Someday, and it won’t be long, the world of classical music will be just as eclectic and untrammelled as any other field of popular entertainment. For now, though, it is definitely news that the venerable Vancouver Bach Choir, formed in 1930 and for most of its life dedicated exclusively to the masterworks of central Europe, will be performing music from William Friedkin’s film The Exorcist in its next concert program—although this can be explained.
Friedkin’s main theme for his 1973 horror classic might have been excerpted from rock guitarist Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, but in the film it was supplemented by “serious” works from Krzysztof Penderecki and Anton Webern. Oldfield, in turn, served his teenage apprenticeship in singer Kevin Ayers’s band, where he was informally tutored by keyboardist David Bedford, a classically trained musician who’d soon go on to be a composer of considerable renown. And although the studio creation that was the original Tubular Bells is generally considered part of the progressive-rock repertoire, it shows the marked influence of pioneering minimalists Terry Riley and Steve Reich.
So the work has some pedigree—and in the context of the Vancouver Bach Choir’s upcoming concert, its use makes perfect sense. Not only is it an apt bridge between the postminimalist beauty of Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year and the preminimalist verve of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, but its spinning, cyclical motifs allude to a theme that both of the other works treat in more explicit form. The Passing of the Year builds on the notion of the four seasons, while Orff’s choral masterwork examines the arguably less predictable machinations of the wheel of fortune, otherwise known as life on Earth.
“There is one section in particular in Tubular Bells that really reminds me of Carmina. I’m not sure if Oldfield thought about that, but there are a couple of medieval-ish moments that link up very nicely,” says Marcel Bergmann, reached by phone at his South Surrey home. The pianist, who has reworked Oldfield’s 23-minute score for the choir, the four members of Fringe Percussion, and his own Bergmann Piano Duo, sounds eager to get to work on all three pieces. “The whole program,” he notes, “is quite beautiful.”
Despite all of these connections, however, Tubular Bells is still going to be a stretch for the Bach Choir’s singers—especially as they’re going to be asked to vocalize wordlessly. That’s a rarity for an ensemble that’s way more familiar with liturgical music than jazz scat.
“It’s definitely a point of departure for us,” says the choir’s music director, Leslie Dala, in a separate telephone interview. “But they’re having a great time with it, and it’s opening up a whole new world for some of these people.”
A new world, he adds, that he’s eager to explore further. “As a pianist myself, I really believe that the piano is, in and of itself, an orchestra,” Dala explains. “So when you’ve got two formidable players and percussion, you’ve got a gamut of colour and sound—and then you add the choir and that whole world of text and drama and poetry. It’s nice that there is repertoire for this combination, and I’m discovering more and more as things go along. So this is the kind of combination that I’ll be happy to keep programming down the years.”
The Vancouver Bach Choir, Fringe Percussion, and the Bergmann Piano Duo play the Orpheum on Saturday (February 25).