Vancouver Cantata Singers
Vancouver Cantata Singers. A mixed choir ranging from 20 to 55 voices, founded in 1958 by Hugh McLean. The Vancouver Cantata Singers was originally an amateur choir, but beginning in about 1995 has employed a core group of six to eight professional singers. The choir made its debut 8 Feb 1959 in Bach's Mass in B Minor at Christ Church Cathedral and soon established a reputation for performances scrupulously authentic in language, instrumentation, and style. Choral works by composers such as Josquin, Buxtehude, and Bach were often accompanied by period instruments. McLean was succeeded in 1967 by John Wiebe (b Killarney, near Brandon, Man, 7 Jan 1932). Wiebe's choir, the Motet Singers (founded 1962), was absorbed by the Vancouver Cantata Singers. Subsequent directors were James L. Fankhauser, who brought the choir to national and international prominence, and Eric Hannan (b Montreal 13 May 1958) beginning in 2002. Interim conductors included Gerald van Wyck 1989-90, Steven Morgan 1990-1, and Wayne Riddell (assisted by James Anthony Funk) 2000-1.
With an annual season of three to four concerts (first held at Ryerson United Church, Holy Rosary Cathedral, St Andrew's-Wesley Church, and Centennial Theatre, and later at the Orpheum Theatre, and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts), the Vancouver Cantata Singers made innovative programming and stylistic fidelity its trademarks. Fankhauser was particularly influential in this respect, focusing on period instruments and performance venues. In 1987 Fankhauser introduced the "Music of the Great Churches" series, which showcased sacred works by Monteverdi, Palestrina, Mendelssohn, and others in acoustic spaces similar to those for which they were composed. The choir reproduced the series on its 1998 tour of Germany, performing a Bach program at Leipzig's St Thomas Church.
In addition to a cappella performances, the Vancouver Cantata Singers collaborated with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, the Turning Point Ensemble, The Whole Noyse, guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad, and vocalists Ben Heppner, Catherine Robbin, Judith Forst, Paul Elliot, Michael Schade, and Suzie LeBlanc. Among others, the choir appeared under international conductors and early music specialists John Eliot Gardiner (A Percy Grainger Concert, 1982) and Andrew Parrott (The German Baroque, 1990).
Repertoire and Recordings
The Vancouver Cantata Singers has demonstrated an inclusive approach to programming, integrating 20th-century works by Igor Stravinksy (Mass), Benjamin Britten (A Ceremony of Carols), and Leonard Bernstein (Chichester Psalms), and commissioning such contemporary works as Sérgio Assad's Piata for guitar and choir (premiered 28 Apr 2007). The choir also championed works by Canadian composers, commissioning and premiering Stephen Chatman's There Is Sweet Music Here (24 Nov 1984); two works by Peter Berring - A Cantata for Vancouver (1986, renamed Song of the Salish Chief in 1987) to celebrate the city's centennial, and Requiem (1990) with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra; Craig Galbraith's Myn Lyking (1999); and Bruce Sled's Shattered Islands (2003).
The choir's main focus, however, has been the music of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods, including in its repertoire Handel's Messiah, vespers by Monteverdi, motets by Palestrina and by Alessandro Scarlatti, and a wide variety of works by Bach, Carlo Gesualdo, Heinrich Schütz, Haydn, and Mozart. In 1995 the choir gave what is thought to have been one of the first live revivals of Antonio Rigatti's Messa e salmi (1640), a performance about which the Vancouver Sun, 30 Oct 1995 said: "The style is highly ornamental . . . but containment and light note-placement are everything. They brought it off beautifully, the sections balanced and pure." The Vancouver Cantata Singers recorded the work in 1993 (Venetian Vespers of 1640, Skylark 9301 CD), and in 1994 won both a Juno nomination and the Outstanding Choral Recording award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors.
Other recordings include Gustav Holst's The Planets (1980, CBC Records SM5002), performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Vancouver Cantata Singers (1983? Vancouver Cantata Recordings VCR-8301), featuring Healey Willan's Behold the Tabernacle and works by Byrd, Brahms, Poulenc, Thompson, and Vaughan Williams; and A 1640 Venetian Mass (1998, Analekta FL 2 3097).
In 1981 the Vancouver Cantata Singers became the third Vancouver choir to win a first place in the mixed voice category of the European "Let the Peoples Sing" competition. In the CBC National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs the Vancouver Cantata Singers received the Healey Willan Grand Prize in 1984 and 2008, and first prize in the chamber choir category in 2008.