The Vancouver Bach Choir launches its 88th season with a celebration of two 20th-century choral knockouts: Maurice Duruflé’s 1947 work Requiem and Leonard Bernstein’s 1965 composition Chichester Psalms. They’ll sing the pieces at St. Andrew’s–Wesley United Church on Saturday (October 13), with soloists mezzo-soprano Emma Parkinson, bass Tyler Simpson, and boy soprano Andreas Dala. We asked associate conductor Kathleen Allan about the show:
Q. You’ve juxtaposed a meditative piece with an energetic Bernstein work. What led you to mix such contrasting choral music, and why do they work together?
A. The Duruflé Requiem and Bernstein Chichester Psalms are two of the greatest choral works of the 20th century, but neither are performed very often. In the year of Bernstein’s 100th birthday, we wanted to highlight the importance of his work and place it amidst the great works of our time. Though the two compositions seem completely different on the surface, they in fact share many musical traits. In Chichester Psalms, Bernstein uses luminous, brazen sonorities with lots of charged dissonances to illustrate Psalm texts such as “Awake, psaltery and harp! Make a joyful noise!” Duruflé employs a similar harmonic language to the opposite effect: at a piano dynamic, these dissonances become soft shadings of major chords, ebbing and flowing through a rich palette of colours. Both works provide a thoroughly modern lens through which to experience ancient texts.
Q. This is the final concert in St. Andrew’s–Wesley before it shuts down for renovations. What do you like about performing there?
A. The acoustic at St. Andrew’s-Wesley is perfect for large choral works. The singers of the Bach Choir love performing there—it feels so good to sing in that resounding space! The visual aspect also cannot be ignored. The stained glass, stone walls, and arching ceilings are inspiring for audience members and performers alike.
Q. What’s your and your singers’ ritual or preparation right before a concert?
A. Before a concert, the choir is always in a bustling and excited mood. Everyone is getting ready in their flowing red gowns or tuxedoes, and strains of music from the evening’s repertoire fill the bathrooms and corridors. When everyone is ready to go, I will lead them through some exercises to focus the preconcert energy and warm up their singing voices. We go on-stage feeling ready to bring the music to life at the highest level and excited to share our work with the audience.