Can­tata Singers tap joy for their 60th

A cel­e­bra­tory new work by Jo­ce­lyn Mor­lock joins the likes of J.S. Bach on a rous­ing birth­day pro­gram

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - > BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

It’s a bright Sat­ur­day morn­ing, the scent of sum­mer is in the air, and in her South Sur­rey town­house Paula Kre­mer is think­ing of… Well, she’s think­ing of death. But she’s also think­ing of life, and light, and most of all she’s think­ing about Kan­tate­feier, the pro­gram she’s as­sem­bled to mark the 60th an­niver­sary of the Van­cou­ver Can­tata Singers, the en­sem­ble she’s helmed since 2013.

It is not, she ad­mits, a par­tic­u­larly rah-rah con­fec­tion. Mu­si­cal schol­ars sug­gest, for in­stance, that open­ing num­ber “Lieber Herr Gott, wecke uns auf ”, by Jo­hann Christoph Bach, was sung at Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach’s fu­neral, in 1750. And J.C.’S sober mes­sage will be echoed in J. S.’s con­clud­ing piece, “Wa­chet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”, al­though in that work, which posits Je­sus as “the bride­groom of the soul”, there is an un­der­pin­ning sen­su­al­ity and joy.

“So much of this mu­sic, even though it’s al­most fu­neral mu­sic, could be done at Christ­mas­time as well,” Kre­mer tells the Straight. “It’s just so in­ter­est­ing!”

She ex­plains that the Bachs’ mu­sic—which was in­tended to be per­formed in a litur­gi­cal con­text, whether fu­ne­real or not—is largely about the ra­di­ant awak­en­ing be­liev­ers can ex­pect in heaven. “So how do I re­late that to some­one who isn’t Chris­tian, or who doesn’t have that be­lief?” she asks. “Well, one thing that unites us all is that it’s a given that we all are go­ing to die. So that is, right there, some­thing that uni­fies all of us on this Earth.”

We should prob­a­bly spec­ify that Kre­mer doesn’t sound par­tic­u­larly down­cast about any of this. In fact, she’s bub­bling with so much en­thu­si­asm for her choir and its mu­sic that try­ing to ex­plain it, she says, leaves her al­most “tonguetied”. Still, she makes the point that the deep feel­ing in the Bachs’ mu­sic en­com­passes ver­nal ex­cite­ment as well as au­tum­nal ru­mi­na­tion, “wecke uns auf ” and “wa­chet auf ” both trans­lat­ing, more or less, as “Wake up!” And in that spirit of the fresh and new, Kre­mer de­cided to bol­ster the Can­tata Singers’ pro­gram by com­mis­sion­ing a piece, Io, Io, from Van­cou­ver Sym­phony Orches­tra com­poser in res­i­dence Jo­ce­lyn Mor­lock.

“It’s re­ally a beau­ti­ful con­nec­tion,” she ex­plains. “I met with Jo­ce­lyn a year ago and said that we would love to have her write a cel­e­bra­tory piece for us—for the Van­cou­ver Can­tata Singers, as we cel­e­brate our 60th—to have on the last pro­gram of the year. But here’s the sticker: it’s all Bach, and Jo­ce­lyn doesn’t write, ob­vi­ously, in Bach’s choral style. So how could we fit it into the pro­gram de­sign? I love de­sign­ing pro­grams that tell a story or have the­matic threads, so it isn’t just a pro­gram of beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful mu­sic to lis­ten to.”

Mor­lock’s an­swer was to quote Philipp Ni­co­lai’s text for “Wa­chet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”. “It’s ‘ No eye has ever seen/no ear has ever heard/such joy,’ ” Kre­mer says. “And on be­half of the Can­tata Singers, I would say that speaks to our joy that we’ve made it to 60 years, and that we’re singing to­gether, and that we’re able to do this con­cert.”

The Van­cou­ver Can­tata Singers present Kan­tate­feier! A Can­tata Cel­e­bra­tion at Christ Church Cathedral on Sat­ur­day (May 12).

Van­cou­ver Can­tata Singers artis­tic direc­tor Paula Kre­mer will take on themes of life and death for the Kan­tate­feier pro­gram to mark the oc­ca­sion.

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