Christmas is Bach
An original 2022 story sponsored by Early Music Vancouver
When internationally acclaimed soprano Suzie LeBlanc arrives at Early Music Vancouver’s (EMV) much-anticipated Christmastime concert at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts this December, she won't be preparing to sing.
Instead, the Artistic and Executive Director of EMV (and Order of Canada recipient) will be joining the audience to immerse herself in the show, a soul-stirring holiday tradition for many locals. But as Festive Cantatas: J.S. Bach Magnificat & Cantata BWV 110 unfolds on the stage, the New Brunswick-born LeBlanc might also cast her mind back to a quite different concert in 1984.
“It was my first professional gig and it was actually with EMV,” says LeBlanc, a passionate early music advocate whose illustrious career has included countless concerts, dozens of albums and her momentous 2021 appointment as EMV’s new leader––only the third holder of the role and also the first-ever woman in the institution’s 52-year history.
“I feel like my career started with EMV, so it’s a real honour to be back here in this position,” she says, adding that she thoroughly enjoys being ‘on the other side of the stage’ in her new role––and bringing performers and musicians she loves and admires to appreciative audiences.
Part of her EMV mission, LeBlanc adds, is to broaden that audience––and Festive Cantatas is the perfect instrument for that. “These December concerts [at both the Chan and West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Arts Centre] are so uplifting for everyone. They’re about bringing friends, family and the community together. And to me, that’s what Christmas is all about as well.”
LeBlanc in full performance mode
This year’s programme––with Vancouver’s revered Pacific Baroque Orchestra joined by a cast of celebrated singers––pairs Bach’s famous Magnificat Yuletide composition with Cantata 110, which he wrote for Christmas 1725 when he was director of the boys’ choir at St. Thomas church in Leipzig. A role he held for 27 years, Bach’s job was to prepare the music for local churches and city functions.
“This music wasn’t seen as highbrow in the 18th century. It was actually composed for the masses,” explains LeBlanc, adding that these EMV concerts are a great way to hear Bach’s music as he intended. Using period performance techniques plus antique and reproduction instruments––including natural trumpets and baroque oboes––EMV skilfully replicates the way these pieces sounded when they were originally written.
For LeBlanc, anyone with even a passing interest in music will enjoy the uniqueness of this approach. “Even if you think you’re not a classical music person, come for the curiosity of hearing these instruments. They can do funny and unexpected things, which brings a little danger and spontaneity to the room and makes the performances a little edgy and exciting.”
As for EMV’s future, LeBlanc has lots of great plans. She’s keen to programme Indigenous performances––she’s a committed advocate of Acadian music, for example––and is also transforming the organization’s 2023 festival into a tribute to women writers, performers and composers. These initiatives aim to attract fresh audiences, while also delighting EMV devotees who have been attending shows like Festive Cantatas for many years.
“We always want to touch people,” says LeBlanc. “And Festive Cantatas is so joyful and transportive that it lifts your spirits, stirs your soul and takes you away from whatever problems you might have. You won't be the same person after the concert as you were before––and that’s always a good thing!”
Early Music Vancouver’s Festive Cantatas: J.S. Bach Magnificat & Cantata BWV 110 will be performed at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Arts Centre on December 17 (7:30pm) and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver on December 18 (3pm). It will also be available as a digital concert from December 22. For more information, visit the official website or click on the advert above.