Despite the choir's success with critics and the public, Vogt disbanded it in 1897, only to revive it 19 Sep 1900, after three years of canny long-term planning, under a constitution requiring members to re-audition annually. The reconstituted Toronto Mendelssohn Choir made its debut 16 Feb 1901, again at Massey Music Hall. The choir originally limited its numbers to 200, with an annual membership fee of $1 for each female voice and $2 for each male voice.
1902 to 1925
Vogt's wish to venture beyond the repertoire for unaccompanied choir led to associations 1902-7 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Victor Herbert and 1908-12 with the Theodore Thomas (Chicago) Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock. The choir performed in New York's Carnegie Hall for the first time in 1907. The choir's only performance, 6 Feb 1917, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO, 1908-18) under its conductor Frank Welsman was directed jointly with Vogt.
Having re-established the choir on principles that would continue to serve it for years to come, Vogt gave up the leadership in 1917 because of his increasing responsibilities as principal of the Toronto Conservatory of Music (TCM). Subsequently the Welsman TSO disbanded and, as a result, Vogt's chosen successor, Herbert Austin Fricker, again looked south for an orchestra.
1925 to 1950
Having known Leopold Stokowski in England, Fricker made the Philadelphia Orchestra his first choice. That association, which lasted 1918-25, was followed by a collaboration 1926-31 with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner. In 1926 the choir made its first recording. The choir continued its frequent performances in the USA, with the first of nine appearances in Buffalo beginning in 1905. Other US cities visited between 1905 and 1954 included New York (five times); Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia (twice each); and Chicago. Presentations in Toronto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1932), the Hart House String Quartet (1933), and the New World Chamber Orchestra (1934) preceded a long and continuing relationship with the TSO. The outbreak of World War II, which depleted the choir's male sections, forced suspension of the 1939-40 season. However, a reorganized choir was able to give about two concerts each year for the war's duration. Another setback was Fricker's retirement, marked by a performance 23 Feb 1942 of his favourite work, Bach's Mass in B Minor.
Under Fricker the choir had given its first performances of Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony (1921), Boito's Mefistofele in a concert version (1923), Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (1925), Beethoven's Missa solemnis (1927), Bach's Mass in B Minor (1929), Handel's Messiah (1932), and Mendelssohn's Elijah (1933) and the Canadian premieres of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast (1936) and Berlioz' Requiem (1938). Vogt's repertoire had been relatively modest, containing many small-scale pieces. However, he did introduce a few such larger works as Mendelssohn's Die erste Walpurgisnacht (1906), Elgar's Caractacus (1909), Pierné's Children's Crusade (1910), Verdi's Requiem (1911), and most of Brahms' choral music, including A German Requiem (1908). Comparing the choir's first two conductors, one (unidentified) critic insisted that both were great, but added that under Vogt the choir had developed a 'diamond-like purity of tone,' whereas under Fricker the 'tone was softer with a darker hue' (A Responsive Chord).
The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's third conductor was Sir Ernest MacMillan. Like Fricker, MacMillan took over in wartime; like Vogt, he brought to the choir a choir of his own, the TCM choir. It had been developed in the previous two decades and heard annually since 1923 in Bach's St Matthew Passion. The merger, though a difficult one involving both choristers and administrations, was accomplished surprisingly smoothly. The choir's first performance under MacMillan, 29 Dec 1942, was in Handel's Messiah, which thereafter became an annual Christmas presentation. MacMillan also introduced the St Matthew Passion, which then became an Easter annual event. The two works were recorded in 1952 and 1953 respectively for Beaver Records and were performed in 1954 at Carnegie Hall. Although the choir came to be identified with these two works, its repertoire was considerably larger; it offered, for instance, Verdi's Requiem during its 1942-3 season and a three-day Bach Festival in 1950 to commemorate the bicentenary of the composer's death.
1950 to 1975
In 1952 the choir made its first recording of the Messiah. MacMillan resigned as conductor in 1957, but later served as honorary president 1962-73. The choir honoured him in 1968, on his 75th birthday, with a performance of some of his favourite pieces, and the concert was telecast on the CBC.
Frederick Silvester, who had been the choir's assistant conductor since 1946, succeeded MacMillan, assuming the duties of chorusmaster and conductor but working with various orchestra conductors. In his three seasons Silvester introduced the choir to the new choral idiom represented by Honegger's Joan of Arc (performed under Walter Susskind in 1958) and often prepared the choir for performances conducted by Susskind with the TSO. On his retirement in 1960 Silvester was succeeded as chorusmaster by John Sidgwick (who had been the leader 1952-6 of a small chamber choir drawn from the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) and as conductor by Susskind. This four-year partnership, which gave Toronto performances of Orff's Carmina Burana, Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust, Bloch's Sacred Service, and Mahler's Third Symphony, terminated in 1964 with Susskind's departure from the TSO and Sidgwick's resignation to form his own Orpheus Choir.
In 1964 Elmer Iseler, a choir member 1947-9 and rehearsal assistant 1951-2, became the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's sixth conductor. He began his tenure by preparing the choir for the Canadian premiere (10 Nov 1964) of Britten's War Requiem, conducted by Susskind, and for a performance under Ernesto Barbini of Messiah. Iseler first conducted the choir in public in the spring of 1965 in a program of Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Holst, and Debussy (the choir was augmented by his own Festival Singers and two other choirs trained by Lloyd Bradshaw). That same year at the sesquicentennial of the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, the choir presented a program that included Godfrey Ridout's The Dance, MacMillan's arrangement of 'Blanche comme la neige,' and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Performing in the company of the world's great choirs the Toronto choir nevertheless made a strong impression. 'There is something fresh, stimulating, vital, about the Iseler-Mendelssohn combination, and the result vocally and musically is remarkable. Diction is superb. Chords and polyphonic textures are always in perfect balance' (Boston Globe, 31 Oct 1965). The choir travelled to Montreal for centennial celebrations 1 Jul 1967 at the Place des Arts PDA and a concert at Expo 67. Also in 1967 it commissioned and premiered John Beckwith's Place of Meeting.
Like Vogt and MacMillan before him, Iseler brought to the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir a choir of his own. The Festival Singers became the professional nucleus of the larger choir in 1968. Two others, the Bach-Elgar Choir of Hamilton and John Sidgwick's Orpheus Choir, were enlisted for a performance of Berlioz' Requiem on the 100th anniversary (1969) of the composer's death. The Mendelssohn Choir's own 75th anniversary season, 1969-70, was marked by its first presentation of Handel's Israel in Egypt and was followed in 1971 by the Canadian premiere of Penderecki's St Luke Passion (the latter was so successful that the work was repeated in 1972).
A tour of Europe, first planned for 1915 and postponed because of the outbreak of World War I, was finally managed in August 1972. With Canadian Brass, the soprano Roxolana Roslak, and the organist Ruth Watson Henderson, the choir performed in England, Paris, and Lucerne and was lauded for 'the well-trained voices united to form a firm organic unit in which the clever structuring never detracted from the life and fervour of the singing' (Der Bund, 20 Aug 1972) and for being 'a firm, clean ensemble with remarkably strong male parts and light flexible articulation' (Financial Times, 24 Aug 1972). That same year, the annual Messiah performances in Toronto included one sing-along performance. The audience participation proved popular, and the sing-along was repeated annually 1972-6, and occasionally thereafter.
In 1973 the Mendelssohn 100-voice choir within a choir, incorporating the Festival Singers, was formed to facilitate CBC broadcasts and performances at such smaller Ontario cities as Barrie and Orillia and at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full choir, numbering about 170, performed during the 1974-5 season with the NACO and the Hamilton Philharmonic and appeared 25 Oct 1975 with Canadian Brass at Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
1975 to 2000
For the 1976 Olympics, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir participated with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) at PDA in the Solemn Opening Session 13 July under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and in an arts and culture program 15 July under Iseler. The choir gave the Canadian premiere of Penderecki's Magnificat in 1977. It performed at the Kennedy Center in 1978, and made its debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 1980 during a tour to Great Britain and Belgium.
The choir commissioned R. Murray Schafer's Sun, which it premiered at the 1982 opening of Roy Thomson Hall (which became the choir's administrative and performing home). It participated with the TS in the Canadian premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 in 1983, and in 1984, with the TS, gave two programs in Carnegie Hall, performing Elgar's The Kingdom, Copland's In the Beginning, Schafer's Sun and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Iseler's leadership, the choir performed the Mahler Eighth in 1989. That same year Michael Ridout became the manager, succeeding Patricia Tompkins (b Denver 1922?, B MUS, BMUS ED [Michigan], d Toronto 1 Apr 2009), who had held that position since 1967.
In the tradition established by Vogt, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in the 1990s and afterwards continued to audition its members annually, to charge an annual membership fee of $55 (the same for both female and male voices), and to draw its programs from the major works with orchestra at one end of that range and hymns of the Christian church or short unaccompanied works as disparate as Willan's An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts and R. Murray Schafer's Epitaph for Moonlight at the other.
In 1992 the choir recorded a Christmas collection, which included its 1986 recording of Messiah. The choir was recorded in 1993 under the direction of John Williams; this recording was included on the soundtrack for Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List. The same year, the choir participated in the International Choral Festival in Toronto, premiering Robertson Davies and Derek Holman's Jezebel. The choir celebrated its 100th season in 1994, performing such works as Harry Somers' Gloria and Holman's The Abbot of Augers from Tapestry, and reissuing highlights of MacMillan's 1952 recording. The choir presented Holman's Songs of Sion the following year, and in 1997, it presented Canadian Tapestry, arranged by Howard Cable, with Pierre Berton as narrator, and accompanied by the Hannaford Street Silver Band and the Mendelssohn Youth Choir. The choir was honoured with the Roy Thomson Hall Award in 1996 after a premier performance of Raymond Luedeke's A Prayer for the Earth.
Iseler's contract, somewhat controversially, was not renewed in 1997; Noel Edison took over as interim conductor of the choir and then as conductor in 1999. Edison remained as artistic director and conductor as of 2004.
The Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir
A Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir (a 60- to 70-voice mixed group aged 14 to 19) was founded by the senior organization in 1977. Under the leadership of Gerald Fagan it quickly established a pattern of two or three annual concerts. In 1979 Robert Cooper replaced Fagan, and that same year the choir's Christmas concert was given jointly with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra; John Rutter was the guest conductor for the 1988 and 1990 Christmas concerts. The Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir has made three recordings, including Christmas with Rutter; Berlioz's Requiem with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; and a CBC recording of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
The Twenty-First Century
With a membership of 180 choristers, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is frequently heard on CBC Radio and, in 2002, it appeared live on CBC-TV's national broadcast of the Queen's Gala Performance at Roy Thomson Hall. In 2001 the choir performed Orff's Carmina Burana, in a joint performance of 300 voices, which included the Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic Chorus accompanied by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. In 2003 the choir toured Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague before returning to Toronto for its 110th anniversary celebrations at Massey Hall. It has maintained its reputation as one of the world's great choirs.
Author Ogreta McNeill, Emily-Jane Orford
Bach St Matthew Passion. Full orch, MacMillan conductor, Milligan (Jesus), Johnson (Evangelist), Marshall soprano, Morrison soprano, Newton soprano, Stilwell alto, Lamond tenor, Brown bar, Tredwell bar, Kraus harpsichord. 1953. 3-Beaver LPS-002/3-RCA Victor LBC-6101
Bell-Lloyd Rosy Dawn - Graves Men of Heaven. Fricker conductor. 1926. Brunswick 10261 (78)
Great Hymns. Brough organ, Iseler conductor. 1975. CBC SM-302
Gloria: Gabrieli - Rachmaninoff - Stewart - Stanford - Willan - Vaughan Williams - Somers. Brough organ, Loman harp, Iseler conductor. 1968. RCA LSC-3054/Mel SMLP-4030
Handel Messiah. Full orch, MacMillan conductor, Marshall soprano, Palmateer alto, Vickers tenor, Milligan bass, Kraus harpsichord. 1952. 3-Beaver LPS-001/3-RCA Victor 6100/3-RCA Victor LM-6134/(excerpts) 1-Beaver LPS-1003/RCA Victor LBC-1053/RCA Victor LM-2088
Laudate Dominum:: Glick - Handel - et al. Roy Thomson Hall O, Iseler conductor. 1986. CBC SM-5054/(with Beethoven Fantasia...) CBC SMCD-5054/(Glick) 4-ACM 34 (CD)
Lavallée O Canada. Iseler conductor. 1965. RCA 57-3386 (45)
MacMillan - Vaughan Williams - Ives. Iseler conductor. 1969. CBC SM-105/RCI 339/RCA LSC-3154
Make We Merry: Vaughan Williams - Willan - et al. Brough organ, Iseler conductor. 1970. CBC SM-80/RCA LSC-3174/RCI 331
Palestrina Adoramus te; Exultate Deo. Fricker conductor. 1926. Brunswick 10260 (78)
Pierné The Children's Crusade. TSO, Susskind conductor, Bishop Strachan School Chapel Choir, Branksome Hall Senior Choir, Elliott soprano, Guloien soprano, Morrison soprano, McCollum tenor, Young bar. 1960. 2-Beaver LPS-003
Star Spangled Banner - Scots wha hae. Fricker conductor. 1926. Brunswick 10262 (78)
Tribute to Her Majesty Elizabeth II: Handel anthems. CBC Orch, MacMillan conductor, Vickers tenor. 1953. Beaver LPS -1002
We Magnify Thee: Rachmaninoff Songs of the Church, from 'All Night Vigil.' Iseler conductor. 1970. CBC SM-179
See also Discography for TS, Davis as Conductor
Smith, Ocean G. compiler. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir: A History 1894-1948 (Toronto 1948)
[McLean, Maud]. A Responsive Chord: The Story of The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir 1894-1969 (Toronto 1969)
McLean, Maud. 'Contemporary works contribute to Mendelssohn Choir's fame,' MSc, 273, Sep-Oct 1973
Jones, Donald. 'Choirmaster's dream led to musical fame for Toronto,' Toronto Star, 31 Dec 1976
Kraglund, John. 'Mendelssohn Choir forms youth branch,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 20 Dec 1977
- 'Mendelssohn Choir bids adieu to its musical home of 87 years,' ibid, 17 Apr 1982
Jones, Donald. 'The choir that wouldn't die,' Toronto Star, 22 Dec 1990
Withrow, John B. "The Mendelssohn Choir: a History of Excellence," Bravo, May/June 1993
Brickenden, Jack. "A Century of celebrated singing," Classical Music Magazine, Vol. 17 No. 2, Apr/May 1994
Laudon, Christopher. "Volunteers honour Mendelssohn Choir with RTH Award," Performance, Vol. 6, Jul/Aug. 1996
Metropolitan Toronto Music Library. Vertical files. Bound programs 1895-1952
Links to Other Sites
A profile of opera singer Edward Johnson and an overview of the "Edward Johnson Collection" at the University of Guelph.
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
The website for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Canada's world-renowned oratorio chorus. Check out the online newsletter “Mendelssounds” for the latest news and events.
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Toronto Mendelssohn Choir: Rehearsing Lux Aurumque
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, under the direction of conductor Noel Edison, rehearses part of Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque. From the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir channel on YouTube.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...