VOCALISTS GRACE ST. JAMES
U.K. outfit The Gesualdo Six will hit Art Deco-era church on seven-city Canadian tour
The dog days of summer are decidedly not prime time for Vancouver’s choirs and vocal ensembles. All the better that a relatively new group, the U.K.’s Gesualdo Six, is in town this weekend as part of a seven-city Canadian tour. And to add extra value to the weekend concert, the group sings in a Vancouver architectural landmark, the Art Deco-era St. James Anglican Church in the Downtown Eastside.
Though not as popular as Dunbar-Ryerson or Christ Church Cathedral, St. James is a great space for singing. Its acoustics enhance vocal polyphony, and its unique design offers both atmosphere and intimacy. St. James is also a local leader in community engagement. It’s the focal point of the St. James Music Academy, a spectacular program that “provides classical music education to atrisk children and youth” through lessons, ensembles, concerts and Canada’s first El Sistema-inspired program.
In short, the perfect host for a high-standards, high-minded young ensemble. The Gesualdo Six is an all-male outfit (two countertenors, two tenors, baritone and bass) directed by composer and organist Owain Park. I had a chat with him just moments after Britain’s World Cup defeat, and he told me a bit about the group.
“We came together to perform Gesualdo’s amazing Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday in a 2014 performance at Trinity College, Cambridge. We had such an amazing time rehearsing it we decided to try other repertoire. Some of us were Cambridge students, others were musicians at various stages of our careers.”
Though the group has now sung all over the U.K. and in Europe, I wondered about the impetus for a Canadian visit.
“I’ve been to Canada twice before, two tours in Ontario, but not to the West Coast,” says Park. He decided his warm welcome boded well for bringing his singers for a visit. They start out in Ottawa before a single performance in Quebec, then fly to B.C. for concerts in Victoria and Vancouver, before finishing up back in southern Ontario.
Small vocal ensembles have quite a selection of working styles.
“In general, I organize the rehearsals,” explains Park.
“I choose the pieces and how the program falls out, and in rehearsals I will have an idea of how things should go. But, of course, I want the musicians to voice their own opinions and ideas. Sometimes I conduct, but once everyone is familiar with the pieces it really isn’t necessary for most of what we do.”
Some of the tour repertoire will be drawn from the ensemble’s debut recording, English Motets, released earlier this year by Hyperion. First reviews are very fine indeed. BBC Music enthuses: “Weavers of rich and plangent aural tapestries, The Gesualdo Six meld style and substance with beguiling sure-footedness. An auspicious debut.”
Vancouver listeners can anticipate music by William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, and, as a nod to Canada’s music, O Little Rose, O Dark Rose by Gerda Blok-Wilson, a Vancouver-based composer and a finalist in this year’s Chor Leoni C4 composer’s competition. The singers plan to round out their program with folksong arrangements from the British Isles.
Of course the rigours of a crosscountry Canadian summer tour aren’t to be underestimated, but Park sees it as a logical next step for the singers as they solidify contacts in Canada and the U.S. “It was a challenge to put this tour together, but a very enjoyable process as well.”
Some of us were Cambridge students, others were musicians at various stages of our careers.