Festival of Carols / Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; Toronto Mendelssohn Singers; Jonathan Oldengarm, organ; Irene Gregorio, piano; Colleen Allen, saxophone; Jean-Sébastien Vallée, conductor. Dec. 5, 2023 7:30pm Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge Street, Toronto.
It’s that time of year again! For many of us, one of the pleasures of the Christmas season is attending the many musical events around town, from large-scale Messiahs to intimate Baroque pieces and everything in between. If you’re frazzled by hectic pre-Christmas chores or feeling down in the dumps given the oncoming cold and shortened daylight hours, there’s nothing like a carol or two to lift your spirits.
A favourite concert for me is the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s annual Festival of Carols, an event I have been attending for years, a perfect balm for the soul. It’s a proven scientific fact that beautiful music stimulates the pleasure centres of the brain, leading to a release of the mood-lifting hormone dopamine. And who wouldn’t want a bit of a lift at this time of year?
The premiere Canadian choral group, the full Toronto Mendelssohn Choir numbers an impressive 100+ members. The core is made up of 24 professional choristers, known as the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers. In full force, the impact of the TMC sound is totally thrilling. When it’s heard in the great acoustics of a church such as the 1,400 seat Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, it’s an unforgettable experience.
This in-person event was suspended for two years due to COVID, only resuming a year ago. It was well attended last year, but this year it was truly jammed to the rafters, as you can see from the photos. It’s a testament to the reputation of the TMC, and to the desire of many of us to make beautiful music together. While I was there as a media invitee, it’s my firm belief that when it comes to Christmas carols with audience participation, it’s best to just ditch the critic’s hat and enjoy the experience.
The program, divided into five sections, consisted of a few old standards, carols that we’ve known all our lives. The bulk of the program was made up of works by contemporary composers, the likes of Jonathan Dove and the recently deceased Canadian Jocelyn Morlock. Some of the traditional pieces were given new arrangements. Every new piece was tonal, accessible, and melodically inspired, in keeping with the past stylistic tradition of Christmas carols.
The soloists were members of the Mendelssohn Singers, offering very impressive vocalism, either in the purity of their vibrato-free choral sound or in their ethereal high notes. For a change of pace, there was a beautiful saxophone solo by Colleen Allen in “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” For audience members eager to give their vocal cords a workout, there were several chestnuts to satisfy the songbirds, such as “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World,” plus the French carol “Les anges dans nos campagnes.”
There was even an encore, of a piece not familiar to me, which I later found out to be “We Toast The Days” — thank you, Nicholas Choiniere, TMC’s Communications and Marketing Director! The 90 minutes went by in a flash, short but satisfying. If you were not there in person, you can catch highlights of this beautiful concert online for free on demand, starting Friday, December 8.
For more details, see [HERE].
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