By Consul B. John Zavrel
The Artistic Director of the 2002 Choir Festival "The Joy of Singing", the 93-year old Nicholas Goldschmidt, is congratulated at the Gala reception following the Canadian premiere of Franz Schmidt's "The Book with Seven Seals." (Photo copyright WEST-ART, Clarence)
Toronto/Buffalo (mea) The final concert of the 2002 Choir Festival "The Joy of Singing" took place in the sold out historical 2,500-seat Massey Hall in downtown Toronto on June 22, 2002. On program for the closing night of a 3-week music festival (May 31-June 22, 2002) of 29 international choirs was the Canadian premiere of "The Book with Seven Seals" by the Austrian composer Franz Schmidt.
'A deeper understanding of the human experience, its passions, hopes, sorrows, and love is realized through the beauty of song', said Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada about the Festival, which featured choirs from across Canada and around the world. 'It reflects the vibrant Canadian choral tradition that has helped shape our cultural history and which continues to enchant thousands of men and women of all ages'.
The creative zeal of the festival's artistic director, the tireless 93-year old Nicholas Goldschmidt brought this festival to Toronto in 1989, 1993 and now in June 2002. International choirs representing Austria, Japan, Scotland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Cuba, Sweden, Belgium, Russia and the USA performed alongside Canadian choirs representing all regions of Canada. In addition, all the Festival soloists were Canadian, and there were seven world premiere compositions.
A Canadian premiere of a masterpiece by Franz Schmidt
The final performance of the Festival featured 'Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln' ("The Book with Seven Seals") by Franz Schmidt (1834-1939), who was a prominent figure in the Viennese musical life for over 30 years. Two prominent students during his tenure were Herbert von Karajan and the Artistic Director of the Festival, Nicholas Goldschmidt!
Born in Hungary to a Hungarian mother and a German father, he moved to Vienna as a teenager and never left the Austrian capital on the Danube. There he composed a relatively small but distinguished body of music: four symphonies, two operas, a number of works for organ and for various chamber combinations, and an oratorio based on the Book of Revelation, "Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln", widely regarded as his masterpiece.
The composition was first performed in Vienna on June 15, 1938. It was just three months after the Anschluss, Hitler's annexing of Austria. Although the work was written long before this event, it is impossible to divorce it from the political climate of the time, especially as Schmidt was embraced by the Nazis as one of the great composers in what was now a German province.
'Although the Nazis may have tried to make political capital our of the first performance of "Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln", it is unfair to regard it as a 'politically incorrect masterpiece'--rather, it is the testimony of a profoundly religious artist about times when many of the prophecies in the Apocalypse seemed to be coming true in a frightening way', said the Conductor Howard Dyck about the composition.
Four choirs and an orchestra join for performance--330 musicians on stage
This performance, which took place in Toronto on June 22, 2002 with the participation of more than 330 members of the Arnold Schönberg Choir (Vienna, Austria) , Consort Caritatis, Kitchener Waterloo Philharmonic Choir, Menno Singers and members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, constituted the Canadian premiere. Soloists included Measha Brüggergosman, Benjamin Butterfield, the unforgettable Ben Heppner, Gary Relyea, and Robert Pomakov.
The performance was greeted with standing ovation. The gala reception at the Massey Hall after the concert honored the engagement of the 93-year old artistic director of the Festival, Nicholas Goldschmidt for his organizing the special international music festival. "Niki--as the elder gentleman is affectionately known among his colleagues and art patrons--is constantly looking for new idea to promote music in Toronto..he is an amazing person, truly one of Canada's national treasures', said about him Lydie Krupicova, the administrator of the Festival, who has worked with him for a number of years.