Cantata Singers of Ottawa | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Cantata Singers of Ottawa

Cantata Singers of Ottawa. Mixed 45-voice choir founded in 1964 by conductor Gerald Wheeler. Brian Law succeeded Wheeler in 1965 and gradually increased the choir's membership from its original 16.

Cantata Singers of Ottawa

Cantata Singers of Ottawa. Mixed 45-voice choir founded in 1964 by conductor Gerald Wheeler. Brian Law succeeded Wheeler in 1965 and gradually increased the choir's membership from its original 16. Laurence Ewashko (baritone, b Winnipeg 1958; B MUS, Ottawa; Diploma, choral conducting, Vienna; Diploma, lied and oratorio, Vienna) succeeded Law in 1988 and upon retirement in 2005 was replaced by Swiss conductor Michael Zaugg. The Cantata Singers' annual concert series has been held at Knox Presbyterian Church, St Matthew's Anglican Church, and Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa.

At the National Arts Centre
In 1969 the Cantata Singers of Ottawa was the first choir to perform with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) at the newly opened National Arts Centre (NAC), performing under the direction of Mario Bernardi in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and Bach's Christmas Oratorio and St John Passion. The choir has subsequently performed each season with the NACO under the batons of Bernardi, Trevor Pinnock, Pinchas Zukerman, and guest conductors Helmuth Rilling, Franz-Paul Decker, Jane Glover, and Sir Michael Tippett. Major performances with the NACO have included, among many others, Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Mozart's Requiem, Berlioz' L'Enfance du Christ, Orff's Carmina Burana, Handel's Theodora, Haydn's The Creation, and a production of Mozart's The Magic Flute with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. In 1998 the choir joined the NACO and Mario Bernardi on Shattered Night, Shivering Stars (SMCD 5190), a CBC recording of the music of Alexina Louie.

Concerts and Tours

The Cantata Singers perform in concert regularly in Ottawa and throughout eastern Ontario, and have collaborated with a number of ensembles including the Ottawa Choral Society, the Tudor Singers of Montreal, the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Canzona Vocal Ensemble, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, Thirteen Strings, the York Winds, the Pierrot Ensemble, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and Opera Lyra Ottawa. The choir has worked with guest conductors Wayne Riddell, Robert Cooper, Lydia Adams, Lisette Canton, and James Caswell, and has engaged several notable guest soloists including Sir Peter Pears, who sang Britten's Saint Nicolas cantata in 1970 and 1977; organist Karl Richter, whom the Cantata Singers brought to Canada in 1977; and Canadian singers Kevin McMillan, Daniel Taylor, and Elizabeth Turnbull. Many of the Cantata Singers' concerts have been broadcast on CBC radio; in 1986 the CBC made a video of its NAC Messiah performance conducted by Trevor Pinnock.

The Cantata Singers have toured both at home and abroad, visiting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1980, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in 1982. Under Ewashko the choir travelled to Manitoba in 1991, represented the City of Ottawa in a cultural exchange with The Hague in 1988, and participated in the 1989 International Choral Festival in Toronto. In 1994 the choir toured Hong Kong and Taiwan; it visited Austria and Hungary in 1998, and Italy in 2001.


In December 1967 the Cantata Singers gave the first Ottawa performance of Britten's A Boy Was Born. The choir has commissioned and premiered several Canadian compositions, including Derek Holman's Four Herrick Songs at the Guelph Spring Festival in 1976, and Steven Gellman's Canticles in 1989. In 1990 the choir was awarded the prize for best performance of a Canadian composition in the CBC National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs, for its performance of R. Murray Schafer's Miniwanka. Under Ewashko, the Cantata Singers explored new Canadian works while expanding their repertoire to include less conventional material from a variety of periods, genres, and cultures.

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