With the swell of song and strings

The Victoria Mendelssohn Choir celebrates the coming of spring.

Maestro Simon Leung conducts members of the Victoria Mendelssohn Choir and string chamber orchestra.

Heralding the arrival of spring with an afternoon of beloved classical music, the Victoria Mendelssohn Choir is putting on a performance celebrating some of the best German and Austrian music in the last few centuries.

The choir, accompanied by a string chamber orchestra, piano and harpsichord, has invited two local soloists to join their ranks for the performance: soprano Anna Shill and tenor Joshua Lovell.

Both are incredibly talented, says choir conductor Simon Leung.

“We have one of the city’s most fantastic sopranos. I’d worked with Anna when she was just 14, and now she has her masters and is teaching,” he says. “And Josh is developing so beautifully. He’s someone we really should be paying attention to. He will become one of the tenors of our time.”

The two will lend their voices to a variety of selections from the romantic and baroque era.

Many of them based on hymns, scripture or poetry, the pieces from Bach, Schubert and Mendelssohn are just as impacting now as they were when they were first written centuries ago.

“We’re using a piece from when Bach was still a young man,” says Leung.

Cantata No. 4 is “a satirical way of looking at life and death and how life wins over death,” its lighthearted and sprightly nature matching the theme of the afternoon, he says.

Balancing sombre tones with the lightheartedness of spring, the choir will also perform several pieces by Austrian composer Franz Schubert.

Schubert, who wrote more than 600 pieces in his short lifetime, composed several that take on the sorrow of death and the joy of the afterlife, as well as the eternally romantic Serenade, which inspires a swelling heart in any listener.

Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock will also be performed, a landmark piece in showing how classical music can capture the raw essence of emotion.

“It has every bit of emotion that one must go through, in one short song,” says Leung.

Composed in the final months of his life, the piece was written as a response to a request from Pauline Anna Milder-Hauptmann, a soprano and friend of Schubert.

She wanted a song that allowed her to express every emotion, and he rose to the challenge, demonstrating an almost preternatural understanding of the gamut of the human experience that is all the more impressive given his death at the premature age of just 31.

And being the Victoria Mendelssohn Choir, the program wouldn’t be complete without a contribution from the German composer.

“We are using two of his songs,” says Leung. “Hear My Prayer, which was written for the Scottish people, and that piece was actually written in English.”

“It’s very uplifting, very elated kind of music,” he says.

Closing out the performance will be the second Mendelssohn selection, For He Shall Give His Angels Charge Over Thee.

“It’s a very lovely piece,” says Leung. “It consists of an eight-part chorus. It’s very complicated, but it’s very soothing. It’s like clouds floating in mid-air.

“We’re going to use this one as the last one in our program to send people home in peace.”

The choir performs at 3 p.m. on May 2 at the Oak Bay United Church, 1355 Mitchell Street.

They are in Sidney at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 3 at the St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, 10030 Third Street.

Tickets are $20, available at the door or from Tanner’s Books in Sidney, Russell Books or Long & McQuade in Victoria, or Ivy’s Bookshop in Oak Bay.

For more information, email cchay@live.ca or call 250-590-6335.

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