Toronto Mendelssohn Choir celebrates its 125th Anniversary with Singing Through Centuries

Denise Lai, La Scena Musicale

Canada’s oldest choir celebrated its 125th birthday with a gala concert at Koerner Hall yesterday afternoon. Interim artistic director David Fallis put together a diverse program that featured works from each of the three centuries in which the choir has performed. Among the many alumni and friends in attendance was Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

What you missed

The concert opened with two acappella works of the choir’s namesake composer, which aptly showcased the choir’s agility in producing balanced, pure sounds and lush harmonies. It was one of the most memorable moments of the afternoon. Given the longtime collaboration between the TMC and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, it was fitting that remainder of the concert was joined by musicians of the TSO.

Representing the 19th century was Fauré’s Requiem, the version first performed in 1894, which coincides with the founding year of the TMC. It was interesting that Fallis chose to perform with the original Latin pronunciation used by French singers in Fauré’s time. Baritone Samuel Chan was gentle yet solid in his deliveries of “Offertorium” and “Libera me,” while Soprano Teresa Mahon’s “Pie Jesu” sounded sweetly angelic.

Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, the quintessential choral masterpiece was an apt choice to represent the 20th century. Its intricate intertwine of choral and orchestral lines made for a powerful showcase of TMC and TSO fireworks.

The TMC has a long history of commissioning and premiering works by Canadian composers. For this momentous occasion, it commissioned a new work by Andrew Balfour, a Winnipeg-based composer of Cree descent. Mamachimowin (The act of singing praises), in the composer’s words, is “a choral work that explores the difficult relationship between indigenous spirituality and the impact of the Christian culture on First Nations people.” The musical phrases, accompanied by string instrumentation and intermingled with the choir whispering the text in pseudo-random fashion, created the intended sense of tension and fragmentation. It is a short but powerful piece of work.

Singing Through Centuries brought together the past and present, while the TMC looks to a bright future ahead, with its next permanent artistic director expected to be announced in 2020.