York’s concert and classical choirs top off the Fine Arts Festival

York University’s classical choirs join forces and voices under the baton of Music Professor Lisette Canton this evening in a joyous celebration of love, lust and the vagaries of the human heart. 

The 85 young singers in the combined York University Concert and Chamber Choirs chart the highs and lows of erotic feeling with lyrics spanning a thousand years, from Rome in the first century BC to 19th-century America.

Left: Lisette Canton

Accompanying the choirs are Nathalie Doucet-Lalkens and Mélisande Sinsoulier on piano, with a percussion ensemble directed by John Brownell. The concert takes place at 7:30pm in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall in the Accolade East Building.

Carl Orff’s rarely-heard cantata, Catulli Carmina (The Songs of Catullus), a sensuous expression of love’s delight and despair, is the centrepiece of the program. Composed in the 1930s, Catulli Carmina is part of a musical triptych that also includes the famed Carmina Burana suite. It sets the texts of the classical Roman poet Catullus (c. 84–54 BC).

The song cycle – sung in the original Latin – tells the story of a young man (sung by tenor Ken Parlee) who falls in love with a woman, Lesbia (soprano Vania Chan), who does not remain faithful to him.

Right: Ken Parlee

“Though we’re performing Catulli Carmina mainly in concert format, Professor Canton is incorporating some staging for the soloists, making it almost operatic in its presentation,” said Chan. “It’s a unique and very exciting work that will really entertain the audience.”

Singing the role of the fickle female who breaks her lover’s heart is a challenge that Chan relishes. The fifth-year York music student already has an impressive roster of works under her musical belt, including operatic arias by Offenbach and Mozart and wide range of art songs and German lieder.

Chan has taken top honours in a long list of local and regional competitions for classical voice over the past few years. This season, she was a finalist in the Ontario Arts Council’s Christina and Louis Quilico Competition and was a featured artist in the Newmarket Young Artists’ Recital and the Barrie Colours of Music festival. She will be competing in the semi-finals in the Eckhardt-Gramatté Vocal Competition in Brandon, Manitoba, in May, and will sing the role of Susanna in Mozart’s opera, Le Nozze di Figaro, with Halifax Summer Opera Workshop this summer.

Right: Vania Chan

Guest artist Ken Parlee, who sings the role of the lovesick swain, is a founding member and occasional soloist with the acclaimed Ottawa Bach Choir, which has won national and international accolades under the leadership of Canton, the choir’s founding director. Parlee also performs with the Cantata Singers of Ottawa and Opera Lyra Ottawa, and has appeared at the National Arts Centre and in many churches and community venues, as well as numerous CBC broadcasts.

Sharing the concert program with the classical poetry of the Latin lover Catullus is the rollicking American folk song, Cindy. In keeping with folk music tradition, singers were free to add verses, and Cindy was a particular favourite for this, with many ribald lyrics added attesting to Cindy’s amorous inclinations. The version sung by the York choirs is a contemporary arrangement by Mack Wilberg (currently interim director for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), which sweetens the slander but keeps all of the spirit.

This performance by the York University Concert and Chamber Choirs marks the finale of the 2008 York Fine Arts Festival, a three-week extravaganza of the visual and performing arts showcasing the resident talent in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Admission to the concert is $15 and $5 for students. Tickets are available online through the Fine Arts Box Office Web site, at the door, or by calling ext. 55888.