Imagine: four professional soloists backed by a 60-voice choir and a chamber orchestra, performing a program of divine classical choral music.
Every few years, Kathleen Neudorf, musical director of the Nelson Choral Society, pulls out all the stops. This year the choir is joining forces with the Selkirk Chamber Orchestra, lead by Wendy Herbison, for a December concert featuring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Coronation Mass with works by Handel, Bach and Corelli.
The soloists for the Mozart piece are among the area’s finest vocalists, most with professional singing careers. The alto role is sung by Audrey Bisset, who trained at New York’s prestigious Peabody Institute, and won kudos for her role as the mother Demeter in the opera Khaos last year.
Kevin Armstrong, who recently directed and acted in Jesus Christ Superstar, trades his grunge wardrobe for a tux to sing the baritone part. After an operatic trajectory that took him to McGill University and then to Europe for a decade, Armstrong returned home to Nelson, performing in Khaos and his one-man show, Opera for Heathens.
The soprano soloist is Hungarian-born Noemi Kiss, who graces concert halls in Budapest, Vienna and Cologne, but lives quietly in Argenta when not on tour. Along with Bisset and tenor David Herbison, she performed in Handel’s Messiah with the Nelson Choral Society three years ago.
Mozart’s Coronation Mass is joyful, uplifting and celebratory. Mozart wrote the piece in 1779, and it has the form, balance and elegance characteristic of the music of this time period.
“It presents both challenges and rewards to beginners and pros alike,” said Armstrong. “Mozart wrote music that weaves together like a tapestry, with a fluidity of vocal line that one doesn’t find in Bach, Handel or Beethoven.”
“Every time you peel away a layer of Mozart’s music, it reveals another level of complexity, like the very fabric of the universe, seemingly into infinity.”
Kiss also enjoys the intricate blending of musical lines.
“I love how our four voices have to sound like one voice, a beautiful unison that requires intelligent singing,” she said.
In contrast to the Mozart Mass in the second half of the December concert, the first half will feature pieces from an earlier musical period — the late Baroque.
It includes Laudate pueri Dominum, written in the early 1700s by a young George Frideric Handel. He was in his early 20s at the time, living in Italy and learning to master the Italian style of music.
The Handel piece is rarely performed, so hearing this harmoniously complex work will be a treat for classical music buffs.
“It was unknown to me before this spring when Noemi suggested it as a possibility,” says Neudorf. “It’s an exciting piece, full of youthful energy.”
“It’s so much fun,” agreed Kiss, who also sings the soprano line in this piece. “It makes you want to dance and celebrate, and if we do our jobs well, that’s how the audience will feel as well.
“The beauty of it is that it’s challenging at the same time. It’s technically hard work. Yet somehow we need to radiate light and ease, and make people feel that it’s effortless.”
Christmas always seems like the right season for listening to classical choral music. If you’re not familiar with this music, here’s your opportunity to try some. Come in out of the cold and the pre-Christmas madness and take in a special musical celebration.
The two shows take place Saturday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 9 at 2:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased at the Capitol Theatre box office, online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca or by phone at 250-352-6363.