Aretha Franklin to Fauré: Peterborough Singers Launch Ambitious 2018-19 Season

From world-renowned opera superstars performing some of the greatest classical pieces ever written, to homegrown talent bringing the crowd to its feet with old-school soul classics, the Peterborough Singers have an astonishingly ambitious and diverse 2018-19 season lined up.

Right now, music lovers can save up to 20% off regular ticket prices by locking in and purchasing series tickets of two, three, or all four of the season’s concerts.

The season kicks off November 24th with the traditional Yuletide Cheer, featuring the virtuosic Venabrass Quintet. “It’s no wonder everybody begs me to keep inviting Venabrass back,” notes Artistic Director Syd Birrell. “They’re the absolute best around. The Christmas season just wouldn’t be the same without them.” Join the choir for raise-the-roof Christmas sing-alongs, jazzy arrangements of holiday favourites, and blisteringly complex classical Christmas pieces.

Next comes the annual performance of Handel’s great Christmas oratorio – the Messiah – on December 17. This year, the Singers are continuing their streak of tapping some of Canada’s top vocal talent, welcoming world-renowned counter-tenor Daniel Taylor, and veteran of the world’s most-celebrated stages, tenor Benjamin Butterfield. Also joining the choir are rising Canadian stars soprano Shannon McCracken and baritone Geoffrey Sirett.

“We’re able to consistently bring top-level singers to Peterborough because they always have such an incredible time with us,” notes Birrell. “They know we’re going to nail it. And they’re amazed at what a community choir can do. Even though they’re at the top of their field, they recognize the remarkable achievement of the Peterborough Singers. Normally you’d have to go to Toronto or Ottawa to see singers of this calibre. But they make an exception for us.”

Saturday, February 23, 2019, sees the choir convening at Calvary Church in Peterborough for something completely different. In honour of Black History Month, the choir presents Soul II: Roots and Rights, revisiting a genre that the Singers tackled for the first time in 2015. “In that first concert, we only just scratched the surface of everything that the soul, gospel, and roots genres have to offer,” says Birrell. “This time we’re going to focus more on the spiritual end of things.” Peterborough-based singer Beau Dixon, who so delighted the audience at the Singers’ first soul concert, will return, joined by Divine Brown. NB: Aadin Church sang in place of Beau Dixon.

The season wraps up with Feast and Fauréé on May 4, featuring two magnificent pieces showcasing baritone Andrew Tees and soprano Agnes Zsigovics: William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Gabriel Fauré’s haunting Requiem. Though the former is less known in North America, it is one of the most-performed choral works in England. The highly dramatic oratorio recounts the Biblical story of Belshazzar, the eldest son of a Babylonian King, who infamously hosted a feast using the sacred vessels from the Jewish temple. The drama kicks into high gear when the hand of God appears, and scrawls a mysterious message on the wall of the chamber where the feast is taking place.

Belshazzar’s Feast is one of the finest contemporary works frequently performed by community choirs,” says Birrell. “It’s a very exciting piece. It’s got everything – a wild drunken orgy, an evil king, violence. Most people would say that this reminds them of movie music, especially John Williams. But this should be said the other way around. Walton is the originator; Williams is copying him.”

For choral-music lovers, Fauré’s Requiem needs no introduction: a sombre, yet serene meditation upon mortality, death, and salvation, its haunting melodies linger in the mind long after the final notes of the ethereal “In Paradisum” have faded.

Birrell sounds excited to be directing one of Canada’s finest community choirs for another challenging season. “We’re in top form right now,” he says, “with around 110 voices in our choir, ranging in age from 16 to 88. I’m amazed to see the sacrifices that these busy educators, business leaders, healthcare professionals, students and others make to ensure that this choir maintains its reputation for making great music. They put a crowbar to their schedule to make it happen, and they’re here, every single week, joyfully making music together. And that excitement is very, very apparent in our concerts.”

He concludes with a message to anybody who’s never yet been to a Peterborough Singers’ concert. “Give us a try,” he says. “Everybody who comes to one of our shows for the first time is blown away by the calibre and power of what we do. Lots of people say they had no idea they loved choral music…until they came to our concert. It’s addictive.”