Andrew Gray: The Montreal Choral Institute and Voces Boreales

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Andrew Gray couldn’t have chosen a better city than Montreal when, in 2010, he decided to leave the U.K. to start a new chapter in his already flourishing career. In fact, the “city of a hundred bells” boasts a well-established choral tradition, with two symphony orchestras, a ballet company and hundreds of vocal ensembles of all levels. It was in this rich musical landscape that Gray won his first official position as conductor of the Montreal Children’s Choir, which he left in 2015 to take over artistic and musical direction of the Montreal Choral Institute (MCI) and its ensemble, the professional choir Voces Boreales. He has also been musical director of the Petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal since 2016. Gray owes his success to the expertise developed in his native England, where he started studying in the English choral tradition at just seven years old. Fast-forward a few years, he was being called to perform on numerous London stages, at which point he began to explore jazz and contemporary music. His first moment in the spotlight came in 1997, when he started touring the world with the Swingle Singers, with whom he would go on to collaborate with several recognized artists and groups.

Although he was brought up in a very traditional choral environment, Gray now looks to the present and the future of choral singing. Dedicated to performing works of 20th century Nordic composers such as Mäntyjärvi, Tormis and Pärt, with the occasional addition of music from the classical canons of the Renaissance through to the Romantic period, the MCI and Voces Boreales were founded in 2009 and have been producing concerts annually ever since, in the hopes of bringing a wide variety of choral repertoire to their public. This desire to step out of the traditional choral mold has led Gray to collaborations with many contemporary composers and has resulted in the creation of new Québécois and Canadian works.

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Having been forced by the pandemic to postpone their spring concerts, Voces Boreales will now be performing their concert Silences in the spring of 2021. A collaboration with the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM), the performance will feature the premiere of a massive creation by Tim Brady for electric guitar ensemble, orchestra and four choirs, as well as a piece by David Cronkite that explores the relationships between space and sound. In May 2021 the choir will also work with cellist Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy for their concert titled Vocello, which will feature works by Tavener, Eatock, Giacomin, Jančevskis and Ingari, to name a few.

Overcoming the limits imposed on choirs by the pandemic requires innovative thinking. Fortunately for fans of Voces Boreales, Gray and the choir will be performing outdoors as an octet this summer in the Quartier des spectacles in Montreal and throughout the Greater Montreal Area. Following this, the ensemble hopes to open its 2020-2021 season in the fall with an ambitious 18-singer audio-visual project featuring works by Vivier. Finally, with any luck the ensemble will collaborate with the percussion quartet ARCHITEK to commemorate the Armistice in its traditional 26-singer configuration.

Along with its work producing Voces Boreales, the MCI organizes workshops and conducting masterclasses with guest conductors for both music students and amateur choristers.

Owing to the postponement of musical activities, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne will wait until next spring to present Silences, a concert featuring the premiere of a colossal work by Tim Brady for electric guitars, orchestra and four choirs, as well as a work by David Cronkite that explores the interplay between sound and space by carefully laying out musicians and singers amid the audience. In May 2021, cellist Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy will join Voces Boreales in the Vocello concert, featuring works by Tavener, Eatock, Giacomin, Jančevskis and Ingari, among others.

Pandemic-induced constraints sometimes lead to interesting developments. Fate willing, Voces Boreales fans should expect to hear an octet variant of the ensemble this summer in open-air performances at the Quartier des spectacles in Montreal and possibly outside the city as well. And then, in an 18-singer configuration, Voces Boreales look forward to opening Le Vivier’s artistic season in a daring audiovisual proposition. Finally, the standard 26-strong Voces Boreales is expected to join forces with percussion quartet ARCHITEK in a Remembrance Day commemorative concert.

Apart from being the producer of Voces Boreales, the Choral Institute also offers workshops and masterclasses with guest conductors for music students as well as for the enjoyment of amateur choristers.

Translation by Eva Stone-Barney

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Arnaud G. Veydarier est actuellement étudiant en musicologie à l’Université de Montréal et nourrit un intérêt prononcé pour le jazz, la musique contemporaine et les liens entre musique et développement urbain. Il est pigiste pour La Scena Musicale depuis septembre 2017.

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