Vancouver Bach Choir’s Leslie Dala isn’t the type to take shortcuts

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It’s always a little bit nerve-wracking to take over from a well-loved leader, especially if, like the Vancouver Bach Choir’s retired music director Bruce Pullan, that leader has spent 27 years at the helm.

Such was the task of the relative youngster Leslie Dala, 39, who will make his full-concert debut with the choir when he conducts George Frederick Handel’s beloved holiday classic Messiah this Saturday (December 11) at the Orpheum Theatre, with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In a call with the Straight, Dala admits that watching Pullan in action made for some early jitters.

“The thing that made me nervous was that I watched a rehearsal of his, and he’s just so funny,” says Dala, from his Vancouver home. “He had these one-liners for anything that happened musically, and every time he planted one of those he’d look over at me with this kind of sly look going, ”˜That was pretty good, huh?’ I thought, ”˜Oh my God, I’ve really got to brush up on my wit.’ When you’ve got 150 people in the room, you’re working, but you’ve got to keep it real and keep them entertained from time to time.”

As far as Bach Choir president and 32-year veteran Tony Roper is concerned, Dala’s brought a new energy and charisma to the group. “It’s different,” says Roper by phone. “His approach is very eager, very enthusiastic. We’ve only been working with him for 12 weeks as it happens, but out of that already has come a most impressive Verdi Requiem and the Lord of the Rings concert (both with the VSO in November).”¦Something is obviously being done right, and we seem to be enjoying working with him.”

In putting his own stamp on the Messiah, a staple of the Vancouver Bach Choir’s repertoire, Dala has opted to perform the entire work, uncut. “When I announced my intention of that to the choir, there was actually a sort of gasp, because they had never done the whole piece before,” Dala reveals. “There’s usually at least two or three choruses that get cut. One of them comes right near the very end, and it’s quite remarkable because it comes out of a duet for alto and tenor called ”˜O Death, Where Is Thy Sting’—it leads into this chorus, which is ”˜But Thanks Be to God’. It’s a very restrained piece, but it’s incredibly beautiful and celebratory in a sort of quiet way.”¦I think often a reason it gets cut is that people are just feeling, ”˜Oh, we’ve passed the two-hour mark and we should really wrap this up quickly.’”

Certainly, Dala isn’t the type to take shortcuts. In addition to his new position with the choir, he is the music director and conductor of the Prince George Symphony Orchestra, chorus director and associate conductor of Vancouver Opera, and principal conductor of the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra.

“I feel really energized by the variety of what I get to do,” he notes cheerfully. “I get very lucky that way. I love making music, so I get to do symphonic things and oratorios and work on operas. It’s pretty rich. I feel very blessed by that.”

And as for living up to Pullan’s comedic abilities? “I think I’m getting better in that department,” he says, sounding relieved. “I’m not going to do any standup anytime soon, but I’m feeling better about that whole thing.”

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