Pro Coro artistic director applauds Edmonton music community

By Mark Morris


10231982

EDMONTON - It was party time on Tuesday evening for Pro Coro, as Edmonton’s premier professional choir — and one of Canada’s finest — officially welcomed their new artistic director, Swiss-born Michael Zaugg.

Zaugg brings a wealth of experience and a passion for choral singing and for music of all eras. He worked with many of the major European choirs before moving to Canada in 2004 to direct choirs in Quebec and Ontario.

He has been conducting Pro Coro for two years now, commuting from Quebec, and leading a peripatetic life, like so many conductors. However, earlier this year he took the major step of moving to Edmonton with his wife (who spent some years talent scouting for Cirque du Soleil) and his two daughters.

I got the chance to talk with the enthusiastic Zaugg in the musical surroundings of 3bd Sound, Edmonton’s newest audio store (Zaugg is a high-end audio aficionado).

Q: How has the move gone?

A: Everybody is settled. The little one is in daycare, my other daughter in kindergarten, and my wife started a new job last Monday. We first moved from Switzerland to Sweden in a van, then two years later moved to Montreal with a container. So this is not the first time, but it is nevertheless a big undertaking.

Q: Apart from the draw of the choir, what else made you want to move here?

A: Every time we visited as a family, we felt welcomed by the community of musicians, by the community of families, by Edmonton in general. We have lots in common with people who sing in the choir, we have kids of the same age, we are of the same age. We never found this in Montreal. As an anglophone, you were in a small community. Here we are in a city.

Q: One of the strengths of the Edmonton arts scene is the choral singing, though surprisingly little celebrated by the city compared with the other arts. How have you found it?

A: There is always the attitude that choral singing is something amateurs do, whereas symphony orchestras are professional — you have to study for that. It’s difficult to bridge that gap, and there are very few professional choirs in Canada. In Edmonton, there is the Anglican choral tradition but you also have the influence of a mixture of cultures. Another strength is that Edmonton has the most established training program for choral conductors at the University of Alberta.

Q: One of the things Pro Coro has succeeded in doing is contemporary music. Edmonton is not traditionally a market for new music. How do you get away with it?

A: (laughs): There’s true and tried ways — you play a known work, and before you play that, you put in a new piece. My strategy with contemporary music is to introduce pieces in writing, and in performance, with the composers themselves if they can be there. Then there has to be an appeal for everyone.

Q: Do you think audiences admire the vocal skills that so many new choral works demand, whereas they don’t think about that in a symphony orchestra?

A: I think audiences compare, when it’s the human voice. They hear a soprano sing a high note, and think “I can sing, but I can’t do that,” whereas there is no similar relationship with a violinist playing a violin. Also, I believe that with a choir, even one of 36, just the vibration and the sound pressure is much more perceptible for humans than the sound of an orchestra.

Q: Pro Coro has a strong international reputation.

A: I am happy to say so. We have worked on it for two years, and it has skyrocketed. We have, for example, performed works that only some specialized European choirs have performed, so we are doing the kind of stuff that is internationally acknowledged. In return, and from recordings we send out, and from YouTube, we get recognized, and get requests from Europe, but also from the States.

Q: What’s next?

A: We’re heading to B.C. and the northern territories next May, and in 2015-16, our 35th anniversary, there’s a program with a Calgary choir. Then the biannual Conference of Cchoral Conductors will be in Edmonton in 2016, and we’ll be part of that, and we’re looking to going back out east, to Quebec and Ontario, and a European tour in fall 2016.

Q: How’s the family finding Edmonton?

A: This was the first summer we spent here. We love it. We’re in Riverdale, in the city centre but close to the trails. We love that we can go biking, even to the farmers’ market. The other aspect is that I have been commuting for two years — I was gone three weeks out of every five. Now I get home for bedtime, which is great.


        

© Copyright (c) Mark Morris, The Edmonton Jour

© Michael Zaugg 2017