Choral maestro Andrew Balfour pursues his Indigenous identity through music

Carol Toller, The Globe and Mail. Toronto’s Tafelmusik and Mendelssohn choirs and the buzzy New York-based experimental ensemble Roomful of Teeth have all commissioned pieces from Balfour, and close to 20 groups across the country have performed his first published work, Ambe. The five-minute piece builds around a driving, rhythmic bass line that echoes the sound of a ceremonial drum – or, as Balfour has said, the heartbeat of Mother Earth – and projects a message of unity for all "two-legged beings.” The text is in Ojibway, and its energetic, welcoming message “seems to be something that people want to hear right now,” Balfour says.It’s a far cry from Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus and the rest of the Western canon that dominates choral programming in North America. And for Canadian choir directors, that may be what’s most exciting about Balfour’s work. He’s drawing on his First Nations identity to nudge the Canadian classical-music scene out of its stodgy Eurocentric traditions.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season, 2019-2020 Season, and Media Reviews.

A great blend of architecture and music

Michael Johnson, Concertonet.com. This year’s Easter presentation by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (“Sacred Music in a Sacred Space“) took place at St. Anne’s Anglican Church a heritage building whose interior was decorated in the 1920s by notable artists in a style hearkening back to art nouveau. The space thus related nicely with the program of 20th century music composed between 1910 and 1987, a time period that experienced the emergence of various musical philosophies and styles. The word “rapt“ best describes the approach of all eight composers.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir inspired by new venue for Sacred Music in a Sacred Space

David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir found a new venue for its annual concerts for Holy Week,Sacred Music for a Sacred Space. The new location, St. Anne’s Anglican Church, has a beautiful Byzantine style structure that dates to 1907 with interior decoration and paintings completed by J.E.H MacDonald and other members of the Group of Seven. Before the concert began many of the early birds in the audience were out of their seats getting closer looks and photos of the iconography on the walls and ceilings The symmetrical shape and the domed ceilings gave a warm acoustic without the excessive decay of Gothic styled churches. The setting was clearly one of Interim Conductor and Artistic Advisor David Fallis’s inspirations for the program.​The first half of the program was clearly designed to set the tone for a meditative experience. Two reflective motets by French composers opened the concert.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s Haydn and Handel celebration lifts the spirits on a blustery winter night!

Dave Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews. It was a miserable night to trudge downtown. The six or more inches of snow and slush were enough to discourage many from heading out. By mid-afternoon in Oakville when I learned that the GO trains would be cancelled for several hours, my own attendance was put in doubt. But for those of us who did brave the weather to St. Andrew’s Church, The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and their Interim Conductor and Artistic Director David Fallis made it more than worth our effort with a celebration of Haydn and Handel.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Toronto Symphony–Mendelssohn Choir Messiah

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.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir Makes Handel’s Messiah Shimmer With The TSO

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.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Coming Together through Toronto’s Beloved Messiah

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.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

“Catharsis” is the wrong word: Britten’s War Requiem

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.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem: A monumental commemoration of the WWI Armistice, November 11, 1918

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. 
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Toronto Symphony Remembers With A Moving Tribute To The Wastes Of War

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.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.