Honking horns and innovation
By Janice Manchee
Eleven-year old Roland Graham had two cassette tapes. One of them held the first three of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos. He played them over and over while reading the novels he loved, to the point where the music and stories became fused in his mind.
“To this day, when I hear the opening strains of Concerto No 1, and later the cheerfully honking horns, I see Frodo leaving the Shire.”
Those cassettes led Graham, now 39, to make a career of music and develop a music hub at Southminster United Church featuring local, national and international talent. But although he studied the concertos in university, he hasn’t had an opportunity to perform any of them until this year.
Bach used a mixture of previously written works, revised for the purpose, and new excerpts to assemble the six concertos as part of a job application sent to the Margrave of Brandenburg, a prince of the Prussian Royal house. He didn’t get the job, and it’s unlikely the Margrave nor any of his staff even bothered to look at them.
“Bach’s dedication of this work to the Margrave is pretty hilarious,” says Graham. “The best part is when he obsequiously thanks the Margrave for taking pleasure in the ‘little talents Heaven has given me for music’.”
As a set, the six concertos showcase all the major instrument families of the day: strings, winds, reeds, brass and keyboard. Together, the concertos are widely acknowledged as among the best orchestral pieces of the Baroque era, indeed of all eras.
Bach takes the opportunity to lift a number of instruments above their usual importance.
Concerto 5 is among the first keyboard concertos ever written, during a period when technicians were pushing the limits of what keyboards (harpsichords mainly) could do. This piece influenced Bach’s sons, one of whom was a primary influence on Mozart and himself one of the most important authors of modern piano concertos.
Some instruments, like the viola and cello, were considered subordinate and, as such, associated with servants and the lower classes. Bach would have none of this. Not only does Concerto 6 feature these instruments, the piece itself is unusually “common” and dance-like, resulting in a musical texture that would have been quite striking in Bach’s day.
Bach not only innovated, he challenged the musicians. The trumpet part in Concerto 2 is so difficult that many accomplished professional players refuse to play it. Sean van Gulik is up to the challenge. “We were listening to the Brandenburg Concertos in my Grade 10 history class,” says van Gulik. “I heard the trumpet and knew I wanted to play that music.”
Van Gulik, 24, began playing cornet at age six with the Salvation Army. He graduated from Canterbury High School and recently from the Masters of Music program at the University of Ottawa.
“The trumpet part is very challenging,” says Graham, “but every instrument is pushed to its limit by Bach. The musicians often have to act as a coordinated ensemble, dependent on one another’s skill.”
All six Brandenburg Concertos are not often performed together. This is a special opportunity for music lovers to experience the full range of these celebrated works.
The Brandenburg Concertos will be performed in a concert presented by Upbeat Productions at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 28 at Southminster United Church. Tickets are available on Eventbrite and at the door.
Janice Manchee sings tenor with Rideau Chorale directed by Roland Graham.
By Nadine Dawson
Cantata Singers have performed choral music for Ottawa audiences for over half a century.
Founded by Gerald Wheeler, they first performed at the National Art Gallery in 1964. Subsequent directors, including Brian Law, Laurence Ewashko and Michael Zaugg, expanded the choir’s audiences through concerts, recordings and collaborations, as well as tours in Canada, Europe and Asia. The choir’s current director, Andrew McAnerney, carries on the tradition of innovation and excellence, programming both familiar and rarely heard works from the classical tradition to contemporary Canadian music.
Cantata Singers began a long-standing relationship with the National Arts Centre in 1969. They have performed with the orchestra every year since, with concerts from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas that first year to Bach’s St. Matthe’s Passion this past January. Last year, the choir performed and recorded Ana Sokolovic’s composition, Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes in collaboration with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under the baton of Alexander Shelley. It was awarded the 2019 Juno for Classical Composition of the Year.
This, the choir’s 55th season, began with the world premiere of The Eleventh Hour, a multi-media musical work to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day by local composer, Andrew Agar, and in partnership with the Friends of the Canadian War Museum. The second concert of the season, Bach Cantatas by Candlelight, featured the musicians of Studio musique ancienne de Montréal on period instruments. To conclude the season, Cantata Singers will offer an all-Bruckner concert this May.
Bruckner, the man, was filled with idiosyncrasies, including a drive for purity and perfection that led him, as a child, to spend 12 hours a day practising the organ and as a composer, to revise his music tirelessly, often in collaboration with fellow musicians.
The Mass in E Minor that will be performed in this concert is the 1882 version. It was first composed for the Bishop of Linz to celebrate the construction of the Votive Chapel in the new Cathedral. It is set for eight voices and calls upon both ancient traditions such as monastic chant and counterpoint, and more modern sensibilities. The choir will be accompanied by an ensemble of woodwinds (oboes, clarinets, bassoons) and brass (horns, trumpets, trombones), thus evoking the sounds of the first performance conducted by Bruckner himself and held outdoors. Rounding out the program will be a series of Bruckner motets of great beauty, including Os justi and Ave Maria.
Please join Cantata Singers in the sacred space of St Joseph’s Church in the afternoon of May 26. Step back in time to Bruckner’s 19th century Austria to enjoy a musical expression of faith as enduring as it is beautiful. Be part of the tradition of fine choral singing in Ottawa that is honoured by the voices of today’s musicians. And see what the future holds by attending the reception following the concert when Cantata Singers unveil its 2019–20 season.
Bruckner’s Mass in E Minor takes place Sunday, May 26 at 3 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Church, 174 Wilbrod Street. Tickets are available at the door or may be purchased online by visiting cantatasingersottawa.ca.
Nadine Dawson is a teacher at Glebe Collegiate, an artist and a member of Cantata Singers of Ottawa.
By Karen Junke
Seventeen Voyces’ 2018–19 season began with horror and will end with horror, or more accurately, comedy horror. This is an original chamber opera based on “behind the scenes” incidents from Nosferatu, the silent classic from 1922. Kevin Reeves, d irector of Seventeen Voyces, told us, “I wrote this opera with the size and personalities of Seventeen Voyces in mind and because we’re known for accompanying silent film with live choral music. Now the tables are turned and live choral music is accompanied by silent film and a libretto which wends its way toward sheer anarchy.”
Even though it is a well-known horror flick, the opera is written as a comedy, inspired by the fact that some Europeans in the early 1920s – mostly in the villages – believed the lead in the film, Max Schreck, was a real vampire discovered somewhere in Bavaria by the director F.W. Murnau. This was enhanced by the fact that the lead’s name, Schreck, literally means “terror” in German.
Characters in the opera include the lead actor from the films, the cameraman who shot the film, as well as Shreck and Murnau themselves. The protagonist from the film, Thomas Hutter and his loving wife Ellen, get caught up in the hysteria surrounding Max Schreck and start believing the villagers as they are shooting the film on location in Slovakia.
As an actor, Max Schreck refused to take off his makeup and remained in character throughout the course of the shoot, was unwilling to step into the sun and preferred to remain in the shadows, thus fueling the rumours that he was a real vampire.
Of course, director Murnau, camera operator Fritz Arno Wagner and Shreck as Nosferatu gleefully keep the charade alive to create more publicity for the film on release.
Just to make events more chaotic, the widow of Bram Stoker, whose seminal story of Dracula had been completely ripped off by Murnau, metamorphosed into the story of Nosferatu and angrily appears on the set demanding her share; a scorned woman who eventually managed to have every print of Nosferatu incinerated, or so she thought.
Featured artists in order of appearance include, tenor Corey Arnold as F. W. Murnau the film director; baritone Ryan Hofman as Fritz Arno Wagner the cameraman; soprano Rachael Jewell as Gertrude Shroeder the film star Ellen; tenor Grayson Nesbitt as von Wangenheim film star Hutter, baritone Luc Lalonde as Max Schreck film star Nosferatu and soprano Kathleen Radke as as Frances Stoker.
This is a concert not to be missed. It promises to be great fun with superb soloists, chorus and instrumentalists including a string quartet, clarinet and harpsichord. Be sure you have your tickets, which are available online at www.seventeenvoyces.ca.
Karen Junke is a Seventeen Voyces board member and a fan of comic opera.
Seventeen Voyces presents
World premiere of a comic opera
by the choir’s director Kevin Reeves
Saturday, May 31 and Sunday, June 1
Glebe St. James United Church
650 Lyon Street South
Tickets online: www.seventeenvoyces.ca