Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Requiem Report

Here I am in the slump between Requiem season and Advent.  Yes, I know it is a rather long slump and it surprises me every time how sad I feel after the last big performance of the season.  By now you know I need to be working on a choral work, no matter how busy I am in my other life.  I won't be rehearsing a major work until September!
One way to get out of the slump is to relive the recent choral experience by writing about it.
VERDI REQUIEM -a choral highlight was performed in March 2019 with the CMU Festival Chorus and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir conducted by Daniel Raiskin. I had earlier worked with Raiskin, notice how I can say that even though he is oblivious to my existence?  I continue to be intrigued by the individual chorister's knowledge of the work personality of a conductor while he/she remains ignorant of the individual  chorister and sees only this large mass of singers.   So back to Raiskin.  I was looking forward to working with him again because I had rehearsed and performed the Messiah with him in December and found him to be an excellent conductor for choirs!  This was a surprise because many orchestral conductors are not so.  Raiskin has a very clear beat combined with passion and the occasional jumping jack from the podium.
The venue, however, was not ideal and although the chorus was large we had to be slightly "miked".  This is not the best and some audience members did complain about the rather tinny sound in some parts.  This is because the Centennial Concert Hall is still without it's acoustic shell.  This is a travesty!
Giuseppe Verdi
Still the Verdi Requiem is a dramatic, grand scale work, with soloists and a huge orchestra and choir blasting away together, and then plaintively coming apart.   It is stunningly beautiful in parts and also downright frightening in others. I was thrilled to have a 2 night performance of it!  In fact I wish I were part of a permanent installation of it so I could sing it night after night to my death!  The Verdi does not come around that often, I sang it last 5 years ago, so I don't know how many more Verdis I will be allowed to be part of.  5 years from now I will be quite an old lady and the thought of being rejected from the choral stage is anxiety producing!  Mama Mia please let there be a few more Verdis coming from me!

Anton Bruckner
Bruckner Requiem is the next piece I worked on.  Never heard it before and yet I liked it from the first rehearsal on.  It has some beautiful parts in its short little life of 30 minutes.  Most notable is the men's chorus singing Hostias.  This work was performed with my wonderful non-auditioned church choir and a small orchestra which boasted WSO players amongst them.  Soloists Anne Marie Dueck, Karis Wiebe, James Magnus, and Howard Rempel were lovely!  The stellar Yuri Klaz was our conductor. It was truly enjoyable to learn a new work.  Alongside it we also presented Mendelssohn's unfinished oratorio, Christus.  This follows the Bach passion recipe of a tenor evangelist, (James Magnus) narrating the scene of screaming chorus crowds.  First Mennonite Church Choir loves performing anything by Mendelssohn and so of course we only wished it was a finished Oratorio so we could sing more of the same!  If you clink on the FMC choir link above you will hear us in a performance of Christus.

Now that it is over I must look ahead and see what is on the choral horizon for me.  I certainly will be joining the incomparable Jane Glover in presenting Messiah in December 2019 and I am crossing my fingers to receive an invitation to sing the Berlioz Messe Solennelle.  A work I have never sung nor heard until just now when I used it as my soundtrack to write this blog post.  Fingers crossed that next year at this time I will be performing it!  It's on the WSO listing for April 24, 25, 2020!

Monday, March 26, 2018

All Good Things 3 Times!

Two contrasting pieces, two French composers, two conductors, add in one orchestra and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, in one French cathedral and you have a wonderfully interesting week!

Two composers and their contrasting pieces are Francis Poulenc's Gloria, at once playful and stirring and Faure's melodious long-lined Requiem.  Monsieur Poulenc's score has some French cinema / restaurant style music coming from the orchestra.  It was composed in 1959.  At the first rehearsal I thought I would never be performance ready as the musical lines which are playful in performance are just unpredictable accidents in rehearsal.
Francis Poulenc
As an amateur singer, a score full of accidentals and multiple time signatures like this one just makes me fearful!  With some one- finger keyboard pounding at home and time spent with my best friend, www.cyberbass.com, I came to be able to playfully hum all the movements from the Gloria while going about my day.  It really is in my ear, head and heart now.
 In movement 5 I couldn't help feeling that I was walking in Paris at night, the Notre Dame Cathederal near me, crepe stands around the corner, a cabaret in sight and Edith Piaf singing in my ear.  As an overtrack to that comes the soprano plaintively calling "Domine Deus"  (Lord God) "Qui tolis pecata mundi"(who takes away the sins of the world)  Here in the French night, plaintively and uncertainly calling out for redemption.  It haunts me.  I challenge you to listen to the opening bars of movement 5 and see if you are not immediately brought to Paris. Other of Poulenc's movements, such as the 2nd are light and playful, with the composer having imagined monks playing football (soccer).  The light footwork, passing back and forth, and the joy of the game are evident.
Our soprano for this concert was Lara Ciekiweicz.  Lara has a dramatic singing style which immediately draws in the audience.  Lara has a charming practice of sending a card on opening night to the choirs she works with.  I find this to be a nice touch.  In her earlier life, before fame, she was a chorister alongside me with the Mennonite Festival Chorus.

Lara Ciekiewicz

Gabriel Faure  

The second half of the concert was the melodious and comforting Faure Requiem.  The popular Pie Jesu movement is perhaps the best known and is only soprano soloist and orchestra. Faure did write a beautiful requiem here but he really did not give much for the alto chorister to do, and there is no alto soloist either. In  2 out of 7 movements I was forced to stand there, score in hand and mouth closed for practically the whole piece.  In the Sanctus the altos sing only the last two bars, literally!!!!  Does he have unresolved issues with an alto and this is his way of dealing with them?   I don't get it!  Why make us stand there while the sopranos and the men sound so beautiful around us, clearly stating, ALTOS ARE NOT NEEDED and then at the last Sanctus, giving us one note to sing just to round out the chord.  HUMPFF!
The altos do have a nice duet with the tenors in Movement 2, that is, it could have been nice, but as our conductor told us after the first two performances, "Altos you are having trouble with intonation, well, sorry but you are flat, I have to say it, sorry."  Not exactly the thing you want to hear.  I am sure not much changed at the 3rd and last performance but our conductor was much too kind to tell us this.  Maestro Klaz has a firm practice of only stating the positive, once there is nothing left to be done.  He will teach and coax and reprimand right up until the last possible  moment of the last performance but once it is done, he has left it all on the stage and will insist that you were absolutely lovely!
So the very odd thing about this concert is that we performed it 3 times instead of the usual 2 and that we had 2 performance conductors.  This, I have never experienced.  The two conductors, Alexander Mickelthwate and Yuri Klaz  are quite different.  This was Alexander's last choral piece as WSO conductor and most likely the last time I will ever work with him.  Although he is a very pleasant man and not demanding of the choir, he is seriously lacking a downbeat and for this reason I am always nervous when performing with him the last 12 years.   In fact at the second performance the second movement, yes the one where the altos were flat, he was so seriously off the rails that the tenors, orchestra, and altos were all in different parts of the score.  So, this second performance was on a Saturday night, but earlier that same day we had a dress rehearsal with the other conductor, Yuri Klaz, whose tempos were quite different from Alexander's and whose conducting style is so much clearer.  It is a challenge to  rehearse so thoroughly with director 2 but perform a few hours later with director 1, then the next afternoon you are back with 2.   I heard from many choristers that they wish Alexander had attended the third performance as he would have heard a more passionate and much more accurate rendition of the concert.  There was no uncertainty on entries or endings at this last performance which was a big contrast to the other two.
Lara was the soprano soloist for the Faure and Matthew Pauls, the baritone.

All 3 concerts were sold out and this is a thrill to a performer!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Messiah 2017

G. F. Handel
This year is the Messiah that I almost didn't perform.  Some would say that is hardly a sad thing, but this chorister has yet to tire of performing Handel's great oratorio.  This great composition never languished in dust, as Julian Pellicano mentioned in his pre-concert talk to the audience, but was performed the year it was composed (1741) and every year after that.  I am thrilled to perform it over and over again. (although I came on the scene a few years after composition)

Imagine then, when earlier this year I scanned over the Winnipeg Symphony Season catalogue and found that listed under Messiah was WSO Chorus - a choir I was not a member of nor had ever heard of.  I went into panic mode!  Who was this choir?  Who was the conductor?  Why were the usual suspects (Winnipeg Philharmonic and Mennonite Festival Chorus)  taken off of this gig?
I messaged the WSO executive director who replied that the board was just looking at different choirs.  "yes", I anxiously replied, "a change can be good but who is this WSO Chorus?  It is their name that scares me!!  It sounds like if you ever want to sing with the WSO again you best be part of this choir."  To this there was no reply.

A few weeks later a friend texted me an image of their TV screen and on it were the words WSO Chorus auditions and an email address.

You can bet I emailed that very minute hoping to get in on my resume alone.  This group would have none of that and rather insisted I send in an audition.  They wanted to hear two choruses from Messiah.  Two from an approved list of 3.  Oh brother.  By now it was summer and my voice was in relaxed mode.  Having not sung for weeks I felt quite out of shape, vocally.  I sang around the house for a few days and then proceeded to record myself singing along with a recording.  Now, as my family knows, singing with a recording is what I do best - haha!  I blast out every choral part I can and of course bellow along with the soloists too.  So it was with my audition recording.  Yup - when the chorus was done the bass soloist and I rang out, "Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts" OOPS!  Now what?  Not being very electronically savvy and not wanting to re-sing the piece as this had been my 3rd go that afternoon, I decided to send off the recording with this very embarrassing bit at the end, indicating that I was also auditioning for the bass solo part.
After a few agonizing weeks of waiting I received the joyous news that I had passed the audition and was now a member of the WSO Chorus!  I was elated!

I arrived at the first rehearsal much like a young soccer player arrives at the provincial team's first practice. Happy to have made the cut, but anxious and insecure.  This feeling was palpable in the rehearsal room.  We were competing against each other, scared someone would take our spot, worried we wouldn't measure up.  There was not the usual choral camaraderie.   There were only 2 familiar faces in the room, which was odd considering I have sung in choirs in this city for 4 decades.  The 3 of us were from the Mennonite Festival Chorus which has performed the Messiah with the WSO many times.

The rehearsal conductor, John Wiens, indicated that this was only 70% of the choir and that the rest would come later.  The rest, it turns out, were members of Polycoro, a local elite choir.  This, 70% of second stringers rehearsed 2 or 3 times prior to having the pros join us.  For me the rehearsals were something like this:

first rehearsal:  I cried on the way home because the conductor had indicated, in my general direction, that vibrato was not a welcome sound in his choir. "Well", I thought," I guess I won't be singing in your choir then."  It was like telling a left-footed kicker that no left foot shots were allowed.  Now, I try to produce a straight tone and I know that too much vibrato is awful but I didn't think I was at that stage yet. So now I had two choices, I could quit or I could use his techniques to improve my sound.
After the tears I decided to keep practicing.  I took to heart his advice about balancing the body, opening up space at the back, letting the sound fall out, not worrying about sounding good,..etc. All the things my voice teacher, Diane Berger used to say.
Wiens Warm-up
2nd rehearsal: I thought I had landed in a choral comedy sketch.  John Wiens had us twirling our fingers around our lips then pulling hand back while pointing at ourselves and breathing out and then bringing our pointed finger right back to our lips while breathing in.  Say What?!?  I couldn't decide whether he was genius or idiot.  This was going to be a very different Messiah.  We second stringers were struggling to blend our sound.  In the soprano section was an 11 year old boy, in the tenor section was a woman, there were only 4 basses, among the altos was one old lady (that being myself) and a 16 year old girl.   I was singing about 50% of my capacity in order to blend with the voices around me, many of which had a Broadway musical sound to them, which it seemed is what he wanted.  On this ride home I predicted this choir would never be able to cut through an orchestra.  It is too small, and too weak.

subsequent rehearsals:  Then came the 30%!  And the difference they made was 100%.  Their professional voices were able to coat all of ours, fill in the gaps, and we began to have a blended sound.  I was feeling hopeful.  Voices like Sarah-Jo Kirsh in the soprano section and Sarah Hall in the alto took things up several notches.  John was fussy about voice placement and moved choristers around during rehearsals to get the right sound.  I had read about this technique but never experienced this in action and I enjoyed the process; because in the end I  received  two seatmates with whom I felt I could blend. I decided he was not an idiot.

 Our rehearsal conductor and our performance conductor, sometimes referred to as the real conductor, Julian Pellicano, were much concerned with this Messiah sounding crisp and light.  It had to be a contrast to many classic recordings of the works and to past WSO performances with larger choirs.  They were agreed on this.  Neither of them offered us much by way of passion or talks about their vision of the work except by way of technique. In other productions with the WSO there has been a fair amount of time spent talking about the message of each movement and how the text and music work together.  This was not the case here.   I do not know if this is peculiar to these two conductors or if this is  how one speaks to choirs with so many professional singers.  Still, I did use Ivars Taurins' (a conductor I have written about in past posts)  images of the various movements to help me and give me pleasure.  There were singers in this group who had never sung the Messiah and I wondered what they were using for inspiration.

It was this that gave me a revelation, (yes this old girl is still learning).  Technique and correct interpretation is enough.  The singer does not have to feel emotion to convey emotion.  The singer needs only to convey what the composer and conductor have asked you to do.   If one places the consonant at the exact right moment and crescendos and decrescendos at just the right point in the phrase, with the right notes in the right place emotion will be conveyed.  The singer's feelings are irrelevant.  The performer's attention to and execution of every detail is what counts.  

The soloists in this production were all local singers known and loved by Winnipeggers.  In my unprofessional opinion the soprano, Jane Fingler, sings the way she looks.  Angelic, pure and lovely. I do not know if her voice carried well in that hall.  Dan Peasgood was the counter tenor.  I have  never been a fan of counter tenors as they are competing for my job.  Isn't it enough that they can sing bass or tenor, now they want to go after my notes too?  I once sang in a choir with Dan and he is a very pleasant fellow but he kept singing my notes.  When I sing beside a man I automatically try and  harmonize with him and Dan refused to let me do this; he was always on my notes.  I am clearly not the one to assess his performance as to me, "He was Despised" needs to be sung by an alto. (said the alto) Tenor, P.J. Buchan was stellar and to my ears, far outshone all the others.  He was truly comforting in his opening aria and was brilliant in his "Thou shalt Brrrrrreak Them" later on.  The bass voice was Chris Kornelsen who was fine in his early offerings but in "The Trumpet Shall Sound,"  his voice did not ring out but was rather muffled. 

Julian Pellicano - WSO conductor in residence

It surprised me that on the performance podium Julian Pellicano was full of passion, mouthing and sometimes singing along with choir and soloists.  This side of him was not revealed during rehearsals.

By the end of the first performance some barriers in the choir had been broken and more smiles and words were exchanged.

There was no review of the concert in our local paper and I have not spoken with enough critical ears to know how it sounded in the hall but I enjoyed the view and the sound from my vantage point.  I am fairly sure it is the best soprano section I have every sung with.  They were able to beautifully sing high G's as mezzo piano which very few choirs can do.   I came away from this Messiah thrilled to have been able to sing with such fine singers, gratified that I had tried new vocal techniques, warmed by Handel's music and message, and grateful to perform with the huge talent that is WSO. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Schubert and Brahms

Franz Schubert
This month I was able to perform two pieces from the romantic period in one concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Yuri Klaz.
Klaz is primarily a choral conductor but has conducted the WSO on several occasions. 
It was heartwarming for this chorister to see that the musicians behaved as though they had respect for Yuri's musical ideas and a genuine warmth seemed to emanate between the orchestra and conductor. 
I have seen many conductors mount the podium and gaze out over this orchestra, I have seen more than one wilt and be meekly led by the concert mistress herself.  On the other hand  I have shaken in my boots as tongue lashings occurred from podium to timpani and condescending remarks were hissed out at various instrumental sections.
The rehearsals for this concert had none of that.  Respect for the music and one another was the hallmark of these rehearsals.  Instruction and response seemed natural.
This conductor even handled the union master's annoying penchant for stopping rehearsals at just the wrong time with good humour.

Even if this respectful relationship had not been the case I feel the music would have smoothed over any difficulties. 

The glorious pieces we performed, the we being the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, are not that often performed here in Winnipeg, and in fact it was my first time for either piece!  Given my age it may also be the last, which is truly a sad thought!

We sang the Brahms' Nanie and Schubert's Mass in Eflat.  Recordings of the pieces are linked to their titles.  The Brahms piece is a secular piece written for the funeral of a friend.  The text is a Friedrich Schiller poem. (same poet who wrote the Ode to Joy text)   It is written and was performed in the German language but here is the English translation of the text.

Even the beautiful must perish! That which overcomes gods and men
Moves not the armored heart of the Stygian Zeus.
Only once did love come to soften the Lord of the Shadows,
And just at the threshold he sternly took back his gift.
Neither can Aphrodite heal the wounds of the beautiful youth
That the boar had savagely torn in his delicate body.
Nor can the deathless mother rescue the divine hero
When, at the Scaean gate now falling, he fulfills his fate.
But she ascends from the sea with all the daughters of Nereus,
And she raises a plaint here for her glorious son.
Behold! The gods weep, all the goddesses weep,
That the beautiful perishes, that the most perfect passes away.
But a lament on the lips of loved ones is glorious,
For the ignoble goes down to Orcus in silence.

Just reading the text I can hear that it was meant for Brahms!
The Schubert mass, his last one, and in fact he died before it was first performed, is much more difficult to sing than his earlier ones.  I was quite surprised when I came to them that the fugues required a fair bit of work and were  trickier than one would expect of Schubert.  This made rehearsals fun, and provided great satisfaction when they appeared light and fresh at performance time - at least I hope so.
Schubert did not write much for the soloists to do.  He gave them only quartet /trio work and usually meshed them into a choral piece.  This meant that neither my voice nor body received much of a rest during performance, as there were no arias where a chorister could rest up!

The Philharmonic choir, most notably the alto section, was very welcoming to associate singers and I appreciate them for it.  I have been singing as an associate with this choir since 1980.  Back then they were known as The Winnipeg Symphony Philharmonic Choir and had their rehearsals at the concert hall with a grand piano.  Now they rehearse in a crowded high school theatre with an electronic keyboard and yet manage to yield good results!  Bravo!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

small glimpse into 2016

I have not posted in over a year.  I miss reflecting on my choral experiences but I have been so busy with career and family and singing that I have not had time to reflect. 
A choral highlight occurred in the spring of 2016.  It may be THE choral highlight of my life.  I have performed the 15 movements of the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil under the baton of a Russian conductor.  What I say about that experience is this:
Luxurious, heavenly and profound.

Rehearsals were deeply emotional with profundo basses providing a deep foundation one could wallow in.  It is sung accapella and the long legato lines can be challenging.  The alto section is split into 3 parts and I was put in the third part which made me very happy.

I doubt whether this chance will come my way again before I die  so I savoured every rehearsal and every minute of performance, feeling extremely empty when it was done.

Christmas 2016

Christmas 2016 brought me another Messiah.  I have been singing many of these lately as the WSO has decided to make this an annual event.  It is kept interesting for the chorister by having guest conductors coming in.  This time it was Tania Miller who presently works out of Victoria B.C.
The choir loved her instantly as she appeared to be very impressed with our tone at our piano rehearsal.  She gave us many compliments and we responded well to her suggestions.  She was clear in her direction and in tune with the text.

The next day we rehearsed with orchestra and although I love the WSO dearly, they, true to form, were stand-offish with the Maestra.  To be fair, not all players reacted this way but there were clearly some with great looks of disdain.  At one point the first violins were asked to play their line in a different way (wish I remembered more details) and the concert mistress argued semantics with the conductor, "You mean do a fill in some term here?"   and  Ms. Miller responded, 'I doubt it is called that but if you want to call it that".  They were counted in again and the passage still was not up to expectations and the Maestra turned to the concert mistress and said, "Look, if it is too difficult for you you don't have to play it."
Woah!  Looks were exchanged in the choir loft and we were grateful for the anonymity choral singing provides. 
Tania had a stroke of genius in the second half.Sshe announced to the orchestra, "Oh by the way Andrey says 'hi" to you all."  Looks darted around the orchestra,  um, did she just say Andrey?  Oh yes, she did.  Andrey of course is the WSO god Boreyko who is worshipped by most who have worked with him. By invoking him and her personal connection to him the orchestra would have no choice but to comply with the Maestra's wishes at first asking.
Now, as a chorister it is possible I misheard but it is what I heard and there was more compliance from this moment on. 
The next day was dress rehearsal with the soloists and the choir could get used to the new "sits" ad "stands", as one must with each new conductor of the Messiah.   It  all went very smoothly.
We  then  had two evening performances, which I always appreciate over just one.
They both came across quite well, I think.  Handel always able to deliver!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Making the Case for Scaglione

Photo of CASE SCAGLIONE by Christian Steiner
I have just finished two nights of Messiah - yup - 'tis the season.   Our conductor was Case Scaglione.  I was singing it with the Mennonite Festival Chorus and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.   This was not our most inspired Messiah - that belonging to Ivars Taurins, and perhaps not the most strange and interesting interpretation - that was Noel Edison but neither was it lacking in charm.
It may have appeared slightly lacklustre as the orchestra was clearly void of most of its principal players and it seemed rather obviously so at the first two rehearsal. Adding to the less than stellar rehearsals was the Maestro's laryngitis which left him unable to make any demands on us. 

In spite of this I enjoyed the process because he was a very generous soul, conducting a good beat but never over conducting leaving soloists, players and choristers somewhat free.  He didn't make strong demands on diction but he strongly favoured legato singing and asked for it in places not usually required.  (Let us break their bonds, With his stripes, Amen, and others)  He blew us kisses from the podium and was generally kind with his praise.  He wanted more from the alto section and the powers that be should perhaps consider auditioning more singers for our section.

A distinguishing feature of his Messiah was, that he laid down his baton for the "And with his stripes" and conducted the choir bare handed and required no orchestra whatsoever.  Something he witnessed Sir Colin Davis doing in London.  A Capella singing in a concert hall is a rare event and I hope we pulled it off.  There was no critic, unless I count my husband, in attendance so no review in our local paper therefore not sure what the audience made of this feature. 

Although some may feel bored by performing Handel's Messiah every year, I feel lucky to be able to sing this great work under various batons and getting something new out of it each time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Of Cake and Trumpet Jabs

Below I have re-printed the review from the Winnipeg Free Press of my latest completed concert even as my mind is looking towards the Good Friday Concert 7pm at First Mennonite church.  There we present Schubert's Deutsche Messe and Rutter's Requiem. 

I thought today I would take you behind the scenes of the Beethoven 9th concert to a view from my spot in the choir.  Like the fact that I was repeatedly being blinded by the baritone soloist's shiny shiny shoes.  The soloists for this performance were unusually placed i.e. they were not in front of the orchestra but rather relegated to stand with us  in the front row of the choir, on a little raised podium in case the shiny shoes and fancy gowns were not enough to let you know they were the soloists.  Mr. Baritone also owned a very nice collection of striped socks. ( His beautiful opening to the 4th movement of the Beethoven's 9th is wrongly credited in the review below to the tenor - which is a sad thing since tenors already receive more attention than is necesssary.) 
During this rehearsal I was disheartened to observe the little respect was given to the Maestro by the players.  Granted he does remind one of Peter Pan but he loves Beethoven and so we should allow him to present the Beethoven he wishes instead of opposing him every way we can. 
During one rehearsal "Unbirthday" cake was served for a returning viola player, the Maestro's baton landed in the cake at downbeat and icing was flung on face for beat 2.  So, yes it may be difficult to take seriously the instructions of a conductor with icing on his face but I was hoping they would at least try.
There was decidedly  much chit-chatting from the brass section during rehearsals, and I thought they would never be able to do this if Andrey Boreyko were still at the helm.  The withering words oozing over one who dared cross him is not a comfortable thing to witness. 
I will not reveal all the antics witnessed from this privileged position as some items are best left on the stage but will reveal one last moment that was quite comical. 
The third movement of the Beethoven's 9th is a beautiful serene piece that requires no trumpets until the very end.  During the performance, as we neared the end of it I see the 2nd trumpet player lifting his instrument from the stand preparing to play, he then suddenly jabs his trumpet into the tuxedoed leg of the principal trumpet player who jerks himself awake picks up his instrument and 3 beats later is playing beautifully.  The trombones and the first row altos shake with laughter as Beethoven goes on.



WSO brings the spirit of Beethoven to life

Standing ovation for inspired performance

There is some music that seems to grow only richer and more resonant every time you hear it -- and particularly when performed live.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, popularly known as the Chorale, is one of those whose message of universal brotherhood based on Schiller's Ode to Joy has also grown more timely -- and more needed -- than ever.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Beethoven's 9th
Centennial Concert Hall
Friday, March 27
Attendance: 1,234
Four stars out of five
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's latest Masterworks concert held Friday night featured the stirring work with its last performance held in May 2013. The program led by Alexander Mickelthwate included guest soloists: Joni Henson (soprano); Elizabeth Turnbull (mezzo-soprano); John Bellemer (tenor); and Stephen Hegedus (bass-baritone) performing in both the evening's programmed works.
Also showcased were two of this city's busiest and hardest-working choirs this year: the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir (Yuri Klaz, director) and the Canadian Mennonite Festival Chorus (Rudy Schellenberg and Janet Brenneman, co-directors).
The first of two weekend performances also caps the WSO's 2014-15 series of several concerts informally dedicated to human rights, in turn celebrating last autumn's long-awaited opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
It's always a pleasure seeing a conductor lead music from his homeland. The German-born maestro approached Beethoven's magnum opus with gusto and conviction, setting a brisk tempo during opening movement Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso.
The following Scherzo: Molto vivace -- Presto hurtled breathlessly to its own double-bar close, including exuberant brass and bone-rattling timpani strikes.
By contrast, the Adagio molto e cantabile presented calmer vistas including mellifluous winds and noble horns evoking the peace of a German countryside. Still, this central movement that provides a measure of repose could have ebbed and flowed even more, before the trumpet fanfare toward the end that signals even greater things to come.
After the low strings' delicious opening statement of the principal theme that launches the finale, Bellemer introduced the chorale with his soaring, recitative evocation to "friends."
The four soloists presented as a remarkably well-blended ensemble throughout, with Bellemer a particular standout with ringing high notes and legato phrasing. Each singer only added to the whole gestalt in a satisfying performance.
It's one of classical music's most thrilling moments when the chorus dramatically rises for their first entry -- and this performance did not disappoint. Hearing the totality of the epic work's four movements unbroken by applause by a clearly enthralled audience would have only heightened its overall, cumulative power.
Nevertheless, those same 1,234 souls leapt to their feet at the end, awarding the maestro, WSO players and the full stage of choristers and soloists a rousing and well-deserved standing ovation.
The first half of the concert also featured Anton Bruckner's Te Deum, another mighty work composed in 1883-84 as a heartfelt hymn of praise and thanksgiving. It's one that isn't heard often in this city, with its last WSO performance in 1987.
Balance between chorus and orchestra is often very tricky with these types of concerts, akin to walking a musical tightrope. The choir's words could be clearly heard during the more lightly scored sections with strings; however they were often obfuscated whenever the brass came in it. They were at their best during the several a cappella sections.
Still, including this equally memorable work with its soaring choruses and "cathedral sound" added to the overall spirit and ethos of the inspired evening.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2015 B5