The CHRISTUS ensemble that tells Christ’s story through classical music. John Paul Farahat

Life of Jesus recalled through the power of classical music

By  Jean Ko Din, The Catholic Register
  • April 5, 2016

TORONTO – The life of Jesus Christ has for centuries been a compelling story for artists and musicians.

On April 5, a collaboration between St. Basil’s parish and the University of Toronto brought the latest concert that tells Jesus’ story through classical music.

CHRISTUS: An Oratorio Ensemble Recital follows the story of Jesus from beginning to end with music from legendary composers such as Bach, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Elgar, Mozart and many others.

“It begins not even with the birth, but in prophesying the birth of the Saviour and then after the Ascension, a call for everyone to come to Christ,” said Darryl Edwards, director of the oratorio ensemble.

“We embraced all of the great composers we could find with different ways of retelling the different aspects of Christ’s life.”

Edwards is an associate professor of voice studies at the university’s Faculty of Music. Every semester, the faculty collaborates with St. Basil’s parish at the University of St. Michael’s College for fourth-year undergraduate music students and graduate voice students to perform their repertoire at the church hall as part of their curriculum. With this semester’s recital falling so close to Easter, it inspired a unique opportunity.

“Since all of these students are preparing for professional performing careers, they need to know this oratorio repertoire,” said Edwards.

“Let’s say the aria of the Ascension Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach is very good for a young soprano to learn.”

Edwards said that in collaborating with John Paul Farahat, director of music and principal organist at St. Basil’s, they looked at the importance of connecting the needs of the students with a reflection of the Church’s calendar year.

The sacred music selected for the program not only enriches the students’ repertoire, it also educates them about the history behind the music. Not only does the concert retell the greatest story ever told, but it is through a medium that has been an intrinsic part of the history of the Catholic Church.

“For many centuries, setting music of the life of Christ was the best way to illumine the Gospel,” said Edwards. “(The Church) was a patron, it was a sponsor, it was the generator of all this music and frankly, it’s very important for students to know about this music because people do not know it anymore.”

Farahat said what is most unique about the concert’s program is that each piece of music is intricately weaved together to form one cohesive narrative.

For those who are not familiar with the classical pieces, they can enjoy how the movement of the music takes the listener through the story. Those who know and love the music get to experience them in a new way.

“It provides for a very interesting musical experience,” said Farahat. “This is absolutely beautiful music that has been masterfully reworked by someone 200, 300 years ago… but we get to enjoy it now in so many formats and so many different ways.”

“We’ve definitely made sure that it’s something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” said Edwards.

Edwards said this Spring semester’s ensemble is very talented. Many have already turned heads within the professional music world. Among the 20 singers, there are students who are going into the Canadian Opera Company and have competed in the Metropolitan Opera Competition.

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