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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Es ist vollbracht

With our performance of Bach's St. John Passion Good Friday, my tenure as Artistic Director of Pro Coro Canada is over.

It's been twelve years of working with this ensemble, board members, volunteers, choral colleagues in Edmonton and across Canada, funding agencies, and audience members.

It's difficult to express just how important, both personally and professionally, this association has been to me--but know that it has gone beyond just "important."

From a professional perspective, it offered me the opportunity to work with and develop a superb ensemble. It was the invitation to become Artistic Director that led to my leaving academia (and a job that I loved at PLU) to explore the professional world. That led to opportunities to spend time in Sweden in 2007 and 2008 (for more information, just look at the listing in the right column) and work with the Radio Choir, something I couldn't have done with an academic position.

Through Pro Coro I got to know some outstanding Canadian composers and perform works by many of them, some of these premiere performances. I built an especially close relationship with Allan Bevan, and our premiere of his Nou goth sunne under wode, in particular, was an enormously successful collaboration.

I also got to know Canadian artists and worked with wonderful singers and instrumentalists. I worked with Ray Nurse on putting together the orchestra for our 2001 performance of the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers, which led to connections with the Whole Noyse and ultimately to a performance of Monteverdi's Orfeo at the U of A's Festival of Ideas arranged by my wonderful friend, Miki Andrejevic, who was Executive Director of Pro Coro for the longest tenure during my time there.

My Canadian conducting colleagues have been incredibly welcoming of an "outsider" in their midst and honoured (note the spelling!) me with the invitation to conduct the Canadian National Youth Choir in 2006, the first non-Canadian to conduct this marvelous choir. I've been blessed with wonderful conductor friends, quite a few of whom have sung with Pro Coro. And Len Ratzlaff, who runs the top graduate conducting program in Canada at the University of Alberta, has guest-conducted Pro Coro on several occasions and graciously sung as an extra with Pro Coro--for all three of my programs this year.

I have mentioned before (and soon will start a series of posts on this) that my education as a conductor has come largely from the ensembles with whom I've worked. Yes, my formal education is important and I owe a lot to various teachers and mentors, but a conductor ultimately learns by doing. Having an instrument like Pro Coro, with many wonderful musicians, has been such an important part of my development. For twelve years, I've gone to Edmonton from 3 to 5 times a year to prepare a program, rehearse it, and conduct it in concert. That's been an enormous gift.

And I can't begin to express my gratitude (and Kathryn's) for the friendships we've formed, which will live long beyond these twelve years. I give my thanks to the many people of Pro Coro Canada for the friendship they've offered both Kathryn and me. I know they'll live long beyond my tenure with the organization.

I've been blessed to work with several ensembles, two that I founded, and have been able to watch their successes after I've left. Seattle Pro Musica was my first group (really, three ensembles, from a chamber choir to a group that performed Bach cantatas once a month to a chamber orchestra), which I founded in 1973 and left in 1980. Under Karen Thomas this organization has been amazingly successful. Choral Arts was another organization I founded and led for 13 years (1993-2006), where I was ably succeeded by Robert Bode, and they've gone on to important recognitions.

I have no doubt that Pro Coro (which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year) will go on to greater successes in the years to come. I can only wish them the very best.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bach Johannespassion with Pro Coro

I'm in the middle of final rehearsals (final choral rehearsal last night; this afternoon continuo, Evangelist and Pilate; tonight full orchestra with arias and some work on the choruses) for the Bach St. John Passion. Tomorrow afternoon: arias with a few instruments; tomorrow evening, chorus and orchestra; Thursday morning: recits with Evangelist and Jesus; Thursday night dress; Friday evening performance at 7:30.

This is my last concert as Pro Coro's Artistic Director, a position I've held (and enjoyed) for twelve seasons. I first guest conducted, filling in for Gustav Sjökvist, in 1996. I was then approached in early 1998 about being a candidate for the vacant AD post. I agreed to become a candidate and conducted an audition concert in the Fall of 1998, then began my tenure in Fall 1999.

When I decided to take the position I now hold at the University of North Texas, it was clear to me that I couldn't devote the time necessary to do the job with Pro Coro. When I interviewed for PC long ago, I told the committee that if I took it on, it wouldn't be a "gig," that I always planned and thought long-term in such a job. And I do feel proud that I've always looked at my work with Pro Coro that way. I've always tried to think of what would build the choir and organization to be the best it could be--of course, it's for others to judge how successful I was.

This coming performance is one that gives me great joy. I love doing extended works such as this, music that calls for shaping large forms and pacing a great story into a cohesive and dramatic performance. And Bach's works have always been one of my loves--early in my career I founded a group in Seattle called the Bach Ensemble specifically to perform Bach cantatas, and I've conducted over 50 of them, plus all the big works, most of them multiple times.

I also get to work with this wonderful choir, with a number of players I've worked with regularly here in Edmonton, in an absolutely great hall. Soloists include Derek Chester, who's a new friend and colleague from Texas, as the Evangelist; Paul Grindlay, a wonderful musician whom I've worked with numerous times since coming to Edmonton, as Jesus; and soloists for the arias who'll also come from and sing in the chorus: Abra Whitney singing the alto solos, Michael Kurschat the bass solos, and Jordan Van Biert the role of Pilate. Jolaine Kerley and Tim Shantz both sang with the choir regularly in my early years and as soloists in more recent years--both did DMA work at IU. Jolaine has built a  career as singer, voice teacher, and conductor (the solo roles in both of Allan Bevan's two great oratorios which we premiered were written for her); and Tim is a wonderful conductor and superb singer as well. It's my special pleasure that they both agreed to sing for this concert, and as the other soloists, sing in both arias and choruses.

I look forward to the next couple days of rehearsals and the performance. I don't look forward to ending my regular association with the many wonderful people and musicians of Edmonton (and our favorite restaurant, Bistro Praha)! But it simply must be done. I know I'll be back to visit and hopefully occasionally conduct or do a workshop, but I'll miss this part of my life incredibly.

More after the performance (I'm sure including some photos taken by my wife) and news about Pro Coro's future.

Monday, April 11, 2011