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My wife and I have been attending many of the summer music festivals around Southern Ontario for the past several years, but I have to confess that we have never ventured north to Parry Sound for the Festival of the Sound. What a shame! Yesterday’s concert at Eglinton St. George’s Church was for us a taste of the Festival that screamed out for a visit.
The Elmer Iseler Singers celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Festival of the Sound by bringing a concert of Festival artists and choral music performed by the EIS over the course of its own 40-year involvement.
Indeed, this was a double anniversary celebration, because both the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Festival of the Sound are celebrating 40 years in 2019. James Campbell, the Artistic Director of the FofS for the past 35 of those years referred to EIS as its “choir-in-residence”, it having been a part of the festival almost every year since its inception.
In the spirit of the Festival, and following in its tradition, the afternoon began with a Prelude Concert featuring some of Canada’s finest chamber musicians, artists who have been regular performers in Parry Sound over the years. Campbell referred to them as members of the Festival company.
Flutist Suzanne Shulman and percussionist Beverley Johnson both have international reputations and are regulars at the Festival. To begin the Prelude Concert, Shulman introduced their Telemann Canonic Sonata in D Major as “proudly inauthentic”. Telemann may have had recorders or violins in mind for the duet, but not flute and vibraphone. The combination, however, was breathtakingly beautiful.
The Penderecki Quartet and clarinetist James Campbell followed with Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major (K. 581). The superb playing by the renowned string quartet was matched by Campbell’s peerless sweet tone. The tuneful Mozart was as uplifting as a summer’s day on the water of Georgian Bay. Campbell mentioned to me that he may have performed this virtuosic work over three hundred times in his lifetime.
In another Festival tradition, there were refreshments for the audience of the Prelude Concert during preparations for the main concert that featured both the Elmer Iseler Singers and the ensemble of the Festival of the Sound.
The concert began with J.S. Bach’s showstopper, ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu” from the Mass in B minor. What a glorious opening! The robust sound filled the sanctuary without in anyway taking from the clarity of the counterpoint. This was the Elmer Iseler Singers like I haven’t heard in some time. The choir had a chance to let out all the stops in ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, in ‘Dies Irae’ from Mozart’s Requiem, in Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ and in the concert’s finale, ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah. The sounds were both thrilling and joyful, representing music often heard at the Festival.
It was however in three other works that I was moved in a profound way. The Sound: A musical Evocation of Georgian Bay by Eric Robertson with text by Gary Michael Dault is a five-movement work evoking the poetic beauty of the natural environment of the Parry Sound region. But more than that, it speaks in a timely way to the need to make that beauty sustainable as climate change looms menacingly before us.
Conductor Lydia Adams, The Elmer Iseler Singers and Guest Artists
It was first performed at the Festival of the Sound earlier this summer. The movements, entitled Water Music, The Rock, The Trees, The Clouds and Air were each stunning in the musical language and in the text which was in part dramatically spoken by deep voice of Colin Fox. I loved Dault’s metphors in such phrases as, “Altogether the land is a great vase holding its bouquet of trees”. The singing by choir and soloists was clear and expressive. The artists of the pre-concert were augmented by pianist Guy Few, organist Shawn Grenke and double bassist Bob Mills. The small orchestra captured wonderful colours to amplify the text. Conductor and Artistic Director Lydia Adams was at her best as she wove a tapestry of choral and instrumental beauty in the work by Robertson and Dault.
In the second half, composer Eleanor Daley who hails from Parry Sound, added her tribute to Elmer Iseler in One Fleeting Moment, a work composed for his memorial. Srul Irving Glick’s The Hour Has Come added another emotional and heartfelt appeal to mankind to embrace love as an antidote to the problems of the world.
This concert was all about community. The affection between the two organizations was palpable. James Campbell and Lydia Adams added recollections about their many years at the Festival. Lydia spoke about how the ensemble would find ways to make the music work. Even the mayor of Parry Sound spoke about the Festival’s contribution to the community. Ready to help the music in any way they could, Campbell and flutist Shulman played basset horn parts, while Guy Few doubled on piano and trumpet. This was one of the happiest musical events of the season. Bravo!
The Elmer Iseler Singers will combine with the Amadeus Choir for their annual Messiah on December 13, 2019, with the VIVA Youth Singers on February 9 2020 and with the Elora Singers on April 26, 2020. Details can be found at elmeriselersingers.com.
Conductor and Artistic Director of the Elmer Iseler Singers Lydia Adams with
Gary Michael Dault and Erik Robertson
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON September 30th 2019
Elmer Iseler Singers and Festival of the Sound unite to celebrate 40 years of music-making!