The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at 125

David Perlman, The Wholenote

Remarkably, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has had only eight conductors in the course of its 125-year history that will be celebrated in an anniversary gala concert at Koerner Hall this coming October 20. Even more remarkable, five of those – Augustus Stephen Vogt (1894-1917); Herbert A. Fricker 1917-1942; Sir Ernest MacMillan (1942-57); Elmer Iseler (1964-1998); and Noel Edison (1997 to 2018) – account for almost 120 years of the 125. This is not to say, however, that the length of an individual’s tenure is the sole indicator of its importance.

There’s an old saying that if you want something done well, give it to a busy person. David Fallis, who took up the reins as the TMC’s interim artistic director in 2018 after the abrupt departure of Noel Edison, and will step down at the end of the coming season, is a case in point. By TMC standards it will have been a very brief tenure, but he will have made his mark at a pivotal moment for the choir.

By the time this issue of the magazine has been published, he will have led the Choir’s September 28 Singsation workshop, and the TMC will be at work preparing for the October 20 anniversary concert, which Fallis will conduct, and beyond that, their annual Festival of Carols (December 3 and 4) at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra as their guests. There are also the TMC’s own upcoming guest appearances to prepare: Beethoven’s Ninth, with Orchestra Toronto, in an October 27 concert titled “Freude,” commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s November 7 and 9 opera-in-concert performances of Massenet’s Thaïs. Oh, and then (for Fallis not the TMC) there’s the small matter of conducting Tafelmusik for Opera Atelier’s Don Giovanni at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, in a five-performance run, commencing October 31.

Fallis dropped by the WholeNote office for a flying visit en route to rehearsing the University of Toronto MacMillan Singers (who are also between conductors), and we tried to touch on one topic at a time, more or less in order of appearance.

The TMC’s “Singsation Saturdays” is an ongoing series of workshops that are generally very well attended by a wide range of participants, from across the GTA, who are united by a love of choral singing. There will be five this season, each led by a different eminent conductor and organized around a particular topic or theme. The theme for Fallis’ September 28 session is music composed for the TMC over its 125-year history. “For this Singsation,” Fallis says, “we’re doing How They So Softly Rest by Healey Willan. Interestingly, the Healey Willan Society website says it was written for the Mendelssohn Choir, but I once saw a Hyperion recording of it (can’t remember the choir) that said it was written for the choir at St. Paul’s. We’ll claim it anyway! Also commissions we’ve had with Peter Tiefenbach and Tim Corlis, and one piece commissioned by the Mendelssohn Youth Choir when it existed, from Derek Holman.”

That Fallis would choose to focus on commissioned works for his workshop should come as no surprise, given his work as longtime artistic director of Toronto Consort, and given the TMC’s own track record: “The Mendelssohn has a long history of commissioning new Canadian music, although sometimes irregularly,” he says. “I’ve certainly encouraged them to keep doing it, especially if they want to maintain their leadership in choral music.”

Read the full article online.

Categories: 2019-2020 Season and Media Reviews.