When Vancouver's Chor Leoni Men's Choir opens its 2021-22 season with Remembrance Day concerts on November 10 and 11 the program will include Dale Trumbore's "Breathe in Hope", Henrik Dahlgren's "Son to Mother", and Ēriks Ešenvalds' "Lux Aeterna". But don't try getting the choir's artistic director Erick Lichte to choose the piece he's most excited about conducting. He says that it would be very difficult.
"What I'm most excited about is our return to live music-making," offers Lichte on the line from his East Van home. "That ability to share this music with people in the audience, with them really hearing us the way that they are meant to. This is our 30th season, and the very first concert that was given by Chor Leoni was a Remembrance Day program, so it holds a very special place for us. That concert has a unique way of creating communion between the audience and the singers because of its subject matter; it's a time for real reflection and I think we get down into some very big topics, but we do so with at least what we hope is great compassion and empathy."
Lichte—who discovered his love of choral music when he was in third grade and his mother took him to see a boys' choir in his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin—is more forthcoming when it comes to selecting his favourite Christmas song to lead. On December 17, 18, and 20 the Christmas with Chor Leoni program will include such seasonal faves as "Deck the Halls", "Winter Wonderland", and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing".
"It's always 'Silent Night'," he reveals, "and especially the way we do it as part of our Christmas with Chor Leoni concerts, where the choir typically surrounds our audience with candles and we sing that piece together. And there is again something about that connection that you feel at that time of the year. I'm so excited to do that, especially in our new space at St. Andrew's-Welsey Church. They've renovated that church—it's been a three-year renovation—and the space was always gorgeous, but it is even more beautiful now. So having that celebration of the season in that room has always been a very special thing for me, and that song is, I think, the quintessential one for that experience."
Another highlight of the Christmas program might be the world premiere of Lichte's arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne", which was recorded by Chor Leoni last year but which, due to COVID, hasn't been performed live yet.
"It's a real romper-stomper arrangement of that song," promises Lichte. "It's kinda got hoedown fiddling in it, as well as some really great percussion. So it's a very celebratory take on 'Auld Lang Syne', which can sometimes be a sentimental piece, but this is gonna be kinda the rockin' version of it."
Local choral-music fans who like a little pop in the mix should pencil in the PopCappella II performance on March 4 and 5, which will see the choir joined by a full band comprised of guitarist Keith Sinclair, pianist Ken Cormier, organist Tim Woodford, bassist Jodi Proznick, and drummer Liam MacDonald. The setlist will include material made famous by Stevie Wonder and the Weeknd, and feature tunes like Jimmy Cliff's 'I Can See Clearly Now" and Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies". So how did Lichte—whose favourite pop band "this week" is the Talking Heads—approach the daunting task of deciding which tunes to include?
"That is the trick," he points out. "Once you get into the realm of popular music I think everyone's an expert and everyone has their favourites. I try to approach it in a way where the arrangements are really about what happens when a choir takes on these songs. A lot of times if you go to a choral concert you maybe have a soloist, and the choir sort of sings backup to the soloist on a pop song, and we try not to do that--we really try to have the sound of our full choir doing these pieces. And so finding those fits for Chor Leoni and popular music is real challenging—and finding the right arrangements as well. But I love doing these concerts. They're so fun."
On June 3 Lichte's eighth season with Chor Leoni will conclude with C/4: Canadian Choral Composition Competition, featuring Canadian composers Katerina Gimon, Pierre Simard, and Robert Rival. But before that, A Sound Like This (May 12 to 13), and the VanMan Summit Concert (at the Chan Centre May 14), will see Chor Leoni performing with the Leonids, the nine-voice choral "supergroup" that he assembled. Its members include bass Eric Alatorre, bass-baritones Enrico Lagasca and Jonathan Woody, baritone Sam Kreidenweis, and tenors Dann Coakwell, Andrew Fuchs, Jacob Perry, Steven Soph, and Steven Caldicott Wilson.
"Chor Leoni's always existed as an amateur choir," points out Lichte, "and we've done this VanMan Choral Summit which brings together our large education program called MyVoice, which is usually 150 to 180 young men from all over the Lower Mainland coming together to sing. And the last couple of years we've been bringing in outside professional ensembles to do clinics with all of the singers, but the time that we've had together to do the educational aspects really well has always been so limited. So I really wanted to try to bring together the best ensemble singers in North America, and the pedigree of these singers [in the Leonids] is beyond my wildest dreams.
"So to be able to bring them together into one group is amazing," he raves, "because that hasn't been done anywhere before. The repertoire is truly some of the most amazing, virtuosic pieces ever written for a chamber ensemble like that, so I think my own mind is going to be blown when I hear these guys—and I think our audience is gonna feel that way too. It's gonna be a heck of a time."