Before I say anything else about this concert review, I just want to lay this out: wow. Though not a huge fan of choral music or operas, I was definitely won over (if at least for the time being!) after attending the packed Luminous Voices concert at the newly-opened Bella Concert Hall. Under the artistic direction of Timothy Shantz, the 3 year old professional choir absolutely stunned me. This was my first time being in the Bella, and I think the state-of-the-art acoustics, combined with the singers’ amazing talent, made this concert one that is one I will remember.
The program was centered around requiems and masses — songs for the dead, and included selections that span from the 1700s to present day. From the first piece, I could tell how in-tune the ensemble was, both literally and figuratively. The group’s sound blended perfectly, with parts enunciated where they needed to be. Luminous Voices always managed to start and end beautifully. Their blend was incredibly impressive, and something I would expect from a much older ensemble. The group also made great and creative use of the concert hall itself. For the first three pieces on the program, the group changed configuration every time, making using of the stage, choir loft, and left and right hand balconies to achieve their desired artistic effect. At one point, the cello soloist was placed in the choir loft, where her sound resonated so greatly and purely that I thought it had to be a recording.
I was pleased at the ensemble’s use of both contemporary and local composers as well as well-known composers like Bach and Mozart. It was definitely an out-of-the-ordinary experience to be able to applaud the composer of a piece you just heard in concert. In this case, Vancouver composer Jeffrey Ryan certainly got his share of well-deserved praise for “…sempiternam”, an excerpt from his major work, “Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation”.
The second-half of the concert brought us the famous Requiem by Mozart. For non-music history geeks, the Requiem in D Minor was the last composition written by Mozart before his death in 1791, and was incomplete at the time. The work was commissioned anonymously, though it was eventually revealed that it was a prominent count who wanted to honour his recently-deceased wife. In order to receive the full commission on the requiem, Mozart’s wife Constanze gave the manuscript and other drawings of her husband’s to Franz Süssmayr, who finished the work. His completion is the most famous one, but following the discovery of a new drawing by Mozart that would add a new section to the requiem in the 1960s, a Harvard music professor by the name of Robert Levin completed his own rendition, which was the version performed by Luminous Voices. The performance was accompanied by the Luminous Voices chamber orchestra, which is made up of many of Calgary’s most talented musicians. The group features musicians from the CPO and others that you would probably have worked with as clinicians if you’re in band. The combination of a stellar choir and a great orchestra combined made the hour-long requiem interesting and beautiful throughout.