Wednesday, 29 March 2017 11:29

Swift Current Oratorio Choir to perform a popular work about war and peace April 9

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Greg McLean leads the Oratorio Choir in a practice in Swift Current. Greg McLean leads the Oratorio Choir in a practice in Swift Current.

The Swift Current Oratorio Choir’s upcoming spring performance will provide a musical reflection about the horror of war on a day that has special significance to Canadians.


The choir will perform the choral work The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins at the Bridgeway Community Church on April 9, which is the day when Canadian soldiers started the attack at the Battle of Vimy Ridge during the First World War.
Greg McLean will direct the musical performance by the choir and members of the Regina Symphony Chamber Players.
“It really is a very powerful anti-war statement,” he said about the choral work. “April 9 just happens to be Vimy Ridge Day as well. So we’re actually performing an anti-war piece on the hundredth anniversary of the start of the battle in 1917.”
More than 3,500 Canadians were killed during the battle, which lasted from April 9-12. The Canadian victory has historical significance because it was the first time that all four Canadian divisions were together in a single battle and it therefore contributed to a feeling of national unity.
While the performance of The Armed Man by the Swift Current Oratorio Choir on this historical day will be appropriate, it was not specifically planned to have the choir’s annual spring production on this date.
“It was strictly coincidence,” he said. “The date was picked because all the parties were available, and especially the symphony players from Regina.”
In addition to the effect of the music and the words of this choral work, the choir’s performance will have even more impact on the audience because it will be combined with a video that contains various images of war.
“For each movement of the music there is a corresponding video, mostly black and white, but reflecting on various scenes from the early 20th century,” he said. “We’re going to play them on the screen that will be behind the choir and the orchestra throughout and it corresponds with each of the movements. ... The video with the music is quite compelling. It really adds a dimension to the whole statement.”
He cautioned some of these images of war in the video might be disturbing for some children and parents are therefore advised not to bring their young children to the performance.
While The Armed Man will be the main work at the performance, the program will start with a short choral work by Johannes Brahms. The Song of Destiny (Schicksalslied) is considered to be one of the best choral works of this German composer.
The Swift Current Oratorio Choir is already familiar with this Brahms work, because they performed it in February in Regina.
Jenkins wrote The Armed Man in 1999 as a commissioned work for the Royal Armouries Museum for the millennium celebrations.
He dedicated the work to the victims of the Kosovo War, which happened during that time. The first performance of the work took place in London on April 25, 2000 and it has become popular.
“It’s quite accessible,” McLean said. “It has been performed hundreds of times around the world by choirs similar to us. ... Jenkins crafts his music really well. The movements flow nicely, it’s a well-crafted work and there’s always little breaks between moves to kind of gather yourself.”
This will be the second time in recent years the Swift Current Oratorio Choir will perform this work.
“When we did it six or seven years ago, our singers back then said we must do this again sometime in the future,” he recalled. “So it’s back by popular request by choir members. I think it was very powerful for them.”
The performance will start with the sound of marching feet, depicting the march towards war and destruction. The work includes reflection on the horror of war and towards the end it turns towards feelings of sorrow and prayers for peace.
“It’s all very tuneful, it’s all very accessible, it’s all very melodic,” he said. “There are some moments that are pretty discordant, given the subject, but there’s gorgeous music in there. ... It’s a synthesis of ancient script, Biblical script, modern poetry, and this kind of world music feel. So it’s very appealing.”
McLean enjoys the experience to conduct a large choir of more than 60 members in a live performance with orchestral players.
“It’s pretty humbling yet also a very powerful feeling,” he said. “It’s humbling yet also quite a rush really, and then you realize along with that wonderful thrill of being in front of all these wonderful musicians that you have a responsibility to do something meaningful and guide them through it, but I really thrive on it. I enjoy this.”
This performance by the Swift Current Oratorio Choir with the Regina Symphony Chamber Players takes place April 9, starting at 7 p.m. at the Bridgeway Community Church. Advance tickets are available at Pharmasave at $20 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets at the door will be $25.

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Matthew Liebenberg

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