We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.

PREVIEW | The Jubilate Singers Of Toronto & York Chamber Ensemble Team Up To Premiere Aharon Harlap’s Requiem

By Anya Wassenberg on May 22, 2024

L-R: Jubilate Singers of Toronto conductor Isabel Bernaus (Photo: Marilyn Voysey); York Chamber Ensemble Artistic Director Michael Berec (Photo courtesy of the artist); composer Aharon Harlap (Photo courtesy of the artist)
L-R: Jubilate Singers of Toronto conductor Isabel Bernaus (Photo: Marilyn Voysey); York Chamber Ensemble Artistic Director Michael Berec (Photo courtesy of the artist); composer Aharon Harlap (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The Jubilate Singers of Toronto and the York Chamber Ensemble are getting together to present two concerts in collaboration. The title of the program is Requiem, and along with Gabriel Fauré’s revered piece, it will feature the North American premiere of another Requiem by Canadian born Israeli composer Aharon Harlap.

The concert comes as the close to the 55th anniversary season for the Toronto choir. Led by Isabel Bernaus, Jubilate specializes in exploring choral repertoire that reflects Toronto’s diversity. The program will be presented in Toronto on June 1, and in Newmarket on June 2.

We asked Isabel, Aharon, and Michael Berec, Artistic and Music Director of the York Chamber Ensemble, about the work and the upcoming concert.

The Jubilate Singers of Toronto (Photo courtesy of the Jubilate Singers)
The Jubilate Singers of Toronto (Photo courtesy of the Jubilate Singers)

Isabel Bernaus, Aharon Harlap, Michael Berec: The Interview

Aharon was born in Chatham, Ontario, and his father was a Hebrew teacher. “My father had to go from place to place to get work,” he recalls, relating moves from Chatham to Brunswick, Ontario, to Toronto, then Winnipeg. After an undergraduate degree in music and math from the University of Manitoba, he relocated to Israel.

Now 82, Aharon sees no reason to slow down. “Music has given me youth,” he says. Still conducting and composing, he’s looking forward to attending the Toronto premiere in person.

“It’s a special occasion for us,” he says. “I originally wrote the Requiem, which I dedicated to my friend Stanley Sperber, who was a conductor. [It was] dedicated to the memory of all the wonderful people that I’ve met in my life.” The piece was originally written and premiered in 2017. “Today it has much more significance,” he adds, noting the current state of conflict in the region. “It’s become a Requiem for those people.”

The Toronto concert comes about as a result of old connections. It was back in Winnipeg that he went to school with a cousin (Yael) who would eventually become one of the Jubilate Singers of Toronto. It was through her connection that Isabel became aware of Harlap and his music, and the Requiem in particular.

“Yael brought Harlap’s music to my attention,” Isabel says. “I liked very much what I was listening to. Scrolling down I arrived at the Requiem, but of course it requires an orchestra,” she adds. That’s when she got in touch with Michael and York Chamber Ensemble.

“It’s another world when it’s performed with orchestra,” Isabel notes.

Harlap’s Requiem transitions through a range of emotions. It is scored for full orchestra, but has never been performed with that configuration. The budget was tight for its 2017 premiere, as Harlap reports. “They could only afford two oboes, one horn and two trumpets.”

“It’s a fantastic work,” Michael say, noting that a full orchestral recording is in the works. “I was so delighted and honoured to be involved with his project.”

“The music comes from the inspiration of the text,” Aharon says of the composition, which uses seven of the usual Latin requiem movements. He chose to stick with the Latin to make the message universal. “Being of Jewish origin, I chose only the texts that were common to both the Jewish and Christian religions. That’s how I related to the text.”

The result, as he notes, is a message that speaks to both worlds.

York Chamber Ensemble (Photo courtesy of YCE)
York Chamber Ensemble (Photo courtesy of YCE)

The Concert

The York Chamber Ensemble has been bringing live orchestral music to York Region for more than two decades. “We’re a great group of musicians that have been performing together for such a long time,” Michael says. The organization began as a baroque ensemble, evolving into a community-minded institution that is dedicated to showcasing diversity, young talent and new works, along with the traditional repertoire. An award-winning conductor, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Berec has been leading YCE since 2019. “We love absolutely doing collaborations.”

For the concert, the ensemble will be about 25-players strong, including winds, percussion, and a smaller than usual string section.

“I hear only positive comments from the singers. It’s not the easiest piece in the world,” Isabel notes. “It’s written beautifully for choir. Both Requiems really work well together.”

Soprano Leslie Higgins and bass Dylan Wright will be the soloists for both Requiems. “I heard them on the internet, [and] I was happy with both their voices,” the composer says.

“I’m honoured to be on the same program as Schoenberg and Fauré,” Harlap adds.

Along with both Requiems, the concert also features Schoenberg’s seldom performed Notturno for Strings and Harp in honour of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Schoenberg’s short (four minute) Notturno was written when he was a young man, and a struggling artist — not long, in fact, after resigning from his banking gig to play cello (reportedly ‘full as much of fire as of mistakes’) in his future brother-in-law’s amateur band Polyhymnia. As such, the ensemble presented the very first performance of Schoenberg’s work, ‘a very atmospheric Nocturne (manuscript) for string orchestra and solo fiddle’ (according to the Neue musikalische Presse of March 15, 1896).

The manuscript was believed to have been lost for decades, but it was later identified in a work that had been catalogued with a different title.

Written three years before his seminal Verklärte Nacht, the Notturno, while composed in a tonal vein, employs harmonies that presage the evolution of atonal music.

“It’s a very beautiful romantic work,” Michael says.

  • Find more information about the concert, and get tickets for both the Toronto and Newmarket dates, [HERE].

Are you looking to promote an event? Have a news tip? Need to know the best events happening this weekend? Send us a note.


Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the Ludwig Van Toronto e-Blast! — local classical music and opera news straight to your inbox HERE.

Follow me
Share this article
comments powered by Disqus


company logo

Part of

Terms of Service & Privacy Policy
© 2024 | Executive Producer Moses Znaimer