On Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 7:30 PM, the VOCA Chorus of Toronto presented ‘SNOW ANGEL’, featuring guest artists Sybil Shanahan (cello), Kevin Barrett (guitar) and Ray Dillard (percussion).
Our seasonal celebration opened with “Cold Sir Winter”, a lively re-working of a 16th Century Catalan carol by Graham Pratt, featuring Ray Dillard, hand drum. Most of the first half selections featured songs about angels, and most prominently, Kingston-area composer Sarah Quartel’s stunning and compelling work, ‘Snow Angel’. This five-movement cycle featured narration by three of our sopranos, Sarah-Jane Bynoe, Emily Vick and Kathleen Black, and accompaniment by pianist Elizabeth Acker, cellist Sybil Shanahan and percussionist Ray Dillard. (*We were thrilled to welcome Sarah Quartel as our Fall Retreat workshop clinician.) We also performed Nicholas Myers’ “A Winter’s Night”, followed by Jenny Crober’s soprano/alto ‘re-arrangement’ of Tim Ray and Steve Smith’s arrangement of Jane Siberry’s poignant “Are You Burning, Little Candle?”, featuring Elizabeth Acker (piano), Kevin Barrett (guitar) and Sybil Shanahan (cello). We then presented another Jane Siberry classic, the poignant “Calling All Angels”, in a gorgeous choral arrangement by Toronto musician Beth Hanson, featuring piano, guitar, cello and percussion. The first half concluded with Karl Jenkin’s rousing and contemporary rendition of “In Dulci Jubilo”, featuring our entire ‘cast’ of performers.
The second half opened with Donald Patriquin’s raucous version of the traditional English “A’Soalin”, featuring several soloists on the verses, and all of our instrumentalists. Also included in this half was NYC-based, Norwegian composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo’s gorgeous “Ubi Caritas”, originally an a cappella work; we performed his 2011 version, featuring the composer’s own realization of his piano improvisation, beautifully performed by our accompanist Elizabeth Acker. (* Note: Please see our Upcoming Performances page for info. on a workshop we’ll be holding with Ola Gjeilo in Oct. 2016!) We also performed Jenny Crober’s arrangement of Zachary Richard’s powerful protest song about the Acadian expulsion, “Dans le Nord Canadien”, with soloist Chi Chi Godin, guitarists Jenny Sardone and Kevin Barrett and percussionist Ray Dillard. Another protest song followed: Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”, in a moving setting by B.C. musician Willi Zwodesky, featuring our tenors and basses. A jazzy setting by George Shearing of Shakespeare’s “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” featuring our entire ‘band’, was followed by the English composer Graham Pratt’s serious (not!) statement about door-to-door carolling, featuring the glorious (not!!) strains of baritones Lawrence Shirkie and Tom Roedding;) Jenny Crober’s arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s iconic ode to both winter and heartbreak, “River” featured soloist Jenny Sardone, accompanist Elizabeth Acker and all of our guest artists (particularly Kevin Barrett, guitar). A rousing version of the famous Christmas gospel standard “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”, featuring all of our performers – our choristers and accompanist, all of our guest artists and soloists Lawrence Shirkie, Beth Polese, Jennifer Routhier and William Ford in an arrangement by Roderick Williams – finished off the evening with a bang!
*We were very grateful to Toronto artist and actor Randi Helmers for the use of her image “Taos Angel I” for our promotional material for this concert.
On Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 7:30 PM, the VOCA Chorus of Toronto presented ‘StageSong II’, featuring guest artists Andrew Haji (tenor), Kathryn Sugden (violin) and Wendy Solomon (cello), Les Allt (flute), Neal Evans (bass) and Nick Coulter (percussion).
Our concert was a sequel to our ‘StageSong’ concert from 2009, presenting music from the worlds of opera and operetta in our first half of our programme, and musical theatre selections in the second half.
Our guest instrumentalists, most of whom have played in professional orchestras and in the ‘pits’ of Mirvish and Shaw Festival shows, made an invaluable contribution to the evening.
Our first half featured operatic choruses, solos, duets and trios, including Handel’s sprightly Chorus of the Enchanted Islanders (‘Alcina’), Mozart’s exquisite “Soave sia il vento” trio (‘Cosi fan tutte’), featuring our professional leads Elizabeth Polese (soprano), Jennifer Routhier (mezzo soprano) and Lawrence Shirkie (baritone), followed by the gorgeous “Dies Bildnis”, Tamino’s famous aria (Mozart’s’Die Zauberflöte’), sung by highly-acclaimed tenor, Andrew Haji. Other operatic excerpts included Verdi’s “Witches’ Chorus” (‘Macbeth’), featuring our sopranos and altos, and Mozart’s “O Isis und Osiris” (‘Die Zauberflöte’), performed by our tenors and basses. A special treat was Bizet’s legendary duet, “Au fond du temple saint” (‘Les Pêcheurs des Perles’), featuring Andrew Haji and Lawrence Shirkie, which was dedicated to the memory of Carl and Mary Crober. Finishing off the 1st half was a very silly excerpt (complete with costumes and props) from the finale of Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, featuring several soloists, including Andrew Haji, Justin Welsh, Elizabeth Polese, Martin Houtman, Judy MacDougall and Jennifer Routhier.
Our musical theatre segment of the evening opened with Mac Huff’s arrangement of Sondheim’s superb “Sunday” (‘Sunday in the Park With George’), and included a passionate ‘Les Miserables’ medley featuring several soloists, including Tom Roedding, Mark Rainey, Justin Welsh, Jennifer Routhier and Beth Jack, a Mark Hayes arrangement of Gershwin’s lively “Fascinating Rhythm” (‘Lady Be Good’), the powerful “Make Them Hear You” (‘Ragtime’) with soloist Justin Welsh (and Jenny Crober, piano), a ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ medley and the poignant “For Good” (‘Wicked’), featuring Chrissy Doig and Pamela Maxwell-Steele. Our entire ‘cast’ of performers – guest instrumentalists, soloists and choristers – perfectly capped off a passionately performed and heartwarming evening of songs from the stage with a stunning finale of Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow” (‘Candide’), featuring soloists Andrew Haji, Elizabeth Polese, Jennifer Routhier, Lawrence Shirkie and Justin Welsh.