In Canada, at least, the notion of seasonal choral music inevitably invokes the carols sung during Christmas festivities across snowy northern Europe. And Elektra Women’s Choir will not disappoint with its annual Chez Nous: Christmas With Elektra show. This year, the veteran ensemble will include music from England, France, and Austria on its program. But for artistic director Morna Edmundson, the spirit of giving demands taking an inclusive approach. Elektra will also be performing newly composed music from North and South America, while inviting both the Vancouver Bach Children’s Choir and the voices of the natural world to join in the chorus.
Meadowlark, American robin, mourning dove, wood thrush, red-winged blackbird, rufous-sided towhee, and white-throated sparrow will all feature in So Hallowed Is That Time, embodied by the violin and cello of guest musicians Joan Blackman and Rebecca Wenham. Taking as its text a passage from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the work was composed by Elektra’s resident pianist, Stephen Smith.
“Stephen grew up in a tiny little place called Cape Sable Island, in Nova Scotia, and he was an avid birdwatcher when he was a child,” Edmundson says, in a telephone interview from her Surrey home. “So there’s a deep love there. “The violin and the cello start the piece by playing those bird calls, and then the choir comes in underneath them and we start singing the words. It’s just beautiful.”
Although So Hallowed Is That Time has been in Elektra’s repertoire for a number of years, it might also hint at where the ensemble will be going next spring. For its The Lost Words: A Spell Book concert in May, Edmundson has commissioned Smith and nine other Canadian composers to set 20 poems from Robert Macfarlane’s magical, animal-themed alphabet book The Lost Words. One of the pianist’s two choices, naturally enough, is “Starling”.
New to Elektra for 2019 is the young Argentine composer Santiago Veros, who’ll contribute a setting of the Latin text O Magnum Mysterium. Only 29, Veros is already becoming a force in the choral world, both for his music and for his online Choral Club, dedicated to building bridges between cultures.
Like Veros, Edmundson finds the Internet a stimulating resource for musicmakers and listeners alike.
“When we first started Elektra, people thought, ‘Oh, you’re going to run out of music in a year,’ ” she says. “But now, 30 years later, all of us are online with one another, creeping each other’s YouTube channels and listening to stuff and asking for recommendations.…It’s just a huge network—and now there’s just too much music!
“I don’t really mean that,” she adds, laughing. “But it’s a really, really amazing time to be doing this.”
Elektra Women’s Choir presents Chez Nous: Christmas With Elektra at Pacific Spirit United Church on Saturday (November 23).