David Fallis‘s career in music that seems like a dream come true for most aspiring musicians. In 1979, Fallis joined the Toronto Consort, then just a group that was quickly making a name for itself as part of the first wave of early music groups in Canada and specializing in Medieval and Renaissance repertoire. Fallis went on to become the group’s artistic director in 1990, and the Consort has since grown to become the number-one pre-baroque music group in Canada. Under Fallis’s direction, the group has given nearly a hundred concert programs, made over a dozen recordings, sacred oratorios, multimedia projects, and virtually any project that concert-goers would find engaging.
It’s fair to say that Fallis’s expertise in the field of early music rivals just about anyone else’s worldwide — he’s performed and conducted every type of vocal-based repertoire from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment over the last forty years. But talking to him about the moments of his career that stood out for him, I also picked up on his incredible love and infectious enthusiasm for making and performing music.
Here are his top five career highlights:
It’s always hard to choose, but one person I really enjoyed working with who comes right to mind was someone we worked with for our Kanatha/Canada concert last season. We wanted to put together a concert that included a fair amount of native participation, so we found a piece by the Canadian composer John Beckwith, called Wendake/Huronia, which marks the time that Samuel de Champlain visited Ontario in 1615 and that incorporated instruments from Champlain’s time. We ended up working with Georges Sioui, a scholar and tradition bearer of the Wendat people. It was the first time the Consort had a chance to work with performers from a particular native tradition, and it was a very moving experience for all of us. It was a new experience for us. Working with Georges felt more like we were creating music with the people who were there, instead of showing up with music written down for us. Music is a part of life, in their tradition as with so many others, and their songs weren’t made to be sung in a concert hall for a passive audience, they’re made to be sung and be a part of their lives. We could feel the difference playing that music, and I think the audience really felt that, too.
A couple of years ago we did a wonderful project, called the Play of Daniel. The Play of Daniel is what medieval scholars call a liturgical drama — it’s almost music theatre from the middle ages. Despite being a story from the Bible, it’s got a couple of songs from the Carmina Burana — these very rollicking drinking songs and lascivious love songs. It also seems like it was made for and by young people, basically teenagers, so I thought we might get a youth chorus to sing in some of the bigger choruses. It was the first time that the Consort had done something on that scale with young performers, and we staged everything and acted the whole thing out.
I’ll never forget the last time we did the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610. The Monteverdi Vespers is a great piece of music and being involved in a great performance of it is its own reward. It’s unbelievably well-constructed. There’s plainsong in every movement, but you wouldn’t know it the way Monteverdi treats it and hides it. It’s a very spiritual piece, too — and I feel a spirituality to it, and it’s very moving. We put together a great group to perform it, including the English tenor Charles Daniels and Kevin Skelton. Doing it in Trinity St. Paul’s’ was especially moving — in St. Mark’s where the Vespers was originally performed, there are these balconies which are incorporated into the piece in some antiphonal works and call and answer type pieces. As it turns out, Trinity Saint Paul’s is one of the few concert halls in Toronto where you can do a similar thing in performance and was a moving experience for the audience. A few of the movements in the Vespers are written to use the space around the audience to make them feel like they’re being immersed in the sound, and it’s an effect that you can only achieve in live performance.
I should mention the Praetorius Christmas Vespers we’ve done, which is a recreation of a Lutheran Vespers service. There was a Paul McCreesh album done a number of years ago that was a recreation of a Lutheran Christmas mass, and when I listened to it, it inspired me to do a concert of a Lutheran Vespers service. It turns out that Praetorius wrote a Magnificat just like in a Catholic service, only it’s in German, and he happens to have written a brilliant setting, which like Monteverdi, uses plainsong quite brilliantly. Praetorius also says that you can insert Christmas carols into the Magnificat in between certain sections — he doesn’t say which ones you’re supposed to do, but he gives suggestions and says stick in a Christmas carol here, if you like. So the Vespers concert ended up being a wonderful chance for the audience to take part. We brought in the Toronto Chamber Choir to be our congregation on stage, we got the audience to sing along and they loved it!
One always remembers the most recent things, but early on in the 1980s when I wasn’t even the director of the group we had a few connections to people who had access to venues and concert presenters in Europe. We got to tour Europe, which is something we haven’t done for many years since, and as a young singer I got to sing in places like the Musikverein in Vienna and the Purcell room in London, and as a young singer, I thought, “My gosh, what am I doing up here?” But we got good reviews, and people seemed to enjoy it. I’ve played in a lot of concert halls since, but you think back to when you’re younger, and you’re playing a lot of big important venues outside your own city and feel a sense of pride at having played in concert halls that are steeped heavily in a musical tradition.