Lovely Christmas bits ‘n bobs, baroque baubles

Our MCO Christmas Concert will sparkle like a treasure trove of musical gems, with wonderful traditional works, such as Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, to be sung by the Winnipeg Boys Choir (Carolyn Boyes, Music Director), and Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto.

Slightly less traditional is the Christmas anthem The Gist of Time by Eric Robertson, with text by Tim Wynne-Jones. This choral work will be sung by the Pembina Trails Voices Singers, directed by David Sawatzky ∓ Philip Lapatha.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. As a skilled violinist himself, his difficult music continues to challenge violinists today. We’ll all have fun with this early work by Biber, in which various unusual violin techniques are used to imitate a whole menagerie of animals!

Earl Stafford

Winnipeg legend Earl Stafford is the complete conductor. He is comfortable conducting and playing a variety of styles of music — from the classics to the avant garde, and from chamber music to pops. Twenty-five years as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Music Director and Principal Conductor add a new dimension altogether.

With this versatile conductor at the helm, this MCO Christmas offering will be a treat for all, with its sparkling and intriguing range of works.

The concert begins at 7:30 pm on December 1st in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors and $10 for students, including GST, at McNally Robinson, the West End Cultural Centre (586 Ellice at Sherbrook), Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave) or MCO’s Ticketline (204.783.7377).

Click above to add ticket to cart; adjust quantity in cart; click ‘Continue Shopping’ for other tickets.

Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
1 December 2015

Earl Stafford, guest conductor

Winnipeg Boys Choir (Carolyn Boyes, Music Director)

Pembina Trails Voices Singers (David Sawatzky & Philip Lapatha, directors)

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber
Sonata violino solo representativa, in A Major

Benjamin Britten
Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28

Eric Robertson/Tim Wynne Jones
The Gist of Time

Arcangelo Corelli
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Op. 6 No. 8 — ‘Christmas Concerto’

Concert sponsor / Pollard Banknote
Guest artist sponsor & Concertmaster sponsor / Red River Co-op
Additional support / Foundation for Choral Music in Manitoba
Print media sponsor / Winnipeg Free Press
Radio media sponsors / ICI musique 89.9, Classic 107 and Golden West Radio.

Earl Stafford

Earl began his music education at the age of eight, making his debut two years later as piano soloist with orchestra. Since then, he has performed around the world, receiving critical accolades for his performances. The Globe and Mail wrote, “His pianistic artistry was sheer poetry.” He was awarded the gold medal as best accompanist at the 1980 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria.

In 1984, Earl was appointed Music Director and Principal Conductor for Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, a position he held until 2009. He has also served as music director for the Saskatoon Symphony, and has held positions on the faculties of the University of Manitoba and The Banff Centre.

Earl was invited to conduct for Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Jubilee Gala in 2002 and was music director for the Governor General’s Awards with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. He has made numerous recordings for CBC and has appeared as a piano soloist on Bravo and A&E.

Earl’s work with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet earned him a sterling reputation, which has resulted in numerous repeat invitations as guest conductor. He has worked with many of Canada’s finest orchestras including the Toronto Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Symphonies of Vancouver, Victoria, Kitchener Waterloo, Winnipeg and Saskatoon and Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal. Internationally, Earl has appeared with the Tokyo Philharmonic, the Hungarian State Opera, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Queen’s Hall Orchestra of London and the Theatre Harmony Orchestra of Moscow.

Earl has also collaborated with many of the world’s finest artists, including James Ehnes, Janina Fialkowska, Desmond Hoebig, Angela Hewitt, Angela Cheng, Josh Groban, Evelyn Hart, Oscar Peterson, Joel Quarrington, Alain Trudel, Stephen Sitarski, Kyoko Takezawa, Mel Torme, Ron Paley, Edith Weins, Mark Zeltzer, Ian Tyson, Neil Sedaka, Fernando Varela, Jann Arden, Anne Murray and more.

Earl is comfortable conducting and playing a variety of styles of music — from the classics to the avant garde, and from chamber music to pops. He is a versatile conductor who isn’t afraid to take chances.

Winnipeg Boys’ Choir

Founded in 1925 by the Men’s Musical Club of Winnipeg, and probably the oldest children’s/youth choir in Western Canada, the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2015. The choir marked this milestone with a wonderful concert in May that included the participation of 23 alumni choristers who had sung with the choir in every decade from the early 1940s until 2014. Several alumni conductors and accompanists also participated, and many more were in the audience. It was wonderful to hear the stories of so many men for whom choral music has been a lifelong passion — and even a career — who found their start with the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir.

The Winnipeg Boys’ Choir is dedicated to providing high-quality vocal instruction and musical training in a hard-working and convivial atmosphere. Though the emphasis is on choral excellence, occasional social events throughout the year provide the opportunity for recreation and the development of friendships. A winter camp each January combines hours of intensive rehearsal with much laughter and rolling in the snow. A robust bursary programme ensures that any qualified singer can be part of this programme, regardless of family income. In 2015-16, the choir numbers about 42 singers.

An active member of Winnipeg’s choral music community for many years, Carolyn Boyes has conducted the Boys’ Choir since 1998. She teaches choral music at Sisler High School, co-directs the Winnipeg School Division Junior High Choir, prepares children’s choruses for Manitoba Opera, and is instructor of Choral Techniques with the University of Manitoba’s Orff Certification Program.

Carolyn earned a Master of Music (Choral Conducting) from the University of Manitoba in 2010. She was awarded the Michael J. Proudfoot Award for Excellence in Choral Music Teaching at the 2009 Winnipeg Music Festival. She has enjoyed adjudicating and guest conducting throughout the province. In recent years she directed the Eastern Manitoba Youth Choir and the Manitoba Senior High Provincial Honour Choir. Whenever she can, she enjoys singing with the Manitoba Opera Chorus and with Camerata Nova.

Several years ago, a Winnipeg Boys’ Choir Senior Chorus was founded to provide a place for serious singers to continue singing through and after the voice change. This chorus has grown steadily and, under the direction of Spencer Duncanson since 2014, adds a new dimension to the choir’s sound and repertoire. The choruses perform together or separately as opportunity and repertoire dictate.

In addition to its own concerts, the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir regularly performs with other fine amateur and professional musical organizations. The trebles are honoured and excited to perform Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. In March, they will sing the children’s part in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. We invite you to attend our own Christmas concert at 7 pm on Friday 18 December at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Please see our website, winnipegboyschoir.ca, for tickets and for more information about the choir.

Pembina Trails Voices Singers

Pembina Trails Voices is one of Canada’s premier youth choir organizations and is a program of Winnipeg’s Pembina Trails School Division. It began over 30 years ago as a choral program for exceptional music students. Over the years it has continued to grow, now having approximately 320 students — ranging in age from Kindergarten through Grade 12 — currently participating in one of eight choirs. PTV has been fortunate to perform with Manitoba’s leading ensembles, including the Winnipeg Symphony, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, The Winnipeg Singers and Canzona. They have also consistently placed at the top of Canada’s local, provincial, and national music festivals. This year Cantemus, the high school women’s choir, placed second in the National Music Festival in their category. The choirs have performed in such countries as the United States, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Cuba. Most recently, Cantemus and PTV Men undertook a memorable 10-day concert tour of China this past July.

Since 2013, David Sawatzky has been the Artistic Director of Pembina Trails Voices. He is also Adjunct Professor of Music at Providence University College in Otterburne, where he directs the Providence Chamber Singers and the University Choir, and teaches music history, musicianship and conducting. David holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Manitoba, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Alberta and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Illinois.

David has performed as a chorister with a number of Canada’s leading choral ensembles, including Pro Coro Canada, The Winnipeg Singers, Canzona, Da Camera Singers, Ensemble de la Rue, and more recently with Luminous Voices of Calgary. Conducting opportunities have seen David work with such conductors as Helmuth Rilling at the Toronto Bach Festival and Frieder Bernius at the University of Manitoba Summer Academy in Music. Previously, David was Music Instructor at Red Deer College in Alberta, Assistant Professor of Music at Bluffton University in Ohio, conducting the women’s and men’s choirs, and conductor of the Central Illinois Children’s Choir. When time allows, David and his family enjoy travelling and exploring the world.

Philip Lapatha is in his second year as the director of the PTV Men. He was born and raised in Winnipeg. He has two Bachelor degrees: Music (piano) and Education (senior years Choral and Math). He also has a Master’s degree in piano and music theory. Philip is a full-time choir teacher at Maples Collegiate where he and his colleague, Dorothy Dyck, teach hundreds of students in numerous ensembles (concert choirs, vocal jazz ensembles, chamber choir). Philip is also the founding director of the SonoLux Choir, the co-artistic director of the Ecco Singers, and a pianist and drummer at Elim Chapel. He enjoys arranging choral music for all the choirs that he directs. Last year, the Ecco Singers released Singer Love, an album of Philip’s choral arrangements.

Eric Robertson

Eric Robertson was born in Edinburgh, where he began studying piano and organ. When he immigrated to Canada with his family, he added composition and Hammond organ to his musical explorations. He has pursued an eclectic career in all styles of music: band leader, studio musician, composer, arranger, and conductor. Eric has accumulated a large collection of gold and platinum record awards for his work as a record producer and performer in the UK and Canada, has long been a music director in television, and is the composer of hundreds of film scores. Eric has also worked as a church musician throughout his career, building large choirs in Toronto churches, and is an Adjunct Professor of Composition in the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

Eric is the Artistic Director of the Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing the best of inspirational arts programming to Toronto audiences. In conjunction with Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, the Foundation presents Lunchtime Chamber Music, a 40-recital series that features both established talent and emerging artists from the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto and the Glenn Gould School. His choir, The Hedgerow Singers, performs at various events, including the nationally televised City Carol Sing, an annual charity concert that raises money for food banks across Canada.

Eric lives in Toronto and Edinburgh with his wife, singer and writer Colleen Burns.

Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim Wynne-Jones, OC, is an English–Canadian author of picture books and novels for children and young adults, novels for adults, radio dramas, songs for the CBC/Jim Henson production Fraggle Rock, as well as a children’s musical and an opera libretto. For his contribution as a children’s writer he was Canada’s nominee for the biennial international Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 2012.

Born in Great Britain, Wynne-Jones immigrated to Canada in 1952. He was raised in British Columbia and Ontario and currently lives in Perth, Ontario. Wynne-Jone was educated at the University of Waterloo and Yale University, after having graduated from Ridgemont High School in Ottawa. An additional formative experience was his participation in the St. Matthew’s Anglican Church choir of men and boys, of which he was for a time the Head Chorister. He is a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaching in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program.

Tim Wynne-Jones’s first book was Odd’s End, written over the space of five weeks while his wife was away. It was published By McClelland & Stewart in 1980 and won the $50,000 Seal First Novel Award. Since then, Wynne-Jones has written more than 20 books. His work has been widely reviewed and he has won several awards, including two Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards from The Horn Book Magazine for children’s fiction published in the U.S. (1995, 2011); three Governor General’s Literary Awards in Canada (1993, 1995, 2009); three Canadian Library Association Prizes; the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada (2001); and the Edgar Award for Young Adult Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America (2002).

Sonata representativa in A Major
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber

Renowned as one of the greatest violinists of the seventeenth century, Biber was also a highly productive composer. During the 1660s, he was employed by the Prince-Archbishop of Olmütz, but he moved to Salzburg during the winter of 1670/71. In 1679, he became vice-Kapellmeister to Archbishop Max Gandolph, and took over the post of full Kapellmeister in 1684. A century later, no less a figure than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would find himself working for the same office.

Biber composed the Sonata representativa in 1669, possibly to be performed at the Carnival Ball that the Archbishop of Olmütz organized for the Moravian nobility. Like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, it is a choice example of Baroque program music, the type that seeks to represent or convey something more than simply music, such as a story, a place or a dramatic character. In this case, it offers a portrait gallery of animals and people, book-ended by a pair of typical non-programmatic Baroque forms.

It opens with a straightforward two-part Sonata, but then passes quickly into the realm of humorous character portrayal. In a series of compact vignettes, the nightingale sings in lyrical fashion; the cuckoo’s unmistakable falling call is heard as it chirps merrily; the frog intones a plaintive lament in slow tempo; the hen and cock engage in a rushing, witty dialogue; the quail sings nobly in a section featuring pizzicato notes for the violin soloist; the cat saunters by, mewing in saucy fashion; a group of musketeers march to a swaggering tune; and the sonata concludes with another abstract piece, a stately allemande.

A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28
Benjamin Britten (Lord Britten of Aldeburgh)

“For that, as I see it is our job. To be useful to the living” — Benjamin Britten.

Britten made himself ‘useful’ (a typically modest description) in many ways. Other composers have worked in as wide a range of creation as he, but he numbers among the rare, precious few who have also been blessed with the talent, imagination and sensitivity to write outstanding compositions in each genre.

'His was an abundantly communicative style, fundamentally conservative but regularly sparked by adventurousness. Within it, he composed everything from opera, oratorio, orchestral and chamber works, to film scores, folk song arrangements and music aimed without condescension at children.

Few have matched the depth and balance of his insight into both the dark and the light sides of human nature. For every profound drama that flowed from his pen (the War Requiem, for example), he created a witty counterweight, such as the Diversions for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra. Perhaps his greatest gift was a superlative skill for setting words. Add to these his formidable abilities as pianist, scholar, administrator and conductor (of other composers’ music in addition to his own), and you truly have a figure for the ages.

Britten traveled to Colorado in 1964 to receive the inaugural Aspen Award. It cited him as an artist “who, as a brilliant composer, performer and interpreter through music of human feelings, moods, and thoughts, has truly inspired man to understand, clarify and appreciate more fully his own nature, purpose and destiny.”

In 1932, the nineteen-year-old Britten composed A Boy Was Born, a choral setting of ancient Christmas carols. Ten years later, he returned to the same field and created A Ceremony of Carols. He composed this bewitchingly beautiful score for voices and harp while on the ship, the Axel Johnson, that was bringing him back to England after three years in North America. While it had been lying at anchor before it departed from Halifax, he paid a visit to a bookshop. There, he came across a volume of medieval poems that proved to be the source of much of the Ceremony’s text.

His correspondence reveals that he originally conceived the score for children’s voices, but the premiere of the original, incomplete version was given by an adult female choir. That took place on 5 December 1942, in Norwich Castle, performed by the Fleet Street Choir and harpist Gwendolen Mason.

Shortly thereafter, Britten made several revisions. He added an opening procession and a closing recession, both based on an ancient plainchant theme, the Magnificat Antiphon for the second Vespers of the Nativity. He added one more carol (That yongë child), plus a delicate interlude for the harpist. He based the interlude on the same Magnificat Antiphon. He also made a firm decision to call for children’s voices (including soloists) to perform this music. Their sound would recur in some of his later works, where he used it to conjure lost, youthful innocence. The first performance of the final, revised version of A Ceremony of Carols took place on 4 December 1943, in London, with Britten conducting. The first recording was made one year later.

Most of the texts are anonymous, interleaved with verses by the English poets James, John and Robert Wedderburn, Robert Southwell and William Cornish. The music calls for a wide range of vocal practices, from close-knit harmonies (This little babe) to solemn recitation (There is no rose) to exultant exclamations (Deo gracias).

Britten scholar Michael Kennedy writes, “Harmonically and melodically, the Ceremony is simple if not circumscribed, but the colour transformations and the easeful aptness of the vocal writing, together with the poetic harp part, explains why the public has preferred it, on the whole, to the more intricate and challenging A Boy Was Born. Who could fail to be charmed and delighted by the joyfulness of the Spring Carol, by the stillness of In Freezing Winter Night, the music shivering with cold as the Phrygian intervals collide canonically, and by the blithe serenity of As dew in Aprille?

The Gist of Time
Eric Robertson, with text by Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim Wynne-Jones writes:

“I wrote the lyric for this piece in memory of a wonderful singer and choirmaster. I did not know Helen Roby well; we met through her talented brother, John, a composer and musician with whom I had worked on several ventures. Helen was a red-head and a dynamo, a woman of huge faith. Although I no longer counted myself one of the flock, I was moved by Helen’s belief and the manifestation of it in her musical endeavours with several Halifax choirs and musical groups. She died young of cancer and when Christmas came that year, these words came to me. Somehow I suspect she had something to do with it. There was also the lingering memory of sacred music from my years as a choirboy and soloist at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa, under the masterful direction of Gerald Wheeler. While I may have strayed from faith, I have always held Christmas in my heart as a time of miracles; the birth of every child is a miracle worthy of song. Robert Cooper commissioned the music from Eric Robertson for the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir and Eric’s music has filled out the vision — given it breadth and depth, so much colour and harmonic dimension. I only wish Helen could hear it. But then, I have a feeling she does.”

Concerto grosso in G Minor, Op. 6 No. 8 ‘Christmas’
Arcangelo Corelli

Corelli’s reputation and influence extended through much of Europe. He was one of the leading violin soloists of the Baroque era, as well as a composer of music that is both appealing and historically significant. His sonatas for violin, for example, helped establish this instrument as the most important non-vocal element in music.

Although he didn’t invent the concerto grosso (grand concerto), one of the Baroque era’s most popular forms, he did play a crucial role in the establishment of its popularity. It is founded on the interplay between two bodies of strings: a small concertino (usually two violins and a cello), and a larger group, the ripieno.

Corelli’s Op. 6 (1714), his final published work, is a set of 12 concerti grossi. No. 8 has long been the best-known of the set. All of the movements except the last present the array of brief sections in contrasting moods and tempos that was typical of the concerto grosso. It is only the soothing, almost lullaby-like concluding pastorale that has specific associations with Christmas.