In a world full of turmoil, music can capture the storm and bring calm to an otherwise dark affair. The Grand Philharmonic Choir’s upcoming “Grant Us Peace” concert showcases the need for peace in times of conflict, from when the threat of Napoleon taking over was a real concern to present day.The show is set for February 21 at the Centre In The Square.
The first piece is Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, which the choir’s conductor and artistic director Mark Vuorinen, says is part of their traditional base of music the choir regularly performs from the 18th century.
Canadian composer John Estacio’s piece The Houses Stand Not Far Apart comes next. Estacio will be joining the choir before the performance to work with them and will also be at the concert to chat with the audience. The final piece is by a living Latvian composer named Peteris Vasks, called Dona Nobis Pacem.
“Each of the three pieces is linked to each other by the fact that they’re all thematically centered around peace as a theme,” Vuorinen said. “Haydn being a little bit different in that Haydn’s work was written while Napoleon was storming through Europe and so there’s a real sort of unease about living in Austria where Haydn lived at that time. In fact, he won several key battles right around the same time Haydn wrote this piece.”
Haydn’s arrangement holds a dramatic quality, unlike the majority of his music at that time which was written more optimistic, and in a major key.
Estacios’ piece tells the fictional story of two houses that stand across from one another, separated by a river. There are families living on either side who are taught to hate the family on the other side of the river, for no other reason than that’s what they’ve always done.
“By the end of the piece we get this sense that these things can’t go on this way and that there has to be an element of forgiveness, of understanding, of compassion, of empathy,” Vuorinen said. “Each of these pieces in my mind is able to tell this story, express this message of humans living in a world that’s difficult, that’s got conflict, that needs a hopefulness and by the end of all these pieces I think it’s achieved.”
The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and four soloists, Bethany Horst, Jennifer Enns Modolo, Marcel d’Entremont, and Benjamin Covey, will join the choir. St. Jacobs local Horst teaches at Rockway Mennonite Collegiate and is of an international caliber, Vuorinen notes.
“As I was programming this concert I really thought who can sing this Haydn really well and I thought of her immediately because she can handle that, she can do that so well,” Vuorinen said. “She sung with us before and the audience loved her then and I know she’ll be great in this concert.”
As for the complexity of the arrangements, he says they’re quite virtuoustic with passages full of runs and melismas, where vocalists sing rapid notes on a single syllable.
Vuorinen said it’s important for the choir to use their ability to portray a message for social change.
“If you look through history, it’s the arts, it’s drama, it’s opera, all of the fine arts that have been able to express this conflict in the world and a desire to try to make things better,” Vuorinen said. “And so I think when we can marry the ability of us to give concerts with being able to send a message to our community, then I think we’ve done our job. The simple act of singing in a choir requires 100 people join in an act of unison. We have to do things the same way, it’s the best sense of teamwork. I think choirs are particularly well suited to send this message.”
The choir has also paired with schools across the region to create an art installation which will be on stage. More than 1,000 children have traced their hands, and decorated them for the project. They’ve also been talking to their teachers about what peace means to them and how it can be achieved.
The one-night show takes to the stage at 7:30 p.m. on February 21 at Centre In The Square. Tickets are $20 to $75, $14 for college and university students, and $5 for high school students. For more information call 519-578-1570 or visit www.centreinthesquare.com.