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Vernon concert showcases Canadian composers

NOCCA’s final concert of the season takes place Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Centre.
Angela Zeng opens the NOCCA concert with her impressive cello performance Saturday. (Submitte Photo)

NOCCA will present the final concert of the 2018-19 season, the Vox Humana Chamber Choir, on Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Centre.

This Victoria-based choir will be presenting a very special program created expressly for the Vernon concert comprised entirely of Canadian composers.

Vox Humana, which is Latin for human voice, is the name given to the organ stop that tries to emulate certain qualities of the singing voice. It is appropriate, then, that the name was first given to the choir by an organist and choral conductor, Sarah MacDonald. Now a Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and Director of Music of the choir there, MacDonald gave Vox Humana its name and its start as a project choir in Victoria in the 1990s, in the hope that someone would continue the choir once she left her native Canada.

That continuation started in 2002, when Garth MacPhee, then Director of Music of the Church of Saint John the Divine, produced the first season of concerts under the name Vox Humana. From 2004-2010, the group was led by soprano and conductor Wendy McMillan, and since 2010 by its current Artistic Director, Brian Wismath.

Vox Humana has gone from a relatively small group of no more than 16 voices singing a cappella repertoire to a group of approximately 24 singers that frequently collaborates with soloists, small groups of instruments, other choirs, and full orchestras. Since 2004 they have been frequent guests of the Victoria Symphony.

Opening for Vox Humana is Angela Zeng, a 14-year-old, grade 9 student who attends Kalamalka Secondary School. She has been playing cello for seven years and studies with Morna Howie at the Vernon Community Music School. She has been playing with the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra since she was nine years old and lots of chamber music with family members and friends at local senior centres. She goes to New Denver regularly to study cello performance with John Kadz and Johanne Perron. She plays at festivals in Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm. She has been chosen to play at the B.C. Provincial Festival multiple times. Zeng earned runner-up in Provincial String Junior A category in 2017, and first place in Junior B in 2018. Recently she was invited to audition for the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She hopes to continue cello after high school and pursue it as a career. In her free time Zeng likes to do competitive swimming and play soccer.

Their first two appearances were on the symphony’s very popular Christmas Pops programme, where they showed their versatility in performing everything from Praetorius to Britten to popular Christmas standards. Their collaborations with the symphony continued to include works such as Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Handel’s Messiah, and Benjamin Britten’s powerful War Requiem, where Vox appeared alongside the Victoria Choral Society. The Victoria Symphony has also included Vox as a partner ensemble in two of their New Music Festivals; Vox presented its own programmes as part of the festival in 2014, featuring the music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti, and in 2015, featuring the music of Irish composer Gerald Barry.

New music has taken a more central place in Vox’s repertoire; the group now commissions works annually from both recognized and emerging Canadian composers. Their most recent commissions include works by David Archer, Liova Bueno and Rodney Sharman. Most of Vox’s programmes now include either a world premiere or a Canadian/B.C./Victoria premiere. These premieres not only include brand new music, but also music that has been firmly established in the repertoires of other choral communities but not yet heard in Canada.

Vox released its first CD in September 2011, entitled Summer Rain. The title track is a composition by Estonian composer Toivo Tulev. The remainder of the CD features the music of Canadian composer Jeff Enns, and French composer César Geoffray. Vox released its second CD in December 2018, entitled A Child’s Christmas in Wales and features the quintessential Christmastime story by Dylan Thomas, accompanied by carols.

Currently, Vox produces six to eight programmes per season. Two of these have become popular annual traditions. The first concert of the season, Vox in the Stars, takes place in one of Victoria’s most beautiful settings, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, high atop Observatory Hill in Saanich, BC. The choir sings inside the large steel-structured dome that houses the famous Plaskett Telescope. As the sun sets, the choir sings under the open roof of the dome with the heavens in full view. The other event that has become an annual tradition is A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a concert of seasonal music centered on a dramatic reading of Dylan Thomas’s beloved childhood recollection. In addition to traditional Christmas favourites, Vox has commissioned brand new carols and arrangements from local composers for inclusion on this programme.

Related: Vernon choir marks 40 years of making music

Related: Vernon organist goes back to Bach

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