Ian Juby and KCS: Inspired to Innovate and Collaborate
Written by Geoff Hendry
Ian Juby leans on the bar in an upstairs lounge at The Public House. It’s late on a December evening, and the Kingston Choral Society, for which he is the artistic director, has just completed a rousing, sold-out performance of Handel's Messiah. While relieved choristers and Orchestra Kingston members unwind over wine and nachos, Juby is already onto his next musical challenge.
“For about two years, I’ve been thinking of how I can bring together a traditional choir with a jazz player or combo,” says the affable Juby. “I’m not interested in jazzing up Vivaldi or any other masters, but I want to explore how jazz rhythms can produce unexpected results in contemporary choral music.”
That’s exactly what’s on offer at “All Together Different,” the Kingston Choral Society’s next big concert on Sunday, May 5 at The Spire. Joining KCS will be Montreal-based pianist Marianne Trudel (recipient of the Prix Étoiles Galaxie de Radio-Canada at the Montréal Jazz Festival) and popular Kingston saxophonist Jonathan “Bunny” Stewart. Rounding out the concert will be the inaugural performance of a piece composed by Trudel and commissioned by KCS for piano, saxophone and a 100-voice choir.
After more than 60 years, the Kingston Choral Society continues to occupy a special place on the city’s music scene. The 100-member, mixed-voice chorus is composed of enthusiastic volunteers who qualify by audition. The material isn’t always easy to sing, but, thanks to Juby and Co., it’s compelling, expertly sung, and accessible to both classical music aficionados and those of us who know more Beyonce than Bach.
Once under the purview of the Kingston Symphony (with whom it still performs), KCS struck out on its own as an independent organization in 2014. With this change came the usual challenges facing arts organizations in small cities, but also the freedom to program its own concerts, take some artistic risks, and work with guest musicians not usually associated with choral music.
The appreciation is mutual among KCS’s local collaborators. “I think that any time you can bring somewhat disparate elements of the cultural community together for a performance or presentation it serves to unite those elements,” suggests Stewart. “Not just for the performers, but for audiences as well.”
Stewart is thrilled to be playing with the choir, pianist Clare Miller, and frequent collaborator Trudel. “Many of my greatest experiences have come while performing with Marianne.” He has also transcribed a composition by the late jazz composer/bassist Charlie Haden in which the instrumental parts will be sung by the choir with his accompaniment. “Voices provide a very different texture than I am used to,” admits Stewart. “But I have always loved the vocal quality of the saxophone, and I think they blend well together.”
While KCS remains committed to the classics, performing new works by Canadian composers like Trudel and B.C. musician Don McDonald, is an important element to the choir’s programming philosophy. “The music they are creating is stunning and they deserve an audience,” Juby declares.
For most choirs, orchestras, theatre troupes and ballet companies, striking the balance between familiar and innovative is an art in and of itself. Fortunately for Kingston audiences, Ian Juby and the Kingston Choral Society have it down to a science.
To learn more about the Kingston Choral Society, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.kingstonchoralsociety.ca