A musical partnership which had humble beginnings in the late 1980s at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music is about to bear tremendous fruit when Brisbane Chorale and Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir join forces for the first time to present Franz Joseph Haydn’s masterpiece The Creation in November.
When Brisbane Chorale’s Music Director Emily Cox AM was a student at the “Con”, her vocal accompanist was none other than Fay Baker OAM, Artistic Director of Oriana Choir.
“Collaborating with Fay and Oriana was always something I wanted to do,” says Emily. “I’ve long admired Oriana’s work, and I consider Fay a very important part of my musical growth. She was also a major mentor of Justine Favell, Brisbane Chorale’s fabulous accompanist.”
When Emily and Fay first started discussions regarding a joint performance by the two choirs, The Creation quickly appeared on their radar. Emily remembers, “We wanted to present one of the greats, an absolute choral/orchestral blockbuster, which Creation surely is.
“We also wanted to find something which would be nurturing for the choirs, both musically and emotionally, and which would bring joy to our listeners after the challenges everyone has faced in the last couple of years.
“With Creation not being frequently performed in Brisbane, but being one of the greats, it jumped out as an obvious choice!”
The Creation is new to Oriana and many current members of Chorale were not involved in the choir when it last performed the work in the late 1990s, but both choirs are approaching the work with great enthusiasm according to Emily. Preparing two separate choirs to perform together must present challenges -how is she approaching these?
“Fay has been preparing Oriana up at the Sunshine Coast and I’m doing my regular work with Chorale, but I will have made a couple visits to Oriana by the time the concert rolls around,” she says. “Oriana is coming down to Brisbane for a joint rehearsal in a few weeks time. I’m really looking forward to that first time all together.
“The great thing about collaborating with a colleague such as Fay is that I know Oriana’s preparation will be fantastic and obviously we regularly discuss aspects of the music.”
Creation is also a work which Emily characterises as more of an opera than an oratorio. “The choir really contributes all the way along in this work with personality and energy, both in its own choruses and in the many movements which involve soloists and chorus,” she says.
“A sense of storytelling must be present the whole way along. There’s a real expectation that the chorus is a vivid communicator throughout.”
The Creation also presents its vocal soloists with very challenging roles and Emily is very excited to have secured the team of Leanne Kenneally (soprano), Tobias Merz (tenor) and Jason Barry-Smith (bass) to be part of these concerts.
“The solo music in Creation is virtuosic, demanding not only beautiful sound, but exceptional technique and the ability to bring the vivid text alive,” she explains. “So you can’t go past our three wonderful soloists, Leanne, Tobias and Jason. I am thrilled we have such wonderful singers involved in the project.
“Underpinning all of the tricky vocal architecture of Creation is its equally complex and demanding orchestral work and for these performances it will be provided by Sinfonia of St Andrew’s.
“Haydn really broke the mould with this one,” Emily explains. “The orchestra does much more than just accompany. There’s tremendous drama in the orchestral writing, dramatic changes of mood and picturesque imagery, ahead of its time, all making the orchestra an equal partner in bringing this story to life. I can’t wait to work with the wonderful players of Sinfonia on this project.”
Brisbane Chorale is a large symphonic choir about to enter its 40th anniversary year in 2023, and coincidentally 2023 is also Emily’s 20th year as Music Director.
Oriana Choir, meanwhile, came into existence in 2005 when Daniel Calder established The Oriana Concert Choir on the Sunshine Coast. This fledgling choir very quickly proved its credentials when in July 2006 they competed in ABC Classic FM’s National Choir of the Year competition, placing second in the Queensland finals.