Review by David Richards
Elora July 24, 2016
This weekend Jan and I returned to the spectacular Elora Festival for the close of its 37th season. What a treat it was in every way!
We arrived at the beautifully decorated St. John’s Church as the concert was beginning. It was a serenely tranquil setting apropos to the afternoon that was to unfold.
The renowned Canadian counter-tenor Daniel Taylor and Elora Festival Singers’ soprano Rebecca Genge with collaborative pianist Stephen Philcox were performing the ‘Scherzno su’ol’ from Rinaldo and the ‘Se’il cor ti perde’ from Tolomeo, both composed by George Frideric Handel. Taylor followed with a rendition of ‘Where’ere you walk’ from Handel’s Semele that was truly sublime. The transcendence that we were about to experience in the ensuing hours had begun to unfold.
Next came world famous Canadian tenor Benjamin Butterfield singing Mandoline by Claude Debussy, Marie by Randy Newman, and Die Taubenpost by Franz Schubert. Butterfield, the consummate artist in drawing the audience into the kaleidoscope of wonder that only the arts can provide, performed his magic!
Genge joined Butterfield for a charming and whimsical performance of Robert Schumann’s Tanzlied. Throughout all of this Philcox played with brilliant sensitivity.
The concert concluded with the largest work on the program, Canticle II by Benjamin Britten. Taylor and Butterfield were stunning in their dramatic portrayal of the story of Abraham and Isaac preparing for the sacrifice.
After a refreshing break with our hosts at a lovely spot on Elora’s art-centred main street, we returned for the final performance of the remarkable Elora Festival Singers in this year’s festival. It was held at the Knox Presbyterian Church which has room for orchestra, choir and a larger audience. The opening brass fanfare of Handel’s Water Music Suite No. 2 signaled what would be a majestic hour in celebration of Handel’s regal music. The sound of Zadok the Priest rang through the church as the choir began the first of four Coronation Anthems. At once we could imagine Westminster Abbey filled with royalty for any of the countless coronation ceremonies held there throughout history. The choir was in great form. Each section delivered its contrapuntal lines with precision. In the tutti sections one could feel the power and expressiveness of the ensemble made up of some twenty-five first rate professionals each carefully hand-picked by its illustrious conductor and Founding Director, Noel Eddison. The tenors, sopranos and brass soared to glorious heights in the Alleluia of the final anthem leaving the audience with a sense of wonderment that comes with a truly great occasion.
ELORA FESTIVAL: a day to treasure!
Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music
Following a bite to eat on the banks of the Grand River, we were off to our third concert of the day at yet a third venue. The National Youth Orchestra was giving its inaugural concert of 2016 in The Barn, a facility just outside town transformed into a cathedral-like concert hall for the Elora Festival. Within a week, the NYO will be off to Portugal to perform at the Lisbon Musicfest. Conductor Perry So is a rising star on the world stage. Originally from Hong Kong, he has been an associate conductor with the Hong Kong and Los Angeles philharmonic orchestras. Recently, he has been a guest conductor with many of the major orchestras in the US. So conducts with incredible energy and enthusiasm, totally in sync with that of a young orchestra.
The first half of the concert included overtures by Berlioz and Barber, a new work by John Adams entitled Short Ride on a Fast Machine, and Schelomo for Cello and Orchestra by Ernest Bloch. It was in this last work that the orchestra was at its best. Cellist Daniel Hass, a student at Juilliard and winner of several major competitions, was superb.
The second half of the program began with a newly commissioned work by Chris Meyer entitled Hope, A Gift of Youth. Programmatic-like in nature, it takes one through the emotional journey of youth leading to a remarkably hopeful future.
Bernstein’s West Side Story Symphonic Suite ended the program. When a girl of 13 sitting beside me began dancing in her chair, I knew this music was having its desired impact. The orchestra performed with energy and a stylistic sense true to the original broadway musical. The fortissiomos of the orchestra threatened to take the roof off the barn!
The audience left uplifted and ready for the last of this year’s festival’s Starlight Jazz Series featuring Stretch Orchestra. For many, the night was young…
Waking up this morning, we are grateful for an exhilarating day to be treasured for years to come. We extend a sincere and genuine thanks to the many volunteers who make this outstanding festival such an incredible success!
Photo courtesy of David Richards
Noel Edison - Music Director, Photo by Greg Fess Photography