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Lions Gate Sinfonia returns with intimate spin on the traditional requiem

Whether a connoisseur of classical or simply a lover of music, Requiem appeals to all, says founder Clyde Mitchell
The Lions Gate Sinfonia will deliver a piece written by their Composer-in-Residence, Christopher Tyler Nickel, at the West Vancouver United Church. | Christopher Tyler Nickel

They might have been on the brink of collapse last year, but you wouldn’t know it witnessing the effervescence of the Lions Gate Sinfonia.

Currently preparing a comeback concert, the North Shore orchestra is set to prove they're returning with a bang.

At the West Vancouver United Church on March 2 the Sinfonia will deliver Composer-in-Residence Christopher Tyler Nickel’s Requiem, a setting of the traditional Latin Requiem. The piece will be given its world premiere performed alongside the Vancouver Chamber Choir and led by soprano soloist Catherine Redding, in a show that coincides with its album release.

The concert represents one of the most ambitious undertakings for the Lions Gate Sinfonia, said Clyde Mitchell, the group's music director, founder, and conductor.

“This is the first time I’ll be presenting a requiem by a living composer, which will be fun to bring to the audience,” he said.

Often music lovers “don’t want to hear anything other than Mozart and Vivaldi, or Beethoven,” and so presenting new works by a contemporary composer to classical connoisseurs can be tricky, said Mitchell. In this case, however, there are no concerns over how the audience will respond — Nickel’s case appeals to all manner of tastes.

“I don’t want people to be intimidated by the term Requiem. Chris’ music, it’s pretty. It’s listenable. It’s tonable. It’s definitely contemporary, but it is so interesting and enjoyable, not to just the educated musician, but to everyone,” said Mitchell.

“You don’t have to have studied at Juliard or the Vienna School of Music to understand and enjoy Chris’ music.”

Being a text that has been set by so many famous composers it is certainly one that classical music enthusiasts will be familiar with, said Nickel, yet it will still be unique in comparison to previous performances.

“This one is different from the others. I see it as a very intimate setting of this text, it’s a very dramatic text. It is a mass for the dead, and there’s a lot of drama to that,” he said.

“It’s very melodic, very soulful and, being in the West Van United Church, it’s a very intimate setting in that way, too.”

Nickel said the concert feels “extra special” given the turbulent times experienced by the North Shore group. Not only are they at the centre of an industry that never quite recovered from the pandemic, but they were also facing their own, more personal challenges just last year, he said.

The 23-year-old orchestra had been on the verge of leaving the local arts scene for good after a lack of funds almost let to its demise, but a number of grants from the North Shore Arts Council and the West Vancouver Foundation — alongside a shuffle of the Lions Gate Sinfonia Board of Directors — ensured the show could go on.

“We are so grateful for our lovely, very generous granting agencies, alongside the incredibly loyal subscribers and audience members who buy their tickets,” said Mitchell.

“And, as a thank you, I can promise that we’re going to give that audience a real show. A beautiful concert and unique musical event that will leave them with a warmth at the end.”

Visit the Lions Gate Sinfonia's webpage for concert tickets and more information. 

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.