Liz Upchurch has now been head of the COC Ensemble Studio for twenty years. To put that in perspective, Alain Coulombe was an Ensemble Studio member back then. So Liz has deeply influenced a whole generation of Canadian singers and it was fitting that there should be a concert in her honour in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s named for the man who brought her to the COC and it’s been the venue for countless concerts by the Mama Bear’s cubs.
The tributes to Liz were moving. They came in from all over the place; Quebec, Frankfurt and Hamburg amongst them. Testimony to the impact Ensemble Studio trained singers are having across the opera world. And all were fulsome in their acknowledgement of Liz’s impact on them in their time at the COC and subsequently.
There was music too, of course. It was a well thought out and varied program (of course!). The first half gave us “standards”. There was some Schubert and French chansons from Anne-Sophie Neher. I particularly enjoyed Poulenc’s Les chemins de l’amour; an almost cabaret like number. There was also well sung Strauss from Simona Genga with the bonus of Marie Bédard joining Liz and Simone for Morgen.
The second half was more contemporary and perhaps more personal. Anne-Sophie was back with Derek Holman’s Fair Daffodils from one of CASP’s(*) first commissions; The Four Seasons (natch!) dedicated to Richard Bradshaw. Danika Lorèn joined Anne-Sophie and Simona for Legacy – For Anne; part of the wonderful dawn always begins in the bones by Ana Sokolovic which was given its premier in the RBA by Ensemble Studio members. Rachel Kerr also joined in for the bit inside the piano. Danika and Stéphane Mayer gave us Stéphane’s Saskatchewan inspired Prairie Spring and Simona and Marie joined Liz for her lullabye, Cradle Song. Lest things should finish on too sentimental a note Stéphane, Rachel and Liz finished up with an arrangement of the overture to The Barber of Seville for six hands.
I just wanted to add my personal note. The Ensemble Studio has become a pretty important part of my musical life and one of the most satisfying bits. In the last six years I’ve attended over thirty performances by members of the ES in the RBA as well as multiple main stage shows. I’ve also followed, and sometimes helped promote, their other ventures such as Collectìf and MusiqueTroisFemmes. It’s been an opportunity to hear a good deal of the standard song repertoire but also a good deal of new and unfamiliar work from the likes of Brian Current, Ian Cusson and others. If the Ensemble Studio is, as I believe, a core component of the city’s vocal music scene, much of the credit must go to Liz.
*CASP, that invaluable promoter of Canadian Art Song, was, of course, founded by two Ensemble Studio graduates; Stephen Philcox and Lawrence Wiliford.
Photo credits: Chris Hutcheson