Capital Chamber Choir

New Choral Works Take Flight in Ottawa

music-and-beyond-logoOttawa’s Music & Beyond – one of two chamber music festivals Canada’s capital is fortunate to have – completed its celebration of contemporary Canadian music on the evening of Monday, July 14, presenting not only a fairly cogent idea of what new choral music by Ottawa composers is, but also some insight on the state of Canadian opera and a side of works for piano. The venue, Dominion-Chalmers United Church, is a favourite for these events, located right in the centre of downtown and featuring Romanesque Revival architecture with a rich yet sombre colour palette.

Capital Chamber Choir - Photo by Michael Gauthier

Capital Chamber Choir – Photo by Michael Gauthier

The Capital Chamber Choir was the focus of the evening, with a model of competence and restraint, Jamie Loback, at the helm. First, however, the audience was treated to the dulcet musings of sopano Charlotte Corwin alongside the steady hands of Ottawa mainstay Frédéric Lacroix at the piano. John Beckwith’s “I Love to Dance” opened the concert on lively notes, a cosmopolitain mixture of movements including musical material of Albertan Doukhobor (Russian origin), Québecois, and Manitoban Mennonite origins. It was well-wrought, deftly navigating its diverse cultural heritage towards the universal sentiment of dance.

Tobin Stokes‘ “All Yesterday” continued this line of thinking, a brilliant aria whose words—select verses from Pauline Johnson’s poem “Day Dawn”—were brought to life both through the brief context provided by tenor Adam Fisher, and the sublime performance that followed. The opera, Pauline, explores the final days of Mohawk and Canadian writer Pauline Johnson.

“Sparkle,” by Matthias Maute for solo violin, set the diverted on a more abstract tangent, with spritely figures crackling from the wood of Marc Djokic’s instrument. I was left appropriately wanting more, much like fireworks and other things burning brightly at the expense of longevity.

Charlotte Corwin (soprano) and Frédéric Lacroix (piano) - Photo by Michael Gauthier

Charlotte Corwin (soprano) and Frédéric Lacroix (piano) – Photo by Michael Gauthier

John Burge’s “Everthing Waits for the Lilacs” and Norbert Palej’s “Three Caprices after Mattisse’s ‘Jazz'” were competently performed by Lacroix, but by a combination of insistent repetitiveness and a more abstract nature, I was admittedly less engaged – instead, I lingered on the fact that great Canadian operas are definitely still being created.

All of this, however, pales in comparison to the second half of the program. Nicholas Piper is a local treasure – a Whitacre of the North is a good starting point, at the risk of undermining his originality. There’s no cat like his “Magnificat,” a well-managed array of rhythmic signatures and ideas closely hewn to the text, and “The Trees on the Edge” similarly balances a deep respect for the words. The latter, originally commissioned by the Ottawa Bach Choir, is based on the Canadian poem “New Orleans Obliquely” by Marilyn Lerch.

Three Ottawa choral composers were interspersed with national favourites, the next being Imant Raminsh’s “I Turn to You.” Local composer Timothy Mott’s “Long Ago, Love Shook My Heart” was interestingly similar in some ways to Piper’s aesthetics, albeit instead dealing with a text of haiku length, offering a nice and focused alternative to any other text setting of the evening. Both Piper and Mott are members of the choir, and it was nice to see them recognized on stage.

The instrumental and stage arrangement altered a bit to make way for “Exaudi,” a excellent work from Jocelyn Morlock featuring solo cello, with part of the choir singing from stage left’s balcony. Notably, Morlock hosts much of her work on SoundCloud, and we are embedding an excerpt below. It is a fantastic, devotional piece, full of daring and yet comforting harmonic sonorities.

Tony Dunn‘s “High Flight” closed the evening, an entertaining work of craftsmanship featuring Dunn himself on piano, the choir surrounding him. The piano became an aeroplane itself in the course of delivering a variety of musical metaphors that, if heavy-handed, work well in this manner. It was a symbol of the whole evening, I thought – I walked home feeling satisfied in the knowledge that new choral works are taking off in Ottawa.