Can you have too much of a good thing? Well, yes and no.
On the occasion of his 10th anniversary as music director of the Vancouver Bach Choir, Leslie Dala is reflecting on the superabundance of excellent choral ensembles in our city, and how that poses problems as well as opportunities.
“It can be a little tricky at times, when we’re… Well, ‘competing against each other’ are the wrong words, but we all have events going on, and people who come out to events have to choose sometimes,” he explains. “This is not the most affordable city to live in, so people have to plan their expenses carefully. So all this is to say that this is a great city for choral music and for music in general, but that makes it tough for everybody to thrive.”
The need to clamour for an audience’s attention is especially vital during the Christmas season, traditionally a time for choirs to dust off the most beloved works in their repertoire, whether they be familiar carols that have endured hundreds of chilly European winters, or massive liturgical works of similarly antique provenance. In the case of the VBC, Dala is especially concerned with how many renditions of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah the city can support.
We’re not Toronto, he points out, which regularly embraces several sold-out, fully professional stagings of Handel’s greatest oratorio. But can we support two, or even more?
Dala thinks we can, and he’s got a pair of them to promote: a singalong take on Handel’s classic, followed by a full production in which the VBC will be joined by members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, alongside soloists Eve-Lyn de la Haye, Stephanie Tritchew, John Tessier, and Neil Craighead.
When it comes to the concert version, Dala says, “We’re taking an approach that really brings out the dance in all of the movements, whether it’s the slow, solemn ones or the quicker, sprightly ones. It’s something that you cannot deny about the music of the baroque era: it really was about the dance.”
The conductor adds that the VBC has another holiday event on offer: this weekend, Christmas With the Bach Choir will showcase more specifically seasonal fare, in conjunction with the VBC’s various youth and young-adult affiliates. The concert will also feature the world premiere of the main choir’s 2019 Choral Competition winner, Nicholas Ryan Kelly’s “Wild Bells”.
“It’s a setting of the Tennyson poem ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’, which talks about ringing out the old and ringing in the new, and all things that are foul going away, and positing goodness and light,” Dala says of the Kelowna composer’s score. “It’s a very energetic piece, with organ and choir—and although it’s just over four minutes long, you feel like it’s a very well-put-together musical journey.”
What could be more appropriate for this season than that?
The Vancouver Bach Choir presents Christmas With the Bach Choir at the Orpheum on Sunday (December 1). Singable Saturdays: Messiah Edition takes place at First Christian Reformed Church next Saturday (December 7). Handel’s Messiah takes place at the Orpheum on December 14.