The Icons and Incense series returns to open the Winnipeg Singers’ 2023-24 concert season. 

Approaching 2 decades since it was first featured, the biennial program highlights Slavic composers and their contributions to choral literature.  

“It’s my heritage – what can I say? – I dearly love this music,” says the Russian-born maestro Yuri Klaz, who has served as artistic director of the Winnipeg Singers since 2003.  

Klaz notes the depth, message, power, and beauty of the music as hallmarks of the Eastern European choral tradition.  

Having tackled large-scale masterworks such as Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Klaz was keen to feature smaller works utilizing the distinct choral concerto form. 

“This particular concert was in the back of mind for quite some time,” says Klaz, explaining the concert was sidelined by the pandemic.  

As the name implies, the genre features the unaccompanied singers as both soloists and orchestra – literally a concerto for choir – with multiple movements and varying textures, based on the number of voices being utilized. Historically, no instruments were utilized inside the church as part of the liturgy or services, hence the acapella nature of the genre, explains Klaz.   

Looking to showcase the development of the form, the program spans five centuries, providing audiences the opportunity to indulge in this rarely heard music.  

“We start from the 17th Century right up to the 21st,” says Klaz.  

The program adds a spice of something new to this rich, historical tradition, with a premiere of a commission from contemporary Canadian composer Stephanie Martin.  

“Thinking of this concert, I right away had an idea in my mind that we have to commission the modern concerto, somewhat in the style of the choral concerto," says Klaz.   

The result is Martin’s “An Evening Triptych” – which incorporates oboe into the texture of the chamber choir – providing a sound, building on that historical tradition.  

Icons and Incense: Choral Concertos of the Orthodox Tradition takes place on Sunday, October 29 at the Crescent Arts Centre/Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, beginning at 3 p.m.  

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