HOL­I­DAY ARTS Elektra wel­comes Hepp­ner to women’s world of song

The Georgia Straight - - HOLIDAY ARTS - By

MAlexan­der Varty

orna Ed­mund­son makes it easy. Not con­tent with sim­ply pick­ing the reper­toire and re­hears­ing the singers, the Elektra Women’s Choir artis­tic di­rec­tor also writes an in-depth “lis­tener’s guide” for each of her en­sem­ble’s con­certs and posts it on­line in ad­vance of the show. To find it re­quires read­ing the fine print on Elektra’s “con­certs & events” page, but it’s worth the ef­fort. Af­ter ab­sorb­ing Ed­mund­son’s pre­cise yet charm­ingly in­for­mal mus­ings, au­di­ence mem­bers will bring in­formed cu­rios­ity to the con­cert ex­pe­ri­ence, while mu­sic jour­nal­ists will be able to zero in on what’s no­table in any par­tic­u­lar show.

Which, for Elektra’s up­com­ing Chez Nous Christ­mas con­certs, is the pres­ence of Ben Hepp­ner as the choir’s spe­cial guest. The Fraser Val­ley–born tenor has re­tired from the operatic stage, but is still giv­ing song recitals. Given that Ed­mund­son was one of his class­mates at UBC when they were both em­bark­ing on their mu­si­cal ca­reers, it seemed nat­u­ral for her to reach out to him dur­ing this fes­tive sea­son. And in fact, she went a lit­tle be­yond that, com­mis­sion­ing Elektra’s reg­u­lar ac­com­pa­nist, Stephen Smith, to come up with an ar­range­ment of a Men­non­ite carol from the 18th cen­tury, “Sweet Was the Song”, in the process hon­our­ing both the sea­son and Hepp­ner’s cul­tural her­itage.

“Every­body in Elektra adores Stephen’s mu­sic, and they’re al­ways beg­ging me to sing more,” Ed­mund­son ex­plains, in a tele­phone in­ter­view from her Sur­rey home. “So I im­me­di­ately thought he should write some­thing. And then the cool thing is, Stephen him­self went off and started look­ing for Men­non­ite hymns or carols, and came upon this beau­ti­ful melody.

“It re­ally fea­tures Ben, but it’s not a showoff kind of piece,” she con­tin­ues. “It’s calm and beau­ti­ful and in­tro­spec­tive. It’s not go­ing to be like ‘Here’s a tenor show­ing off his high notes.’ So that’s the door through which Ben’s in this con­cert. The piece just hits the nail on the head, I think. And then he’s also do­ing his own set of four songs, with Stephen on pi­ano.”

With reper­toire that runs from a va­ri­ety of tra­di­tional Euro­pean carols to Min­nesota com­poser Abbie Burt Be­ti­nis’s “Ro­mance in Waltz Time”—and, rather bravely, with only one num­ber culled from the choir’s re­cently re­leased Silent Night Cd—chez Nous re­flects Ed­mund­son’s de­sire to present a bal­anced pro­gram rather than one geared to pro­mot­ing its new record­ing.

“Es­pe­cially at Christ­mas, you have to be all the things that peo­ple ex­pect, and all the things that you want,” she ex­plains. “And the thing that I want is for the per­son who walks in the door who never goes to con­certs, who got dragged there by some­body, to say ‘Oh, that tune that I’ve heard for­ever on Muzak, it has words!’ Or, you know, it has an ori­gin—it comes from some­where. So the fa­mil­iar Christ­mas tunes have to be part of it—and, be­ing Elektra, I want to find ar­range­ments that might be of some of those fa­mil­iar tunes, but that have a fresh­ness to them, or that come from some com­poser I be­lieve in.”

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