Choir music, like any other kind of music, has different genres. Though Handel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 or Mozart’s Requiem may first come to mind when thinking of choir music, more contemporary pieces exist and are still composed today.
Some of these contemporary pieces — composed by Isaiah Ceccarelli and Karen Young — were premiered during VivaVoce’s first concert of the season Spotlight on Poetry. The concert, which featured French poems set to music, also included compositions by Renaissance composer Claude Le Jeune (who set some of Antoine de Baïf’s poems to music), Debussy (who was inspired by Charles d’Orléans), Paul Hindemith (who used six chansons by Rilke) and Quebec great Gilles Tremblay whom the SMCQ is currently honouring with a series of over 30 concerts. His piece made interesting use of Guillaume de Machaut’s « Mon coeur, ma sœur, ma douce amour » and Gaston Miron’s « Plus belle que les larmes ». Karen Young’s pieces — music set to two poems by Francine Hamelin — were commissioned by VivaVoce, which makes it a point to do this for at least one new piece every year.
VivaVoce is a small (13 singers in all), but strong note hidden in a Montreal full of music. Music lovers, particularly lovers of choir music, must discover this ensemble. Neophytes will particularly enjoy the performances because their approach to giving concerts is completely different, and Peter Schubert, VivaVoce’s Artistic Director and conductor, has found a great way to amuse and educate the audience while ensuring its enjoyment of the show.
Indeed, throughout the concert, Schubert regularly steps up to the microphone to explain the pieces the choir will be performing, pointing out certain vocal passages and having the ensemble demonstrate said passage. Thus, did we learn how Gilles Tremblay’s apparent cacophony in his Espace du Coeur worked, enabling listeners to appreciate the piece all the more. From seemingly discordant sounds, the passages became a siren song, drawing the audience in for a closer listen.
Furthermore, in Spotlight on Poetry, Schubert was aided by local poet José Acquelin whose reading of some of the performed poems was soothing. What an experience it was to have a poem read with a voice that so visibly loves words and then to feel that same poem surround us through music.
Being particularly fond of medieval and Renaissance music, I look forward to their next Gospel Music, Renaissance Style, which takes a look at the Gospel motet. And though I know very little of Victorian choir music, I’m certain to learn a lot during Melodrama and Sentiment.
This is not your local church choir. Composed of professional singers only, VivaVoce — finalist for Opus Prizes in two categories in 2007–08 — is a powerful and mesmerizing choir ensemble that will participate in the Montreal Baroque Music Festival for the very first time.
Gospel Music, Renaissance Style, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. Redpath Hall, 3461 McTavish Street. Melodrama and Sentiment, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tanna Schulich Hall, 555 Sherbrooke Street West. For more information, visit VivaVoce.