Richard Eaton Singers cel­e­brate cen­te­nary of end of First World War

Edmonton Journal - - YOU - MARK MOR­RIS

There is the sense of the end of an era in this year’s Re­mem­brance cel­e­bra­tions. It’s not just that it will be 100 years to the day since the end of the First World War: some­how, the cen­te­nary changes our col­lec­tive his­tor­i­cal mem­ory.

Some­thing dis­ap­pears in the im­me­di­acy of the event: psy­cho­log­i­cally, things that hap­pened over 100 years ago have a lot less res­o­nance than those that hap­pened un­der 100 years ago.

All too soon, there will be no one still alive who was alive then. Nev­er­the­less, those events are not re­ally so dis­tant: there are very many in their six­ties and older whose grand­par­ents fought in the “Great War”, and, of course, Re­mem­brance Day also re­mem­bers all those who have fought in our wars since.

All this is be­ing cel­e­brated in a ma­jor event by the Richard Eaton Singers, one of Ed­mon­ton’s pre­miere cho­ral so­ci­eties, it­self nearly seven decades old. They are per­form­ing in the Win­spear Cen­tre on Re­mem­brance Day it­self (Nov. 11), in a con­cert that opens with a di­rect con­nec­tion to events a cen­tury ago.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 a bu­gle played the Cease­fire call at Mons, Bel­gium. That very same bu­gle, now known as the Mons Bu­gle, will be played by Pte. Mal­colm Skep­ple of the Loyal Ed­mon­ton Reg­i­ment, along­side the Loyal Ed­mon­ton Reg­i­ment Drum Corps, to open the con­cert.

It will be fol­lowed by a new work, spe­cially com­mis­sioned to re­mem­ber the First World War by the Richard Eaton Singers, Cho­rus Ni­a­gara, and the Or­pheus Choir of Toronto. The com­poser is the Cana­dian Al­lan Be­van, per­haps best known for his cho­ral work Nou Goth Sonne Un­der Wode, which the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Cho­rus gave in Ed­mon­ton in 2016.

The new work, Last Light Above the World, was pre­miered in On­tario last year (on the an­niver­sary of Vimy Ridge). The com­poser made some ad­just­ments to the score af­ter hear­ing that pre­miere, and this per­for­mance is the first of the re­vised ver­sion.

It com­bines po­etry from the First World War with Latin texts from the Re­quiem Mass. If that com­bi­na­tion sounds fa­mil­iar from Brit­ten’s War Re­quiem, there are no Wil­fred Owen po­ems here. In­stead, the texts are by such writ­ers as Ru­pert Brooke and Ford Ma­dox Ford, and in­cluded is a set­ting of John McRae’s In Flan­ders Field. In con­trast to the Brit­ten, Be­van uses a rel­a­tively small orches­tra, with no up­per brass. He also in­cor­po­rates two nar­ra­tors, speak­ing texts by Ru­pert Brooke.

“Al­lan and me go back a long ways,” says con­duc­tor Leonard Rat­zlaff. Be­van did a masters in cho­ral mu­sic at the Univer­sity of Al­berta, and started com­pos­ing works for univer­sity choirs that Rat­zlaff was con­duct­ing. The Richard Eaton Singers know his mu­sic, too: in 2016 they per­formed No Mor­tal Busi­ness, com­mis­sioned from Be­van to cel­e­brate the 400th an­niver­sary of Shake­speare’s death.

Last Light Above the World is scored for two nar­ra­tors, four soloists, cho­rus, and orches­tra, and Rat­zlaff is very pleased that all are from the Ed­mon­ton com­mu­nity. Nar­ra­tor Dawn Sad­oway is the Head of Voice with the MacEwan The­atre Arts Pro­gram, while nar­ra­tor Ti­mothy An­der­son has not only worked with the Richard Eaton Singers be­fore, but also took part in the 2016 per­for­mance of Nou Goth Sonne Un­der Wode.

So­prano Jo­laine Ker­ley sang in that Nou Goth Sonne Un­der Wode per­for­mance, while tenor Caleb Nel­son and bari­tone Michael Kurschat both sing with Pro Coro. Mezzo-so­prano Mairi-Irene McCor­mack is cur­rently do­ing grad­u­ate stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Al­berta.

Be­van de­scribes the soloists as rep­re­sent­ing the rest­less spir­its of the war dead, who move eas­ily be­tween the world of the liv­ing and the dead.

The work, says Rat­zlaff, has in­tensely dra­matic mo­ments, but is pri­mar­ily med­i­ta­tive, with sec­tions of real beauty. “Al­lan has the dis­tinc­tive abil­ity to write lovely melodies. There are some real chal­lenges — he has spec­i­fied some very slow tempi to bring out the beauty in the longer lines. The choir has be­come re­ally in­volved with the texts. We think it’ll make a strong state­ment about the hu­man loss.”

Last Light Above the World will be fol­lowed in the con­cert by Haydn’s fa­mous Missa in tem­pore belli (Mass in Time of War). The Aus­trian Em­pire was ex­pect­ing in­va­sion by French forces (and a young and un­known gen­eral named Napoleon Bon­a­parte) when Haydn wrote it in 1796.

In­deed, the end­ing of the Mass is both cel­e­bra­tory, con­fi­dent per­haps of vic­tory, but also cel­e­brates

peace and joy in the lively fi­nal Dona no­bis pacem.

Al­lan Be­van will him­self be at the con­cert, and there is spe­cial pric­ing for mem­bers of the mil­i­tary and vet­er­ans.

The Richard Eaton Singers and con­duc­tor Leonard Rat­zlaff will per­form a new work by Cana­dian com­poser Al­lan Be­van Nov. 11 at the Win­spear Cen­tre.

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