Summer traditions in Ontario have for many people meant getting out of the city and enjoying the sun, finding a place of solitude near water, and refreshing their spirits in nature. Gazing at the stars on a dark night and contemplating the wonder of our existence is a ritual.

Raising our voices in song under the umbrella of the Universe’s galaxy must surely have been the joy of Beings throughout time but I am not sure how or when going to concerts became a part of the summer experience. Towns and cities across the province have embraced the idea of music being the highlight of one’s vacation experience.

The Elora Festival is a gem in the rich world of summer music. Begun 37 years ago in the historic community of Elora ON just north of Guelph, and under the artistic direction of it’s founding director Noel Edison, The Elora Festival offers a rich musical experience centred around outstanding choral music.

Last night, the Opening Night Gala brought together the widely acclaimed Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Elora Festival Singers, the Elora Festival Orchestra and four superb soloists in two magnificent and large choral orchestral works. The performance took place on the outskirts of the historic village in a mammoth storage barn transformed into a cathedral-like concert hall.

The program opened with moving multi-verse arrangements of ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘O Canada’. The audience felt goosebumps from the glorious choral-orchestral sound that gave a hint of the very special evening that was about to unfold.

The world premiere of Timothy Corlis’ newly commissioned work for choir, orchestra and soprano soloist, entitled River of Life came next. Using the river metaphor to suggest the stages of life as well as its eternal wonder and beauty, Corlis takes us on a spiritual ride down the ‘river’ to celebrate the joy of life as experienced through love. The text is taken from a 13th century mystic poet Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, Biblical passages from the Psalms and Jesus’ Beatitudes, and the 20th century spiritual Guru Sri Chinmoy. The music is uplifting throughout. Corlis’choral writing has the intuitiveness of one whose life has centred around singing since childhood. Indeed, among all of his eclectic studies and world travels is the consistent thread of the choral tradition. At the same time, Corlis has a thorough mastery of orchestral technique. The orchestra mirrored the stages of the river’s journey with expressive clarity. Soprano Sheila Dietrich enthralled the audience with the beauty of her melodic voice. Noel Edison’s direction brought out the jubilant and joyful spirit of the work. This is a piece that is immediately appealing and yet has a depth of meaning that deserves to be probed in subsequent performances.

If the music by Corlis lifted our spirits in the first half of the program, Mozart’s Requiem in Dminor took the audience through the drama of loss and judgment to a place of sublime peace. It is one of the great choral masterpieces of all time and Edison used all the resources of the Elora Festival Orchestra, the Elora Festival Singers, the world-renowned Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and international soloists to lift the audience out of its darkest moments into the hope of redemption. Soprano Sheila Dietrich, mezzo soprano Christina Stelmacovich, tenor Isaiah Bell, and bass Robert Pomakov each sang with conviction and clarity in their solos. Isaiah Bell was exceptional.

The summer music festival season has now officially begun. The Elora Festival continues through July 24th. There are multiple weekend performances for those planning a B&B ‘get-away’. Indeed, the province is rich in outstanding summer music!

Noel Edison - Music Director,  ​Photo by  Greg Fess Photography

ELORA FESTIVAL opens with a celebration of life, love and redemption!

Review by David Richards
Elora ON July 9, 2016

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