Remembrance Day concerts offer up music to remember

Arnold Schoenberg’s choral masterwork will be sung by Vancouver’s Cantata Singers on Nov. 9 at Christ Church Cathedral. 


Friede auf Erden: Peace and Remembrance

When: Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Christ Church Cathedral

Tickets and

November has a special focus for many local music groups, serious or consoling music that relates to Remembrance Day. Certain aspects of our annual commemoration of the strife and anguish of past conflicts has morphed into a more general consideration of war and peace.

• At the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, a mid-November program with choir will feature Mozart’s celebrated Requiem in a pair of concerts November 22 and 23 at the Orpheum — with Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony to round out the evening. And if Maestro Otto Tausk’s great Mozart trilogy last spring was anything to go on, this will be a demonstration of some of the new attitudes toward performing Classical era works which inform Tausk’s approach. Details at

• One of our newest ensembles, Symphony 21, offers Lost Voices, featuring a rare performance of the Chamber Symphony by Franz Schreker, whose life was blighted by the toxic politics of the 1930s. Schreker’s work can be heard Nov. 8 at the Barnett Recital Hall at the UBC School of Music. Details at

• Chor Leoni has long made Remembrance Day an integral part of its performance season. This particular November there will be something a bit different: “For 28 years, Chor Leoni has honoured our peacekeepers and soldiers and offered musical petitions for peace. Now the choir’s trademark Remembrance Day program comes to the Orpheum stage with a plea to protect all people from war.” Protect Us From War will be offered in two North Shore performances, Nov. 9 and 10 at the West Vancouver United Church with the big Orpheum performance on Nov. 11. Details at

• The Vancouver Cantata Singers seems to be on a similar track with the program Friede auf Erden: Peace and Remembrance, including music by Gustav Mahler, Arvo Pärt, and Einojuhani Rautavaara on Nov. 9 at the Christ Church Cathedral.

The latter two composers demonstrate the tremendous appeal music from the Baltic countries now has for contemporary performers and audiences. But the concert’s featured work is by Arnold Schoenberg, his Friede auf Erden, composed in 1907.

For as long as anyone can remember Schoenberg has been considered box office poison. This is wrong in so many ways. He was influenced by both the craft and technique of Brahms and the emotional intensity of Mahler. Yes, of course, some of his works are demanding, but that doesn’t mean that they should be admired then ignored.

VCS Conductor Paula Kremer has pursued an interest in music of the Expressionist era since her student days.

“I was always fascinated with the significant change and growth Schoenberg made in our musical language and music history, the Zeitgeist he lived in, and his reaction to it,” said Kremer. “This piece is still tonal, composed before WWI. Yet to see where he goes with this — its sonorities and entwined motifs — and how his writing supports the poem and message, well, it’s truly brilliant.”

After winning the 2019 Canada Council for the Arts Healey Willan Prize, this seems an auspicious moment for the Cantata Singers to tackle Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden. Though less than 10 minutes in length, it demands much — for its first performance the composer was obliged to create a version with instrumental support.

“We felt this was the right time to commit to Friede, which has been on my mind for a while,” said Kremer.

She admits it’s taken lots of sustained work, including dividing the choir up into smaller groups for intense rehearsals, and plenty of listening.

“It is a challenging work, both vocally and mentally, but so worth it. It is a window into the divine and a triumphant declaration of peace.”