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Conductor’s AURA hits another milestone
In 1979, at the age of 35, a young established composer of Latvian descent had the desire to stage grand choral compositions in the same vein as the just formed Elmer Iseler Sings of Toronto and the Vancouver Chamber Choir.
The problem was there were few choirs performing masterworks in the North Okanagan where he had moved to a year previous from Prince George.
That’s when Imant Raminsh decided to do something about it. With co-founder Valerie Witham, the two gathered 15 singers to become the AURA Chamber Choir.
About to celebrate its 35th anniversary with a performance of Mozart’s Grand Mass (KV427) in C Minor, AURA, which has grown to approximately 45 members drawn from throughout the North Okanagan and Shuswap areas, continues to sing those grand works to this day.
The choir has never shied away from presenting the masterworks of some of the world’s most famed choral and symphonic composers, and that includes Raminish, who has gone on to become one of Canada’s most distinguished choral composers.
“Half my lifetime has been spent with this choir. We’ve had our adventures,” said Raminsh, reflecting back on AURA’s beginnings with the posters of its many shows hung on the walls of his studio at the Vernon Community Music School.
“We have had people that have moved away come back to join us. It must be the kind of music we like to share. You have to have something that is ultimately doable, but I get the sense that if I gave them light cabaret-style stuff all the time, they’d drift away.”
Accompanied by its longtime pianist Marjorie Close, AURA has celebrated a few anniversaries in grand fashion over the years.
For its 10th anniversary, the choir performed Bach’s Mass in B Minor.
“As far as I know it was the premiere of this piece in the B.C. Interior. We repeated it for our 25th anniversary,” said Raminsh, adding AURA performed Bach’s St. John Passion in its 15th year.
Beethoven’s Missa solemnis in D major was sung to celebrate the choir’s 20th anniversary.
“I told our members if they sung Beethoven’s Ninth (symphony) there is a moment where sheer terror sets in. Missa solemnis is 75 minutes of sheer terror.”
The choir managed to survive, and after performing Raminsh’s Magnificat and Missa Brevis at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2006, it celebrated its 30th year performing a program featuring more of its esteemed conductor’s works.
Now five years later, AURA is preparing to bring one of two large compositions Mozart didn’t complete before he died.
“Mozart started his Grand Mass in his mid-career when he married Constanze against the wishes of his father. It was about the time he was part of a group rediscovering the works of Bach, which were then considered old fashioned. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with Bach’s music. With this celebratory work, I think Mozart was wanting to emulate Bach’s Mass in B minor,” said Raminsh.
The death of Mozart’s first born is considered to be the reason the composer put the work aside, never completing it in his lifetime.
Others have since tried to complete it, however, it is the version written in 2005 by American composer Robert D. Levin, who was requested to complete the work by musicologist and Bach scholar Helmuth Rilling, that Raminsh and the choir will present – again as a premiere in the Interior.
“I was in Toronto in 2006 as a visiting artist at the Bach festival and Rilling and Levin were there. They did a presentation on how they researched Mozart’s existing sketches and the process it took in finishing the mass. It was an enormous amount of work,” said Raminsh.
Unlike Mozart’s other unfinished Requiem Mass in D minor, the Grand Mass is more operatic, with more virtuosic solo writing.
“It’s challenging and highly rewarding for performers,” said Raminsh.
AURA has invited four soloists, sopranos Stephanie Nakagawa and Mia Harris, tenor Tomas Bijok and baritone Alan Corbishley, along with Kamloops’ Vivace Chorus, conducted by Cvetozar Vutev, to join them in performing the piece.
“They are all ambitious and (Vutev) and I have similar grandiose ideas,” said Raminsh, adding the singers will be joined by a 26-member orchestra comprised of numerous Okanagan Symphony players
As for the future, Raminsh is unsure what is in store for AURA’s 40th anniversary.
“I’m not sure if they will want me around in five years,” he grinned.
However, a busy year is expected as the choir is preparing to host the B.C. Choral Federation’s Chorfest in 2015 and Raminsh is expected to be invited back as the only Canadian judge at the Yeosu International Choir Competition and Festival in South Korea, which he attended this past December.
AURA’s performance of Mozart’s Grand Mass takes place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity United Church, 3300 Alexis Park Dr. Tickets are available from the Ticket Seller in the Performing Arts Centre (call 549-7469 or visit www.ticketseller.ca). More information is available on AURA’s website at aurachamberchoir.com.