Jun 9, 2019

The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir goes to Edmonton!

By Richard Whittall, countertenor

There was not a little excitement when, earlier last year, word came down to members of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir that Pro Coro Canada had invited us to perform as part of the Edmonton International Choral Festival on Friday, May 31, 2019.

That’s because the tour would be one of only a handful the choir has embarked on over the years, and the first ever outside of Ontario and Quebec (although my sources tell me there may have been a Michigan tour back in the 1980s)! 

Though we are all enamoured by the warm and familiar sight of Trinity-St. Paul's Centre and Jeanne Lamon Hall, the prospect of taking the show on the road was very welcome indeed, particularly as it involved singing a healthy cross-section of Bach choral works, including two of his most beloved motets—Lobet den Herrn and Jesu Meine Freude.

Members of the Chamber Choir waiting in Pearson International Airport.
Hanging out in Termnial 3. Photo by Carrie Loring.

The choir gathered at Pearson, Terminal 3 on Thursday evening (early and on-time, according to our warm, experienced and ever-helpful tour leader Beth Anderson), with our flight delayed just enough to ensure we would miss game one of the NBA Finals. Moments after touchdown, however, news trickled through the plane that the Raptors had defeated the Warriors to draw first blood in the series, a nice welcoming present if there ever was one!

Just as good was to be greeted at the gate by Michael Phair, a former Edmonton city councillor, Pro Coro Canada board member and all around Edmonton enthusiast, who kindly shepherded us onto the bus to take us to our home base at the hotel Chateau Lacombe, right in the heart of downtown. It was hard for us on the bus to get a sense of the city from the bus, however, and it wasn’t just because it was night; Edmonton was blanketed by smoke from major wildfires north of the city.

Thankfully, after a good night’s sleep and a hearty all-you-can-eat breakfast of bacon sausages and eggs, most of us were able to see nearly to the horizon through the hotel windows—the winds had shifted most of the smoke away. What’s more, the temperature was already well on its way up to the mid-twenties. Though we were ten degrees latitude further north, it was somehow ten degrees hotter than Toronto! I can’t recall much complaining.

Members of the Chamber Choir having lunch. Photo by Keith Lam.
Lunch! Photo by Keith Lam.

Everyone did their own thing in the morning, with only a little time for sight-seeing. A few of us chose to stop off at the Coffee Bureau a few blocks over on Jasper Street after breakfast, owned and operated by the brothers of our organist and Edmonton native, Christopher Bagan! And Christopher was not the only person for whom this trip was a homecoming; fellow Edmontonian Brenda Enns got to spend some much-needed time with her family just outside town. The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir is truly a national concern!

Our venue: Robertson-Wesley United Church. Photo by Carrie Loring.

Waiting to sing. Photo by Carrie Loring.
Waiting to sing. Photo by Carrie Loring.

The intimate concert venue was sold-out, and despite a demanding program with no intermission and the smell of campfire smoke still in our noses, we ran through a rich menu of Bach family choral works, interspersed with snippets from Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin played impeccably by Tafelmusik orchestra mainstay Cristina Zacarias.

Finally, as the gorgeous notes of Johann Christoph Bach’s unaccompanied choral work “Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben” died away to end the program—it roughly translates to ‘that’s it for my life,’ a line some of us understood all too well in the heat of the sanctuary after a tough sing—the crowd rose to a standing ovation. Our first Western tour had been a (slightly sweaty) success!

Chamber Choir Director Ivars Taurins introduces the Choir. Photo by Michael Zaugg.
Chamber Choir Director Ivars Taurins introduces the Choir. Photo by Michael Zaugg.

We returned to the hotel and enjoyed a celebratory tipple at the Chateau Lacombe bar, despite the early morning wake up to fly home. There we were joined by Tafelmusik chamber choir alumnus Dan Thielmann, who had come to see the show, and the celebration went into the night.

But all good things come to an end, and the next morning we departed the hotel for the airport and returned to normal life. It was a pleasure for all of us to sing Bach in Alberta, and we are grateful to Pro Coro Canada for allowing us to take part in the Edmonton International Choral Festival!

Chamber Choir
J.S. Bach