100 years of hitting the high note Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir marks centenary in gala with WSO, guests
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A convergence of anniversaries takes place tonight at the aptly named Centennial Concert Hall.
Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir 100th anniversary gala
With the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Lara Ciekiewicz and Gregory Dahl
● Saturday: 7:30 p.m.
● Centennial Concert Hall
● Tickets: $39-$89 at wso.ca or 204-949-3999.
The Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a gala concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which is in the midst of commemorating its 75th anniversary, in a city that just marked its 150th birthday late last year.
”We approached them with the idea of wanting to celebrate both groups and the many, many years of collaboration we’ve had,” says Glynis Corkal, who has sung with the choir for 34 years and is also president of its board of directors.
“We actually were under the wing of the symphony for a number of years… it wasn’t until 1982 when we struck out on our own.”
The choir got its start on Dec. 11, 1922 as the Winnipeg Philharmonic Society, and it was an amalgamation of singers from several other church and secular choral groups in Winnipeg.
The star of the opening concert was American soprano Anna Case, who had performed with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, acted in silent films and served as a “tone tester” for phonograph inventor Thomas Edison’s earliest disc record players, which would go on to replace cylinders as the preferred music format in the early 20th century and surpass compact discs in the 21st.
The Free Press headline the next day reads, “Choristers and artist score marked success,” and the review describes how Case captivated the audience at the Board of Trade Auditorium and added kind words for conductor Hugh C.M. Ross and the “quality voices” in the 200-member chorus.
“Judging by last night’s performance, the Philharmonic is destined to play a big part in musical development,” the review from Dec. 12, 1922 reads.
The prediction has proven true a century later.
Choral singing remains a loud-and-clear part of the city’s cultural fabric, one strong enough to support several choirs in 2023, including the Winnipeg Singers, Polycoro, the Dead of Winter, and several church, university and school groups.
Underpinning all this beautiful singing is the organization known simply as “the Phil.”
“An enduring love of choral music seems to be in the DNA of Winnipeggers,” Corkal says.
The choir has performed across Canada many times in the past century, and Corkal’s fondest Phil memory is when it headlined an all-Canadian choral program at Carnegie Hall in 1997, a Canada Day show at the famed New York concert hall.
“The opportunity to sing on that storied stage with my friends from the choir, celebrating Canada Day with other choirs from across the country,” she says. “It was celebratory and magical and something we won’t soon forget.”
Yuri Klaz, the philharmonic’s artistic director, will conduct the choir and orchestra tonight, and while he’s led both musical organizations on many occasions, he says tonight’s gala will be a major highlight in his 23-year tenure with the choir.
“I’m so happy, so honoured, and all other adjectives you can add because this is my first time celebrating 100 years of an organization I’ve been working for,” he says. “It’s a great organization, a strong organization and it has a strong singing tradition.”
He moved from Russia in 2000 to take on the choir’s artistic director job, and has since become a key figure in Winnipeg’s choral scene, which also includes conducting the Winnipeg Singers.
He’s been so busy this month — besides the philharmonic’s centennial gala, he also conducted the Singers’ 50th anniversary concert last month and he leads other choirs as well — he’s barely had a chance to catch his breath between rehearsals.
“There was a double-rehearsal yesterday, a triple-rehearsal today. I’m used to it,” Klaz says. “It’s a busy time, but it’s a happy time.”
Deciding which choral works perfectly fit tonight’s occasion was a difficult task, Klaz says. Eventually, they settled on Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem and Dvorak’s Te Deum, two works noted for their grandiosity.
“(Te Deum) is very uplifting and joyful,” Klaz says. “It’s sort of a small choral symphony to me because it has four movements even though it’s only about 20 minutes. The grand finale is absolutely sparkling.”
Tonight’s concert will no doubt be a moving one, but barring any strange occurrences, it shouldn’t be as dramatic as a Christmas concert the Phil held at the Crescent Fort Rouge United Church during a snowy evening on Dec. 13, 1991.
“It was a Friday the 13th and the church did a bit of a shift and it stopped the concert in its tracks and we didn’t get to finish that one,” Corkal remembers. “The balcony moved and the concrete stanchions that hold up the balcony moved and there was even a piece of iron that fell underneath the plaster.
“That was a legend, it being Friday the 13th and being in the middle of a snowstorm.”
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.