to death and destruction was palpable. As the intensity of the orchestra and voices increased to a climactic cry of pain, an angelic choir of children sang out a prayerful warning “Te decet hymnus…”
Such was the beginning of the powerful War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Children’s Chorus, over 300 performers in all, came together for a monumental production of Britten’s 1962 masterpiece of remembrance of the horrors of war. Conducted by Bramwell Tovey, it featured soloists well-prepared for their roles, each having performed it with major orchestras and choirs recently. Indeed, the vision of Britten in having Russian, German and English soloists share the same stage was brought to fruition in this performance, something Britten himself couldn’t quite accomplish for the work’s première when soprano Galina Vishnevskaya couldn’t get an exit permit from the U.S.S.R. In last night’s performance it was the Russian soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, British tenor Toby Spence, and Canadian/German baritone Russell Braun.
.... The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for its part had some exemplary moments of great drama as well as reflective singing. The a cappella singing of “Pie Jesu Domine” was riveting. “Libera me” with tenor drum and rumbles from the slow march of the bass drum began as a sorrowful lament that built to a frightening vision of judgment by fire.
Stephan Bonfield, ludwig Van Toronto.
Britten’s War Requiem: Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Toronto Children’s Chorus, and soloists. Bramwell Tovey, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall. Nov, 8. Repeats Nov. 10.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented its annual Remembrance Day concert Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall and, as always befits these solemn occasions, gave another moving tribute to those lost in a century of war and senseless conflicts.
Last year it was Jeffrey Ryan’s immensely successful and evocative Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, but its model might well have been Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, a pacifist’s prime exponent of music mourning the casualties of young lives lost amid the senseless wastes of war.
Thus, with this year being the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the Great War, it was an excellent choice to perform Britten’s masterful six-movement setting of the traditional Latin Requiem text and Wilfred Owen’s eight poems that Britten used to commemorate the man who died one week before the official armistice took effect.
Owen’s writings, by his own admission, were less concerned with inherent poetic quality (they are brilliant regardless) and were rather more reflective about the war itself. Owen superimposed his own deeply personal faith upon his psychologically harrowing experiences, and his extant writings inspired Britten’s polished and eruptive score, abounding with sumptuous depictions of Owen’s inner state as proxy for our collective horrified response to war’s ludicrous devastations.