Stand on a street corner in Toronto and you may see architectural vestiges of our Victorian past; extravagantly crafted stone treasures, surrounded by modern towers of concrete, glass and steel.

In a similar musical landscape, Pax Christi Chorale commissions new music, but in a fast-changing world, we take a second look at pieces once unjustly judged as unfashionable.

On Sunday October 19 at 3pm, we will blow the dust off this seminal repertoire at Grace Church on-the Hill in Toronto. Our choral scholars, orchestra, and special guests, the Aslan Boys Choir will be joined by actor Emilio Vieira, who will recite Shakespeare and romantic poetry.

Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens from 1887 is a pivotal choral masterpiece. Parry’s genius and tireless mentoring of young composers ushered in a twentieth-century English renaissance, with luminaries like Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi, and Benjamin Britten providing us with priceless treasures of the choral repertoire.

Newfoundlanders will be able to sing the Ode to Newfoundland by memory, but they might not realize the same composer also penned the stirring setting of Blake’s poem Jerusalem. You will enjoy the most popular piece on this programme, I was glad, recently heard at the wedding of William and Kate. It’s no coincidence that Prince Charles freely identifies Parry as his favourite composer. Check out the BBC documentary “The Prince and the Composer” which re-asserts Parry as the saviour of English music.

We hope you are curious to hear more from Hubert Parry. On May 3rd, 2015 we will perform the North American premiere of his oratorio Judith, a dramatic and moving work commissioned for the Birmingham Festival of 1888.

Elgar’s There is sweet music here is daring for 1907, written in a bi-tonal harmonic language, closer to Stravinsky’s world than Parry’s. The music appears on the page in two different keys – the men singing in G major, the women in A flat major – adorning Tennyson’s evocative poem in a dense, dream-like canopy of sultry sound.

The new works on the programme are by me, and York University music grad Jared Tomlinson. Maybe if we dared, we would label ourselves Neo-Victorians?

My piece was written for the Summer Institute of Church Music in Whitby, Ontario last summer, and sets a poem by Milton. Jared’s piece How sweet the moonlight was commissioned by Pax Christi and sets Lorenzo’s speech from the Merchant of Venice, which goes on to say you should not trust a man who has no music in him. Jared’s piece is already published by Kelman-Hall and souvenir copies are available for purchase in the lobby at the concert.

The overarching theme of our concert celebrates the “blest pair” of poetry and music. Several solos elaborate on that theme, performed by members of our Pax Christi leadership team. Our choral scholars are an important part of the choir, teaching music in sectional rehearsals, training our voices with choral warms ups and continuing our mentorship of young singers through our youth outreach programmes. We are also pleased to introduce one of Toronto’s newest choirs, the Aslan Boys choir, and their conductor Thomas Bell.

So, I hope you can come and hear this concert on Oct. 19th
Thanks so much for supporting choral music.

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2 Responses to Blest pair of sirens

  1. Matthew Zadow says:

    Thanks for the post, Stephanie! Sounds like a great programme. Jared’s piece has something else in common with the Victorians: Lorenzo’s speech from the Merchant of Venice is also the basis for Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, which never fails to bring me to tears.
    Toi! Toi! for both upcoming concerts, M

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