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“Tempo changes were seamless in the Credo as Klaz kept this flowing, separate parts wafting in and out like ribbons of silk.” – Winnipeg Free Press

News & Reviews

Winnipeg Singers win prestigious choral competition

Winnipeg Free Press
Posted: 07/25/2016 6:11 PM
www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/music/winnipeg-singers-win-prestigious-choral-competition-388198982.html

Winnipeg Singers 2016 European Tour Choir

For 44 years, the Winnipeg Singers have been a community treasure, their sweet harmonies cascading in churches, cathedrals and auditoriums in and around the city.

This month [July, 2016], the Singers headed to Europe, found new receptive audiences for their music and will come home winners of one of the world’s most prestigious choral competitions.

The Florence International Choir Festival on Saturday named the Winnipeg Singers, directed by Yuri Klaz, the winner of the Golden David, the award that goes to the best overall choir at the competition. The Singers also won two of the three categories it entered: chamber choir and sacred.

Twelve other choirs from nine other countries, including from as far away as China, the Philippines and South Korea participated in the competition. The Winnipeg Singers were the lone North American representative.

Besides their performances at the Florence choir festival, the Winnipeg Singers have also taken the stage in the German cities of Rothenberg and Regensburg and are scheduled to perform in Austria and other locations in Italy before returning home.

Locally, the Winnipeg Singers kick off their 44th season on Oct. 30 with Halloween Spirits and Spooks, when they will team up with Juno Award-winning singer Keri Latimer for an evening of Halloween-themed music at Young United Church.

Meanwhile, two more Winnipeg artists are a step closer to artistic success. Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers Saeka Shirai and Yue Shi have advanced to the final round at the Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria.

They are among the six female and 11 male dancers who’ve been chosen for the final round out of 104 competitors.

The Varna competition is held every two years and is considered the most prestigious ballet competition in the world. Since its inception in 1964, more than 2,500 dancers from 40 countries have vied for its gold medal, and the list of winners includes former RWB principal dancer Evelyn Hart.

Shirai and Shi will present their final performance July 26 at 1 p.m. Winnipeg time.


Winnipeg Singers get personal

By: Holly Harris
Posted: 04/27/2015 1:42 PM
  – Winnipeg Free Press 

The Winnipeg Singers dug deep into its tickle trunk of choral hits Sunday afternoon, coming up with a grab bag of favourites for its loyal fans.

Its final concert of the season, Singers Choice II, led by Yuri Klaz, offered an all-Canadian, mixed-repertoire program chosen by its own choristers.

Each of the concert’s 18 (mostly) a cappella selections were introduced by the respective singer who chose that particular work, ostensibly becoming live program notes.

But it also created suspense, with the audience of 165 never quite certain which of the 24 vocalists would emerge next from the ranks to share their stories. This added both immediacy as well as freshness to the concert.

However, it created fragmentation, mitigated somewhat by dividing the program into two halves: sacred and secular, which helped establish a sense of cohesion.

Several highlights included Winnipeg-based composer, and Winnipeg Singers bass Michael McKay’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. After moving here six years ago from Nova Scotia, the versatile artist’s creative voice has grown increasingly pronounced in the city’s music circles; these two sensitively crafted works helped show why. Both the first piece with its syncopated rhythms, followed by the more lyrical second work, teeming with overlapping phrases, became two of the afternoon’s most wholly satisfying works.

It’s always a pleasure hearing Imant Raminish’ Ave Verum Corpus, which has become a staple of this choir’s repertoire, with its shimmering harmonies performed with pitch-perfect intonation.

Hearing tenor Justin Odwak perform a solo in Jonathan Quick’s imaginative arrangement of Scottish folk song Loch Lomond is a bonnie dream in itself, his lyrical voice imbuing his verses with heart-rending poignancy. Another soloist, soprano Dawn-Marie Hildebrand, also soared through her interpretation of Kathleen Allan’s In Paradisum with the voice of an angel.

The concert proved strongest when it allowed a rare glimpse into the singers’ own lives and what inspires them to make music. Hearing the "what" about each individual piece is intriguing; however being told the "why" that drove those choices became much more compelling. It also allowed for a greater connection between singer and song, and concert experience and crowd, which this program, at times, lacked.

Hearing tenor Raymond Sokalski paint a poetic picture in words was enthralling as he reminisced about his experience as a 15-year-old singer touring Europe for his first time, and performing his choice, Healey Willan’s Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One.

So did bass Bruce Waldie’s touching dedication to his late father who adored his two pieces: Trent Worthington’s Blood on the Saddle and Flunky Jim, before the singer performed his solo part in the latter with fervent gusto.

Other poignant moments included longtime alto Donnalynn Grills’ sharing that the choir performed Stephen Chatman’s You Have Ravished My Heart at her wedding, as well as how John Estacio’s Mrs. Deegan, from Eulogies, recalled soprano Leanne Cooper-Carrier’s beloved grandmother.

These personal tales resonated with true emotional authenticity that enriched the entire concert; when they were not there, the overall experience only felt hollow.

Balancing all the individual tastes also posed inherent challenges in creating a varied program. Mostly, the concert succeeded, although it took another one of its more successful works, David MacIntyre’s Ave Maria, with its syncopated hockets, to show by contrast how homogeneous the concert’s first half felt in the end.

Brian Tate’s crowd-pleasing Roll, Jordan, Roll got everyone’s toes tapping, despite the always-unsettling experience of hearing a choir comprising mostly classically trained singers perform rafter-raising gospel.

Still, in response to the crowd’s standing ovation, the Winnipeg Singers delivered an encore of Canadian classic: Harry Somers’ Feller From Fortune, sung with rollicking diddle-dums and spot-on Newfoundland twang.

holly.harris@shaw.ca


Winnipeg Singers superb in unique Christmas concert

December 6, 2010
Gwenda Nemerofsky

No "same old, same old" for the Winnipeg Singers! Artistic director-conductor Yuri Klaz and his 23-voice choir introduced a new take on the annual Christmas concert with a program of seasonal music from Europe and Latin America. If anyone could pull off this foray into the unknown, it's this magnificent group.

The first half of the program was solidly sacred, with La Missa O Magnum Mysteriumby 16th century Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria starting off the afternoon. Sung a capella, it gave listeners the chance to appreciate the ensemble's superb control, every section strong and true, with masterful Latin diction. There was no margin for error in the very exposed Kyrie.

Precise entries and forward motion highlighted the Gloria, which, with its reverent joy was truly glorious. Tempo changes were seamless in the Credo as Klaz kept this flowing, separate parts wafting in and out like ribbons of silk. Agnus Dei hung a rich curtain of sound throughout, capturing the exalted nature of the work. The audience held their applause at the end, not wanting to break the spell.

De Victoria's Ave Maria was performed with half the choir in the balcony and half on stage, producing a stunning alternating call-and-response effect. Klaz's expression and well-defined gestures translated to mesmerizing effect. Tuning was spot on.

Skipping ahead three centuries, we heard Spaniard Javier Busto's Hodie Christus Natus Est, opening with an almost minimalist yet pastoral flavour, then, just as we were lulled into this restful state, it erupted into a joyful and fervent outburst.

You'd have thought you were at a different concert upon returning from the intermission. Guitarist Rodrigo Muñoz, bassist Cristien Lyons and percussionist Victor Lopez and Victoria Sparks joined the singers. The ladies of the choir had changed into jewel coloured dresses with added bling. Argentinean composer Ariel Ramirez'sNavidad Nuestra was a festively rhythmic and light-hearted nativity suite, full of his country's folk music. Tenor P.J. Buchan added special panache, his distinctive timbre rising above the choir.

American Conrad Susa's Carols and Lullabies featured Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra principal harpist Richard Turner and Sparks on marimba. Representing a variety of cultures, this was a satisfyingly melodic work. Karla Ferguson's rich, limpid alto and soprano Marni Enns' lovely rounded tone provided some truly special moments in this work.

The Winnipeg Singers' dedicated preparation made this a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon.


Singers serve up baroque feast

October 4, 2010
Gwenda Nemerofsky

It's hard to beat baroque music. Perform it in Westminster United Church with the fall afternoon sun streaming through stained-glass windows and you've got a match made in heaven. Artistic director Yuri Klaz and the Winnipeg Singers brought this winning combination to their first concert of the season.

How fitting that Handel's Four Coronation Anthems, composed for the 1727 coronation of Britain's King George II and first played at Westminster Abbey should be played in Winnipeg's Westminster United Church, where the acoustics were perfect for these ceremonial delights.

Zadok the Priest's long ritornello, played with style by a small but fine ensemble orchestra, built up delicious anticipation -- and we weren't disappointed. The singers entered with glorious power and pomp. A trio of trumpets added that "royal" excitement. This truly was music fit for a king.

The choir maintained a hearty strength throughout and Klaz was in his element. My Heart is Inditing featured superb solo work from exquisite soprano Marni Enns, mezzo Donnalynn Grills (very well-suited to baroque), tenor P.J. Buchan (sounding sweeter every time we hear him) and very solid bass Aran Matsuda.

Let Thy Hand be Strengthened opened with energetic lightness. Klaz's approach to the second movement had the singers gently caressing the notes as they cascaded like autumn leaves in the breeze. The final Hallelujah was substantial without going overboard. Klaz has the gift to make even the silences meaningful.

Earlier, we heard Pergolesi's Magnificat, sometimes attributed to his teacher Francesco Durante. Whoever wrote it would have been delighted with the Winnipeg Singers' shiny rendition. It fairly bounced with enthusiasm and vibrant energy.

A fine seven-piece string ensemble accompanied the choir in this work and the Bach following. The fullness of mezzo Karla Ferguson's pleasantly mature sound only added to her finely crafted solo and bass John Van Bentham was commanding, showing lovely colour and projecting wonderfully throughout the hall. Tenor Michael Thompson, usually very reliable, sounded a little light and unsure of himself on this outing, wavering uncharacteristically. Meredith Daley, soprano, sang with agreeable clarity.

This was a truly joyful effort, providing a thrilling opening to the afternoon.

Klaz was at his most eloquent in Bach's Jesu Meine Freude, the longest, most musically complex of the six Bach motets. Set in 11 short movements, it presents many demands for the singers, in terms of technique, stamina and sensitivity.

The hours of preparation for this performance were worth every minute.

Overall -- a fine way to open the season.


Concert best when focused on St. Nick's jolly side

December 15, 2009
Gwenda Nemerofsky

DEDICATED music lovers braved a frigid Sunday for a dose of Christmas cheer served up by the Winnipeg Singers. And while they did leave feeling uplifted, they had to exercise patience to get to that happy place.

That’s because the first half of the program was dedicated almost entirely to Benjamin Britten’s nine-scene dramatic cantata St. Nicolas. The heavy, one-hour work presents legendary incidents in the life of the patron saint of children, seamen, and travelers. While performed with the choir’s usual superior quality, it felt a lot to sit through on this Sunday afternoon.

Nonetheless, the performance was well done, with tenor Kurt Lehmann in fine voice, controlled and looking svelte as St. Nicolas. He projected well, his diction crisp and clear, as he gave a powerful and passionate reading to the sometimes grim libretto. He would have been even more effective had he looked up from his score more often.

The Winnipeg Singers were in top form, executing the richly textured score skillfully, accompanied by an excellent little ensemble of strings and percussion, with substantial contributions from Linda Fearn, organ, and Verna Wiebe, piano.

The young Pembina Trails Voices sang strongly from the balcony. Angelic seven-year-old Alexander Mayba sang the role of Nicolas as a boy and, dressed in suit and tie, charmed the audience with his strong and accurate “God be glorified!” perfectly timed.

Conductor Yuri Klaz led the audience in two hymns within the cantata, and his clear and forceful direction made us want to sing. He conducted the choir with energy and commitment--and was exuberant right down to the last note of the afternoon.

After an overly long intermission and speech, the singers got down to the fun stuff.

At long last, the season works we recognized and could warm to. The choir, too, seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief as it came to life in numbers like Up on the Rooftop that literally sparkled with fun. The audience began smiling in reaction to the lively piano part and amusing vocal solos.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town opened serenely, erupting into a jazzy swing with the marvelous stylings of alto Jodie Borle, whose voice filled the rafters.

University of Manitoba professor Jerry Bowler, an expert on all things Christmas, narrated between songs. While a few of his offerings were insightful and humorous, his dry, perfunctory style lacked warmth.

But Santa Baby chased the professorial grey away as the ladies were at their sensuous best, flirting cheekily opposite the men’s hearty “boom-de-booms”.

This ambitious program tried to accomplish too many things when all that was needed was some good down-home holiday music.


Choral program honors local musician, composer

October 20, 2009
Gwenda Nemerofsky

IT’S not often a living composer is saluted with a program dedicated entirely to his works. This is exactly what happened Sunday evening to Sid Robinovitch — one of Winnipeg’s most respected local musicians.

The Winnipeg Singers’ season premiere performance was devoted to Robinovitch’s compositions. Conductor Yuri Klaz directed this ambitious program, which was also going into the recording studio the next day.

Robinovitch’s faith is a major player in his inspiration. The rivetingly moving Prayer at Night, with clarinetist Sharon Atkinson and pianist Verna Wiebe, is set to psalms and its first word is “Adonai”, Hebrew for “Lord” or “God”.

Its interwoven harmonies and rhythm give it a requiem feel. As silky clarinet phrases interspersed amongst the singers’ reverent lines, listeners felt the urge to close their eyes and be transported to another place. What more could you ask of a piece of music?

A delightful addition was the Pembina Trails Voices Boys, a choir comprised of Grades 4-8 boys with unchanged voices.

Impeccably dressed and disciplined, they paraded onstage for Hymn of Glory, the third part in Psalms of Experience. They sang in perfect unison in lovely, clear voices, attentive to Klaz’s direction. When joined by the Winnipeg Singers, xylophone and tubular bells played by Tony Cyre, they produced a gorgeous full sound with a rich timbre that was truly glorious.

Ex-Winnipeg Singer, soprano Stacey Nattrass took the stage for the song cycle Song of Songs. She offered a perfectly understated approach to the atmospheric A Wild Flower, with guitarist Ryszard Tyborowski, who gave this a madrigal feel and clarinetist Atkinson, sounding somewhat tight.

Nattrass’s voice carried prettily in My Lover is Mine and I am His with its intriguing intricacies. Both singer and clarinetist shone in Bind Me as a Seal Upon Your Heart, enhancing its moody mystery. Nattrass wisely never let what is evidently a powerful voice become overpowering, but chose instead to honour the music. How refreshing.

Members of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra joined the choir for Canzoni Romane (Roman Songs), full of modal melodies sending singers to the heights and depths of their ranges. As the MCO played swinging rhythms, tenor P.J. Buchan, sounding better with every outing, lent his flawless voice to a plaintive line. The entire ensemble had a wonderful substantial, full sound and flair to spare.

The City at Night was sung with joy and a good dose of vigor. Klaz’s wise-open arms let loose a floodgate of magnificent sound.

The Singers had fun with Canciones Por Las Americas, a lighter Latin-themed set. Klaz swayed as he urged the singers to be alternately sensuous, sharp, and rousing.

This retrospective of mainly choral works showed us something that can’t be said with the assuredness of many composers writing today.

Sid Robinovitch has a lasting place in choral repertoire.


Singers take audience on rousing cross-border journey

March 29, 2009
Gwenda Nemerofsky

TRAIN whistles, wasps, honking geese, and conga drums. What do these all have in common?

They were all part of a bang-up Winnipeg Singers concert on Sunday afternoon.Passport Please! A Canadian/American Cross-Border Choral Celebration lived up to its billing, presenting a delightful mix of Canadian and American choral music.

Artistic director/conductor Yuri Klaz navigated his choir through an audience-pleasing program that included three traditional spirituals with the emphasis on spirit.

Cert’n’y Lord arranged by Hall Johnson was so full of life; it belied the originators’ lack of freedom. Tenor soloist Scott Reimer was a superb as we has confident — and about as uninhibited as a performer can get. Bass Paul Mayba rumbled out his solo with suitable resonance.

Peter Knight’s arrangement of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot really didn’t swing, as this slower, more pensive version lacked the usual energy. It had its own charm, though, and the harmonies were truly lovely.

On the other hand, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, arranged by Moses Hogan injected a huge dose of oomph into the program, with singers giving it their all. Every section made a contribution and the pews fairly shook with the power of the music.

Vancouver-based composer Stephen Chatman’s Due West is an imaginative work that highlights some of the foremost characteristics of Canada’s west, including the good old railroad. Train was unmistakably authentic, from the opening calls of “All aboard!” to the men “chug-chug-chugging” and the women mimicking train whistles and bells. You could almost see steam rising and smell the axle grease.

Soprano soloist Tiffany Cook was a tad sharp in her solo in Lullaby, but overall, this was a well-blended, smoothly phrased number and as always, the singers’ diction was clean and clear.

Also effective was Wasps, with buzzing swarms of voices sounding like real yellow jackets. Joining right in, Klaz slapped his neck and yelled “Ouch!” for a snappy ending.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Associate Concertmaster Karl Stobbe rushed over from an afternoon Pops concert to perform the violin solos in Five Hebrew Love Songsby American Eric Whitacre. The choir sang these masterfully and soprano soloist Alisa Wiebe’s precise tonality and well-centred notes were highlights. Stobbe’s faultless tone and emotional phrasing really tugged at the heartstrings.

Saving the best for last, Klaz and company nearly brought he house down with Grammy Award-winner Paul Halley’s rousing Freedom Trilogy. Joined by percussionist Owen Clark and Friends on drums, maracas, congas, and bass guitar, the choir made this a joyful experience for all. Their sense of fun was infections as they belted outAmazing Grace (the microphones were unnecessary) and rocked through We Are Marching with exuberance. It was hard to sit still.

Pianist Verna Wiebe contributed her fair share to the afternoon, ably accompanying nearly every work on the program.

The Winnipeg Singers more than earned the standing ovation they received.


No sweeter music than glorious carols sung with clarity

December 16, 2008
Gwenda Nemerofsky

ARTISTIC director Yuri Klaz and the Winnipeg Singers couldn’t have chosen better repertoire for their annual Christmas concert. With a program devoted to the Christmas music of choral genius John Rutter, they gave 575 Winnipeggers a wonderful early holiday gift.

There was something for everyone in this well-rounded show, including a delightful reading of Brother Heinrich’s Christmas, a Christmas Eve bedtime story narrated to music. Retired Winnipeg teacher and actor Bernard Boland told the story of Brother Heinrich, his donkey Sigismund (played by--what else?--the bassoon) and their magical meeting with angels on a Christmas Eve long ago. The legend of the carol In Dulci Jubilo unfolded charmingly with the Winnipeg Singers, members of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and a few extra musicians thrown in for good measure.

The rest of the evening was devoted entirely to glorious music. All of Rutter’s best seasonal carols were on the program, and to hear them with full orchestra was the icing on the cake.

Shepherd’s Pipe Carol featured splendidly optimistic singing, with a perky piccolo line winging its way throughout. Love Came Down at Christmas was a piece of perfectly balanced, gentle, sheer loveliness. Candlelight Carol shimmered with romance, every word crystal clear, sending shivers down your spine. Klaz’s fluid motions made the entire song flow like heavy cream.

The harp gave Angels’ Carol an appropriately ethereal, angelic quality. The singers’ obvious enjoyment came across in their performance as Klaz gave this carol plenty of colour and a sense of lightness.

Not everyone can live up to the name of the carol What Sweeter Music, but the choir did so in style, with seamless and lyrical phrasing. The orchestra responded with equally sensitive playing. The lively Star Carol gave an uplifting finish to the first half of the program, with woodwind, harp, and xylophone highlights enhancing the choir’s crisp entries and perfect diction.

Next was the Magnificat, which Rutter wrote not specifically for Christmas, but with strong associations with the Virgin Mary. The 24-voice Renaissance Voices, directed by Derek Morphy, joined the Winnipeg Singers for this performance, while Morphy himself could be spotted in the bass section. With the choir loft full, soprano soloist Laura Ciekiewicz and the orchestra, there was the anticipation of something big and exciting about to unfold.

And unfold it did. Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose was smooth as the petals it described. Quia Fecit Mihi Magna was thrilling, with rousing trumpet fanfares and cymbal crashes. Section solos were strong and executed with well-matched phrasing and emotion. And the mysterious, syncopated rhythms of Fecit Potentiam showcased the cellos and basses and the singers’ versatility.

Ciekiewicz has a fine, pure voice--well suited to this work. With imperceptible breathing and centred high notes as clear as icicles, she sang with intelligence and emotional warmth.

This was a magnificent and joyous concert from beginning to end--and easily the best Christmas concert yours truly has heard in years. Bravo!


Enchanting choral works overcome stilted concert format

September 30, 2008
Gwenda Nemerofsky

THE Winnipeg Singers opened their 35th season with a multimedia performance that overcame the unfortunate name of this concert and took audience members on a crash course in Finno-Ugric languages, treating us to choral works sung in Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, and Latvian.

The multimedia part refers to the video presentations that (questionably) preceded our sojourn into each country’s music, dancing by the Scandia Fun Folk Dancers and the magical sounds of the kantele. This traditional folk instrument of Finland resembles a zither or Japanese koto. Playing it was Finnish-born Thunder Bay resident Tina Heimonen, who walked out strumming the five-string kantele, but switched to the 36-string concert version for two enchanting numbers.

With quiet serenity, she demonstrated its bell-like tone quality, rich bass, and legato phrasing (despite it being plucked). It was mesmerizing. Tenor P.J. Buchan joined her for Finnish Rune, blending nicely in this poignant and rather ruminative folk tune.

The singers’ opening song, Pseudo-Yoik by Mäntyärvi, was the liveliest of the afternoon. Employing a strong nasal quality to the singing, they gave this plenty of spirit, stamping their feet sharply and going for the gusto.

The three set of Sibelius songs was effective--with a hearty sea shanty as crisp and fresh as the salt spray it portrayed, followed by Sortunut Ääni (Suppressed Sound), in which conductor Yuri Klaz adeptly guided the singers to pay great attention to dynamics and expressions. The Song of My Heart was a somber lullaby that featured perfectly balanced singing and clean entries.

The Estonian Wedding by the Scandia Fun Folk Dancers was so subdued that one wondered if they were really having any fun at all. Accompanying them was a competent accordionist, but the violinist had several obvious tuning issues.

Their second dance Kadrille, was much better, with dancers swinging each other around energetically, clapping and, most importantly, smiling.

While some of the sopranos had difficulty with the highest notes in Este by Zoltan Kodály, it built to an impressive forte climax, with soprano soloist Marni Enns singing with an ethereal quality that floated just above the choir. The ending of this was to die for.

The three Arvo Pärt Magnificat Antiphons were each very moving for a different reason: O Morgenstern for its fascinating close harmonies sung with clarity so we could discern and appreciate each voice; O König for Klaz’s dynamic direction, which brought out the required pomp and dignity; and O Immanuel for the repeated insistency of the sopranos, which made the blood pump a little faster.

Put, Vejini, by Latvian-born Canadian composer Imant Raminsh was the piece de resistance. Sung with great feeling, this sentimental “unofficial Latvian anthem” sent shivers down many a spine.

The format of the program itself was a little stilted, but the quality of the music was solid from beginning to end.


Singers celebrate Manitoba with Manitobans' music

May 13, 2008
Gwenda Nemerofsky

IT was an interesting concept for a concert. Celebrate Manitoba’s 138th birthday with choral music all written by Manitobans. Assemble as many of the living composers together in one room to speak about their works, and honour them and their music.

There is no dearth of musical talent in our province. Artistic director Yuri Klaz and the Winnipeg Singers tackled a daunting task, selecting repertoire that included works by Manitobans who have passed on, such as Bernard Naylor, W. H. Anderson, Herb Belyea, Ronald Gibson, and Hugh Bancroft. Very much alive and in attendance were Andrew Balfour, Pat Carrabré (also acting as host), Holly Harris, Robert Turner, and Sid Robinovitch.

The first half was heavily devoted to liturgical works, with the sunlit stained-glass window in St. George’s Anglican Church providing a fitting backdrop to the many alleluias of Naylor’s The Ascension. While it was a rousing and vibrant opener, it proved challenging for the sopranos, who strained to reach the uppermost notes. This may have been a result of the chilly surroundings, inhibiting vocal cord warm-ups.

Klaz's animated conducting, (including crouching) achieved the required softness from his singers in Belyea’s Close Thine Eyes, a touching and gentle hymn sung with great feeling and lightness.

Balfour’s Missa Brevis, inspired by distaste for the second Gulf War and dismay over his sister’s diagnosis of lymphoma, opened somberly, but curiously brightened into a rather joyous epistle. The Domine Deus featured a beautifully wrought melody, touching and soul-searching under Klaz’s direction. The sopranos, now thoroughly warmed up, were supremely peaceful in their delivery.

Carrabré’s entry was the premiere of Magnificat, a work exploring the depths and heights of each section’s range. The choir rose to the occasion, with soloist Marni Enns at her best, singing with pureness and precision. Full of dissonant and piercingly emphasized notes, this challenging work could grow on you with a second listen.

Holly Harris’s Earth Prayers offered a refreshing change with the addition of flutist Luke Nickel and percussionist Ian Mikita. Powerful in message and medium, the work’s organic flavour, rhythmic interest, and ethnically accented melodic line changed the mood of the afternoon.

No Manitoba music program would be complete without something by local patriarch Turner. Three of his Five Canadian Folk Songs received spirited performances, lilting and fun.

Stealing the show was the 60-voice Pembina Trails Voices’ Choraliers — youngsters who charmed the crowd with Belyea’s The Zoo.


Choral fans had full cup with double bill

March 11, 2008
Gwenda Nemerofsky

CHORAL enthusiasts' cups ranneth over Sunday afternoon as two of Canada's premier choirs joined forces for In Concert with the Vancouver Chamber Choir — part of the Winnipeg Singers' concert season.

Winnipeg's Yuri Klaz and Vancouver's Jon Washburn took turns at the podium for an enjoyable concert offering a delectable sampling of music.

They opened with When David Heard by American Eric Whitacre. Washburn led the combined choirs through this captivating piece that transformed them into a virtual vocal orchestra. Using scintillating harmonies and designating equal emphasis to the silences as well as the singing, Whitacre has crafted this soulful lament into a moving work of art.

Washburn's hand movements acted as sound and volume controls — stopping and starting the singers, who never had a note out of place. Perfect pitched, with superb dynamic control, this emerged as a piece of wonderful choral artistry.

Then it was VCC's time to shine, and shine they did. Taking a step back in time to the early baroque of Buxtehude with Missa Brevis, we heard first the restful Kyrie — patiently paced, with a light touch. This is a polished 20-voice choir. Their poise and effortless performance style is impressive.

B.C. composer Stephen Chatman's Due East was a salt-strayed sonnet of Atlantic Canada. From its raucous opening fanfare, Nor-Easter, to Fishing, the finale that captured the rough, hard work of the fisherman, it hurtled full gale forward, leaving listeners breathless and refreshed.

Next, the Winnipeg Singers took the stage. Whether you wanted to or not, you couldn't help but draw comparisons. While the home team fared pretty well, they couldn't quite match the visitors. They lacked the confident bearing and stage presence, looking a little weary.

Quatre Motetsby Duruflé could have been brighter, more alert. Phrasing needed more defined shaping, sounding rather static; and sopranos required centring of tone.

The choir rallied in Four Songs from A Pushkin Wreath by Russian composer Georgi Svirodov. Folk-inspired A Winter Morning was lusty and crisp, while the choir was well synchronized in Magpie Chatter.

Both choirs joined for the new Psalm 91 by Christos Hatzis, opening with whispers and a beautiful harp solo by WSO principal harpist Richard Turner. It then dissolved into foot stamping, moans, groans, and grimaces. You never knew what was coming in this engrossing work: a sprinkling of conventional praise melody, spoken word, pastoral passages, sour note plucking — all ending in a sigh.

The Winnipeg Singers have the talent, ability, and artistic leadership to equal the Vancouver Chamber Choir. The difference is in the desire, time, energy, and support.


Diverse concert perhaps a too-rich holiday feast

December 18, 2007
Holly Harris

BEYOND the madness of the holiday season, with its seemingly endless to-do lists, festive gatherings and barrage of department store Muzak, lies the quiet repose of live choral music.

The Winnipeg Singers served up a musical Christmas feast Sunday afternoon, with an ethnically diverse program of traditional carols and contemporary, secular works sung in Winnipeg since the time of the Red River Settlement.

The concert was hosted by local history professor/author Gerry Bowler, whose witty anecdotes added levity and a peek into past local traditions, such as the famous Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, and the origins of the program’s namesake poem, Rose Fyleman’s In Winnipeg at Christmas.

As with any feast, it’s important to know your limits. The two-hour-plus program could easily have been whittled down to a much smaller meal, as 33 pieces inevitable left the listener numb. An epic (yet clever) arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas, interspersing various musical styles with some nifty percussion accompaniment by Alastair Thomson, felt about six days too long.

Nevertheless, there is a reason why this choir is considered the city’s top choral ensemble, with an enviable linguistic versatility that included selections sung in French, German, Ukrainian, and Icelandic.

The simple beauty of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming)remains timeless. The choir’s evident pleasure at performing this work, while led with sensitive finesse by conductor Yuri Klaz, was a program highlight.

The touching Stille Nacht (Silent Night), with tenor soloist Raymond Sokalski and guitarist James Hickerson, provided a gentle glimpse into what this classic’s premiere must have been like in 1818, with its original orchestration intact.

The fact that the best-selling song of all time, White Christmas, was composed by the quintessentially Jewish composer Irving Berlin is one of life’s great ironies. The Singers gave it all the schmaltz it deserved, before tossing off a lively Jingle Bells andChristmas Spiritual Medley.

Naturally there was audience participations, with the near-capacity crowd of 750 invited to warble along with hymns There’s a Voice in the Wilderness Crying and the ever-poignant No Crowded Eastern Street.

The program closed with We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and encore Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, serving as a final benediction to a very full afternoon of holiday good cheer.


Swingle Bells rings up a jazzy holiday evening

December 19, 2006
Gwenda Nemerofsky

START clinking those mugs of eggnog — Christmas has finally arrived. And even if the weather doesn't feel like it, the Winnipeg Singers have made it a very cool Yuletide.

On Tuesday night, artistic director/conductor Yuri Klaz and this fine ensemble presented Swingle Bells, a concert with something for everyone.

The two-in-one concert concept worked very well, with the first half of the evening covering off mostly traditional Christmas music and the second half of the program devoted to the Swingle Bells suite of carols by Ward Swingle. Famous for scat and jazz arrangements of baroque and classical works, his group, the Swingle Singers, were wildly popular in the 1960s and '70s.

Adding that special swing to this intriguing vocal vehicle was the Ron Paley Trio, with Paley on synthesizer/keyboard, Steve Kirby on bass, and Rob Siwik on drums. They accompanied the choir and played two solo numbers, The Christmas Song and Winter Wonderland, receiving the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.

Steve Kirby's improv licks were relaxed and assured, a perfect fit with the "doo-be-doos" of the singers. Siwik wowed the crowd with a deft solo, urging a variety of sounds from drums and cymbals. Unfortunately, seated at the far corner of the stage behind Kirby, he was barely visible to the audience who craned and leaned, trying to see him in action.

Veteran Paley showed why he has become synonymous with the jazz genre, and likely won over some listeners who were not previously jazz fans. He strayed far and wide from Winter Wonderland in his musical musings, but somehow, and most charmingly, found his way back to the familiar favourite.

The concert opened with a bright, rhythmically interesting Ring-a the News by Robert Evans. Sung with vigour by the Winnipeg Singers, with Lottie Enns-Braun accompanying on organ, lending special texture and authenticity. The sopranos were stunning in the final soaring note.

A Christmas Lullaby was delightfully gentle, with Klaz's direction clearly making hushing movements, which were well taken. This was the perfect lullaby; in fact, the audience was so caught up in it that when it was over, there was a long pause before the applause.

In the Swingle portion of the program, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen showcased the basses at their deepest and most rumbling in a syncopated version of the seasonal carol. They started singing the words, then switched into the "da-ba-da-ba" syllables of Swingle style.

Carol of the Bells was taken at breakneck speed, polished off masterfully by this talented ensemble. Sets of carols melded into one another without break, so one often got a taste of a song before it morphed into the next one.

After a magical introduction by the choir, alto Donnalynn Grills was assured and expressive in Stille Nacht. A true professional, her solid, mature voice, accompanied by great stage presence was the standout solo of the evening.


Mesmerizing, moody music hits emotional highs and lows

February 14, 2006
Gwenda Nemerofsky

MOMENTUM grew on Day 2 of the New Music Festival, with Westminster United Church packed to the rafters with excited audience members, anticipating something unique. They were well rewarded.

Larry Lake of CBC's Two New Hours introduced the program, broadcasting live to air with several of the evening's composers giving live interviews.

Exaudi by Jocelyn Morlock of Winnipeg began reverentially with the men of the Winnipeg Singers accompanied by Russian cellist Ivan Monighetti playing a plaintive counter melody. This ensemble of fine singers made the most of the prayer-like work, and Monighetti's lovely tone and guileless playing style suited it to a T. This was an intriguing piece, performed expertly.

Advance buzz about the world premiere of R. Murray Schafer's new Ninth String Quartet — a commission by the W. H. and S. E. Loewen Foundation — was well founded, as it provided to be an ingenious and absorbing single-movement work. It opened with a recording of a boy soprano singing a wordless melody, while members of the WSO String Quartet (Gwen Hoebig, Karl Stobbe, violins; Daniel Scholz, viola; and Yuri Hooker, cello) held prolonged notes.

It would have been even more effective had there been a singer right on stage, and in Winnipeg, it wouldn't have been hard to find a suitably talented candidate.

Schafer was judicious with his writing, distributing important roles to each musician — and they responded with strong performances all around. Full of peaks and valleys, from lively to reflective, the piece included a bit of a romp, accompanied by the sounds of children in the playground, shrieking and laughing. The quartet played this 25-minute work with gusto and conviction.

Monighetti returned to the stage for a solo performance of Penderecki's 1994 composition Divertimento, originally written for Monighetti's teacher Mstislav Rostropovich. Played in three movements, it is a cello showcase that is, although not particularly tuneful, absolutely mesmerizing in the hands of a virtuoso like this.

Conductor Yuri Klaz, the Winnipeg Singers, percussionist Ben Reimer, and Violist Daniel Scholz performed local composer David R. Scott's Tranquility and Order, commemorating the devastating 2004 tsunami in South East Asia. Set to poetry by Ariel Gordon, it was moody and effective, beginning with the spoken word: lists of items on a bill of lading. Vocal parts featured difficult intervals, handled with great control by these superb singers.

Co-curator of the NMF Pat Carrabré's title work From the Dark Reaches, a piano trio, was last on the program and perhaps least accessible. Hoebig, Hooker, and pianist David Moroz gave a valiant reading of this uneven work, which had its agreeable moments, although too few to capture listeners.


Singers, MusicBarock deliver pre-Christmas joy

December 20, 2005
By Gwenda Nemerofsky

WINNIPEG Singers' artistic director and conductor Yuri Klaz played Santa Claus on Sunday night, giving 565 delighted Winnipeggers a truly gratifying Christmas gift. Johann Sebastian Bach's uplifting Christmas Oratorio filled Westminster United Church while replenishing the spirits of the audience.

Bach originally conceived the oratorio as six cantatas to be played on six separate days, celebrating the Christmas and New Year's festivities of 1734-35.

Sunday's performance included five cantatas in their entirety, with two selections from Cantata no. 4. Nevertheless, it was an ambitious undertaking, with some performers barely having a break in the almost three-hour production.

It was wonderful to hear the MusikBarock Ensemble (MBE) reassembled for this occasion. The score required several extra players, including Brian Sykora, Gary and Dean Pollard (trumpets), Fred Liessens (timpani) and a woodwind section consisting of Martha Durkin and Laurel Ridd (flutes), Doug Bairstow and Bill Bonness (oboes) and James Ewen (bassoon). MBE artistic director Eric Lussier was at the harpsichord.

Foxwarren resident Floyd Gadd sang the role of the Evangelist, telling the Christmas story using text from the gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. Gadd has a light and flexible tenor voice. A real trouper, he maintained an unstrained purity even at the top of his range — quite a feat with no fewer than 19 recitatives throughout the evening.

Between the recitatives are solo arias that serve either as moments of contemplation or enhancers of the storyline.

Bass soloist Scott Braun displayed a refined voice if not overly robust. Accurate throughout his range, he showed good intensity and expression.

It is always a pleasure to hear soprano Charlene Pauls, and Bach is one of her specialties. Although she was the least busy of the soloists, she made the most of her moments. She sings with power, producing the clearest of notes, like finely cut jewels.

And then there was Kirsten Schellenberg, the alto soloist. This is a singer who seems to get better with every performance. With a rich, true instrument, her voice is ideally suited to oratorio work. Exuding supreme composure, she glided through her arias effortlessly. She is gifted at blending her voice perfectly with the accompanying instruments.

The Winnipeg Singers showed their considerable talent and versatility in the many choruses. From exultant to reverent, they were top-notch throughout. Klaz kept close control of all the action, using expressive and precise motions to keep things moving.

The musicians of MBE were stars as much as the singers in this work. Many of the arias are scored for solo instruments or sparse orchestral textures. Special mention must go to Doug Bairstow, who likely lost a few pounds playing frequent solos. He played with his usual sweet tone and unparalleled musicality. The trumpet section was also put to good use and charmed the audience with exciting and beautiful playing.

This impassioned performance received a prolonged and well-deserved standing ovation.


From whirlwind tour to new season

September 22, 2005
Gwenda Nemerofsky

ON Sept. 30, the Winnipeg Singers will step onto the stage of the Centennial Concert Hall to perform in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

We'll understand if they seem to be experiencing a bit of culture shock. Fresh off a whirlwind tour of Taiwan and Japan this summer, they're back home and about to embark on their new season, starting somewhat ironically with an historical American folk opera, full of songs that have integrated themselves into mainstream U.S. culture.

It's a far cry from singing with the 150-voice Setagaya Citizens' Chorus Society, one of Japan's largest community choirs.

The Winnipeg Singers were the sole Canadian representative and only one of four North American groups selected to perform at the World Symposium of Choral Music (hosted by the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) in Kyoto. Thirty-four choirs from around the world were selected from over 150 applications.

"The symposium is like the Olympic Games of choral music," said Yuri Klaz, artistic director and conductor. "It was an honour to be invited and to be among these choirs."

The trip is the culmination of a dream for Klaz, who has attended as a delegate three times. The symposium is held every three years. Fundraising efforts and personal contributions enabled the group able to scrape up the funds to get to Kyoto. The original itinerary included touring and performing in Russia and Finland, but it soon became clear that the financial support for this was just not there.

"We decided to cut back and just go to Japan," said the group's executive director, Andrew Thomson. In just three months, the group managed to raise $90,000.

Twenty-one of the 24 ensemble members made the trip to Taipei on July 23. Manitoba composer Sid Robinovitch, accompanist Shannon Hiebert and the group's stage manager rounded out the entourage.

They performed in a workshop featuring Robinovitch's music the next day, and then gave a full concert the following evening in Taiwan's National Concert Hall.

In the morning they were off to Yokohama, their home base for the duration of the symposium. Their concert planned for the 26th was cancelled due to a typhoon, but they visited Setagaya where they were received by city officials and honoured with a large reception.

"Words fail to explain how gracious they were to us," Thomson said. "Everyone was so excited we were there. They stood in the hallways outside their offices and clapped." The singers then performed two main concerts at the symposium, with a quick side-trip to sing in a satellite concert with three other choirs in Kobe July 29. By Aug. 1 they were on a plane back home.

Determined to be true ambassadors, their repertoire was made up entirely of Canadian works, representing music from across the nation.

They made a memorable impression. "Derek Healey's A Salish Song was a real crowd-pleaser," Thomson said.

Robert Cooper, one of Canada's leading choral conductors, stepped on stage after their performance to say publicly that they had "made Canada proud." Michael Anderson of the IFCM told Klaz that he expects many more applications from the Winnipeg Singers.

This kind of exposure is already reaping rewards. The ensemble has received several invitations to perform around the world, including in Argentina next August. The Setagaya Choir is planning to visit here and perform in two years.

"There were delegates from 49 nations and many top scholars and choral conductors," Klaz explained. "It's the best way to see the development of choral music around the world. You get exposed to different styles, different repertoire, and different choirs.... all have to be top notch."

And of course, there's the country itself. "The Japanese culture is stunning," Klaz said. "and there is a very strong choral tradition in Japan."

So, next Friday night, after a summertime that was anything but easy, the Winnipeg Singers will step right back into North American culture with those famous first words "da-doo-da..."


Winnipeg Singers going on tour

July 13, 2005
Winnipeg Free Press

TWO years ago, Andrew Thomson was sitting in his backyard when he had an idea — why not take the Winnipeg Singers on a world tour?

Now, with their departure for Taipei only a week away, Thomson says the tour will be a highlight of the Winnipeg choir's history.

Thomson is the executive director of the Winnipeg Singers — a local choir of 24 trained performers who are heading to the Taipei International Choral Festival and the 7th World Symposium on Choral Music in Kyoto, Japan at the end of July.

Along with 33 other choirs from around the globe, the Winnipeg Singers are one of two choirs from Canada who will be performing Canadian music in Japan. Toronto's Nathaniel Dett Chorale will also be there.

"The selection process is very tough to get in the symposium," says Winnipeg Singers conductor and artistic director Yuri Klaz. "It's really, really a great honour and responsibility, on the other hand."

Thomson says the choir applied to be a part of the Kyoto symposium in 2003 and was delighted to be invited to perform at this summer's festival. Although lack of funding threatened their upcoming trip for several months, the group has been able to raise $85,000 since March through private donations and organizations like the Winnipeg Foundation and the Manitoba Arts Council.

Thomson says this is the group's first international trip since Austria in the mid-1980s.

The choir will be performing music from local composer Sid Robinovitch along with folk music from across the Prairies, Quebec and the Maritimes. The group performs in Taipei on July 23 before leaving for Setagaya, Japan for a special performance with the Citizens Chorus Society of Setagaya and a reception with the mayor. Winnipeg Singers will then perform at a community concert in Kyoto and at the symposium on July 30.

Klaz says the singers will have the opportunity to meet top conductors and musicologists from around the world and participate in various workshops and lectures.

Klaz, who has attended four previous symposiums with other choirs, says it's a great opportunity for the Winnipeg Singers, and adds that it's a personal milestone in his musical career to be able to conduct at the highly regarded international symposium.

As for the future, Klaz says he would love to show off his group's talent with a cross-Canada tour, and adds that by traveling the choir has the chance to meet other singers and new ideas. "It's the experience of ideas, it's the experience of music," he says.