Friday, July 10, 2009

Bigger is Better (review)

Opening nights at the Elora Festival tend to be wowee experiences. Tonight went beyond wowee. My ears are ringing. I feel drained and buoyant, energized and rung out. I'm not sure I understand what I heard or how it fit together, but it sure did sound good.

Noel Edison mounted the Berlioz Requiem. Along with the 20 members of the Elora Festival Singers he had the entire Mendelssohn Choir, so there were over 150 singers. The rest of the stage was packed with about twice as many orchestra players as a usual performance. There was a timpani player on the floor in front of the stage, and another somewhere at the back of the hall. There were two sets of trumpet players at the back of the hall (one in each corner, as Berlioz intended). Then there was a tenor dead center in the hall, in the middle aisle.

The Gambrel Barn has great acoustics. It's not like a church and it's not like a concert hall: it's big and has that big-house sound, but it's sort of unique. I've heard a lot of great music there over the years I've been addicted to the Elora Festival, but tonight was in a class of its own just by having so many musicians. I think the ratio of audience to musician was about 2 to 1. It was big. This provided new opportunities for layers of sound to weave through the big space and show off new acoustical properties.

The Berlioz Requiem is in turns dramatic, punchy, wrenching, sublime, and weird. There are weird tunings and weird little solo bits. At times the tenors sing a falsetto like a boy's choir but not... at times the basses were so powerful that I felt like their voices were reverberating inside the cellos. (The men really shone.) The tenor solos, sung by Lawrence Wiliford in a brilliant bit of casting, made me cry.

After the performance we were treated to a reception with wine and lots of good food, but the highlight was a spectacular fireworks display (I heard Noel say that he and the Elora Festival chair paid for it out of their own pockets). What a way to start their 30th season.

Upcoming performances include Carmina Burana (July 24), the Fairy Queen (July 26) and A Night at the Opera (July 31). There's a lot of other stuff... those are just ones I have tickets for.


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