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.
TMC’s popular annual Sacred Music concerts are intended to provide a moment of calm for patrons with a program of contemplative a cappella music. For 2019, David Fallis has created a program of 20th century composers with the first half featuring composers from France and Switzerland, while the second half features composers from Eastern Europe and Russia.David opens the concert with Olivier Messaien’s O sacrum convivium – a composition to help patrons step out of time. In his program notes, David remarks that this motet is “a perfect example of Messiaen’s preoccupation with the suspension of the perception of time in music by the use of extremely slow tempos and subtle changes in length of notes, all designed to bring us closer to something outside of time, eternal.” The first half also includes Poulenc’s Salve Regina and Martin’s Mass for Double Choir, all performed by the 70-member Mendelssohn Singers.The second half of music of the Eastern Orthodox Church will be sung by the full TMC.
Welcome to Sacred Music for a Sacred Space. All of the works on tonight’s program come from the 20th century, the first half from France and Switzerland, the second half from eastern Europe and Russia, with the exception of Healey Willan’s masterpiece which concludes the evening.In earlier periods of European musical history, sacred music was often written by composers who essentially earned their living from the church, and one cannot really know how much the composer was writing from a position of deeply held faith, or writing what was required, often brilliantly, much as an opera composer has to be able to create music which is suitable to many situations or characters. As the influence of the church as employer diminished in the late Baroque and Classical periods, less sacred music was written, and the 19th century sees much more emphasis on symphony, opera and chamber music than on sacred music. There are not many Romantic composers whose chief claim to renown is their sacred music, and it is not by chance that the greatest works of 19th century sacred music are Requiems (Verdi, Berlioz, Brahms), in which one muses on death, a human condition not restricted to people of faith.So by the 20th century it is a decided choice for a composer to write sacred music, and many of the composers represented tonight write from a position of faith, if not always entirely orthodox.
Acclaimed Toronto conductor David Fallis has been named as Toronto Mendelssohn Choir Interim Conductor and Artistic Advisor for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons. “David brings to the TMC a life-long passion for choral music, incredible conducting experience, and a wide-ranging knowledge of choral repertoire and creative programming," commented TMC Executive Director Cynthia Hawkins. "We are thrilled to work under the leadership of such an accomplished musician over the next two seasons while the TMC carries out an international search for our new artistic director.”
The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s 2018/19 season starts with performances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the Fall, including Benjamin Britten’s compelling War Requiem in a concert that commemorates 100 years since the conclusion of the First World War. The TMC’s own concert season begins in early December with Festival of Carols, the Choir’s annual joyous welcome to the season. Then in January, a Free Community Concert will focus on the music of great composers from Canada and the United States. In February the TMC, with orchestra, will perform two great 18th century choral-orchestral masterpieces by Handel and Haydn. The season concludes with Sacred Music for a Sacred Space in April with a program that brings together two rich choral traditions: the French subtlety of Messiaen, Poulenc and Martin, and the mystical traditions of Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Gloria by Francis Poulenc (1899 -1963) was commissioned by the Koussevitsky Music Foundation and first performed in 1961 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch. It was dedicated to the memory of Nathalie and Serge Koussevitsky, a former Music Director of the BSO. To many, the work seemed irreverent – this ancient sacred text from the Mass being treated frivolously with wit and humour. But what they failed to catch was Poulenc’s interpretation of liturgical joy as a swirl of musical colour and dancing rhythms.