Lasting light: Richard Eaton Singers to celebrate Remembrance Day centenary at Winspear

There is the sense of the end of an era in this year’s Remembrance celebrations. It’s not just that it will be 100 years to the day since the end of the First World War: somehow, the centenary changes our collective historical memory.

Something disappears in the immediacy of the event: psychologically, things that happened over 100 years ago have a lot less resonance than those that happened under 100 years ago.

All too soon, there will be no one still alive who was alive then. Nevertheless, those events are not really so distant: there are very many in their sixties and older whose grandparents fought in the ‘Great War’, and, of course, Remembrance Day also remembers all those who have fought in our wars since.

All this is being celebrated in a major event by the Richard Eaton Singers, one of Edmonton’s premiere choral societies, itself nearly seven decades old. They are performing in the Winspear Centre on Remembrance Day itself (Nov. 11), in a concert that opens with a direct connection to events a century ago.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 a bugle played the Ceasefire call at Mons, Belgium. That very same bugle, now known as the Mons Bugle, will be played by Pte. Malcolm Skepple of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, alongside the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Drum Corps, to open the concert.

It will be followed by a new work, especially commissioned to remember the First World War by the Richard Eaton Singers, Chorus Niagara, and the Orpheus Choir of Toronto. The composer is the Canadian Allan Bevan, perhaps best known for his choral work Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode, which the Metropolitan Chorus gave in Edmonton in 2016.

The new work, Last Light Above the World, was premiered in Ontario last year (on the anniversary of Vimy Ridge). The composer made some adjustments to the score after hearing that premiere, and this performance is the first of the revised version.

It combines poetry from the First World War with Latin texts from the Requiem Mass. If that combination sounds familiar from Britten’s War Requiem, there are no Wilfred Owen poems here. Instead, the texts are by such writers as Rupert Brooke and Ford Maddox Ford, and included is a setting of John McRae’s In Flanders Field. In contrast to the Britten, Bevan uses a relatively small orchestra, with no upper brass. He also incorporates two narrators, speaking texts by Rupert Brooke.

“Allan and me go back a long ways,” says conductor Leonard Ratzlaff. Bevan did a masters in choral music at the University of Alberta, and started composing works for university choirs that Ratzlaff was conducting. The Richard Eaton Singers know his music, too: in 2016 they performed No Mortal Business, commissioned from Bevan to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Last Light Above the World is scored for two narrators, four soloists, chorus, and orchestra, and Ratzlaff is very pleased that all are from the local Edmonton community. Narrator Dawn Sadoway is the Head of Voice with the MacEwan Theatre Arts Program, while narrator Timothy Anderson has not only worked with the Richard Eaton Singers before, but also took part in the 2016 performance of Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode.

Soprano Jolaine Kerley sang in that Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode performance, while tenor Caleb Nelson and baritone Michael Kurschat both sing with Pro Coro. Mezzo-soprano Mairi-Irene McCormack, the youngest singer here, is currently doing graduate studies at the University of Alberta.

Bevan describes the soloists as representing the restless spirits of the war dead, who move easily between the world of the living and the dead.

The work, says Ratzlaff, has intensely dramatic moments, but is primarily meditative, with sections of real beauty. “Allan has the distinctive ability to write lovely melodies. There are some real challenges — he has specified some very slow tempi to bring out the beauty in the longer lines. The choir has become really involved with the texts. We think it’ll make a strong statement about the human loss.”

Last Light Above the World will be followed in the concert by Haydn’s famous Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War). The Austrian Empire was expecting invasion by French forces (and a young and unknown general named Napoleon Bonaparte) when Haydn wrote it in 1796.

It is thus both a call to arms and a contemplation of war. “There are a couple of slower movements,” explains Ratzlaff, “but at a couple of moments where you would swear he was swinging a beer as he wrote.”

Indeed, the ending of the Mass is both celebratory, confident perhaps of victory, but also celebrates peace and joy in the lively final Dona nobis pacem, a fitting ending to a concert that opens with that Mons Bugle call.

Allan Bevan will himself be at the concert, and there is special pricing for members of the military and veterans.

 

PREVIEW

Richard Eaton Singers, Last Light Above the World

Conductor: Leonard Ratzlaff

Performers: Tim Anderson, Jolaine Kerley, Michael Kurschat, Mairi-Irene McCormack, Caleb Nelson, Dawn Sadoway, Pte. Malcolm Skepple, Richard Eaton Singers and Orchestra, and the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Drum Corps

Where: Winspear Centre

When: Sunday, Nov. 11, 3:30 p.m.

Tickets: $50, $25 for military/veterans, available at richardeatonsingers.com

***

Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.