York University Singers en route to Carnegie Hall

A group of York University students and alumni assembled and directed by music Professor Lisette Canton are on their way to New York City. The York University Singers will perform on one of the most famous stages of the world, Carnegie Hall’s 2804-seat Isaac Stern Auditorium on June 25.

The 13 singers are one of six choral ensembles who will perform Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K.626 with the New England Symphonic Ensemble under the direction of guest director John Rutter.

One of the most successful composers of his generation, Rutter was described by NBC’s "Today" show as "the world’s greatest living composer and conductor of choral music." His most popular works include Requiem (1985), Magnificat (1990) and Mass of the Children (2003).

Above: Professor Lisette Canton (right) rehearses with the York University Singers prior to their departure for New York City

The performance is part of the Carnegie Hall Concert Series, programmed by MidAmerica Productions. With 20 concerts this season, they’ve already presented more than 100 advanced choruses from the United States and Canada, with esteemed guest conductors and soloists.

“MidAmerica Productions called me out of the blue with the invitation,” says Canton. “The invites are based on expert referrals, so obviously the word is out about the quality of work here on campus. I thought it would be a thrilling opportunity for students and I knew several alumni would be interested in it too, so I set up auditions and spread the word.”

The York University Singers consist of alumni Aviva Kolet (MA ’08) and Diana Orr (BFA ’08); three graduate students studying choral conducting, Cheryl Bowen (BFA Spec. Hons. & BEd ’07), Jacklin Falconer (BFA Spec. Hons. ’07) and Doug Hammond (BFA Spec. Hons. ’07; and seven music majors, Christina Campsall, Justine Owen, Dorothy Kathleen Richardson, Ana Luisa Santo, Judith Soo, Leslie Wright and Goldie Zigras. Theatre student Ryan Moilliet rounds out the ensemble.

Falconer is one of Canton’s teaching assistants for the York University choirs and had the opportunity to take the baton conducting the Chamber Choir last March (see YFile, March 6).

“When I heard about the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” Falconer says. “I think every musician has a secret goal of being on that stage some day and I never expected such an opportunity to come so soon!

“Dr. Canton always demands the best from her choirs so when she presented the opportunity to us I knew it was going to be both hard work and a great experience,” says Falconer. “I also greatly respect Rutter as a composer and arranger and am excited to get to work with such a big name. As a young conductor I am looking forward to observing his conducting and rehearsal techniques."

The enthusiasm for the event is not limited to Falconer. “When I found out that we were going to be singing the Mozart Requiem in New York at Carnegie Hall, I could not let that opportunity slide,” says Zigras. “I’ve heard that John Rutter has a unique conducting style which I am excited to experience. It’s been a lot of hard work but I know the performance and the trip will be exhilarating.”

The singers from York are all paying their own way for this performance. “Part of our package includes accommodation at the Grand Hyatt hotel, a visit to the Empire State Building, as well as a harbour boat cruise aboard the ‘Spirit of New York’ after the performance, including dinner, music and dancing,” says Canton. “The rehearsal schedule is pretty intense while we’re there, but I’m sure choristers will do a little sightseeing on their own as well.”

Canton and the singers will depart for New York shortly after she returns from her third European tour with the Ottawa Bach Choir (OBC), the internationally acclaimed ensemble she founded in 2002 and has directed ever since.

Left: Lisette Canton

Two classical voice students, third-year Athina Babayan and fourth-year Marko Iskric have joined the choir for the tour. They will perform nine concerts from June 3 to 15, singing three concerts at the prestigious Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany (Bach’s place of employment for 27 years); two concerts at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England; one concert at the Foundling Museum, also in London; and three concerts in Paris, France at the spectacular Notre-Dame Cathedral, Church of the Madeleine and the American Church. 

The choir performed to critical acclaim in 2007 and 2005 in Leipzig, Bayreuth, Vienna, Salzburg, Stuttgart and Prague (see YFile, May 29, 2007). In 2005, the OBC was the first Canadian choir to be invited to take over the duties of the thousand-year old Thomanerchor at the Thomaskirche for an entire weekend, performing in the internationally renowned Motette concert series (see YFile, May 13, 2005).

Those who want to hear the students performing in concert with the choir without travelling to Europe can tune in to Radio-Canada’s "Espace Musique", 90.3 FM in Toronto, on Tuesday, June 16 at 8pm.