Elora Festival Singers

The Elora Festival Singers is a 25-voice professional chamber choir based in Elora, Ontario. Founded in 1980 by conductors Michael Purves-Smith and Noel Edison in conjunction with the Elora Festival (begun in 1979), it was originally known as the Three Centuries Festival Choir but was renamed, along with the festival, in 1989. The ensemble was initially formed as the festival’s choir-in-residence, performing for three weeks a year under Purves-Smith from 1979 to 1982, and under Edison beginning in 1982. Since that time, the choir has far exceeded its role as a seasonal ensemble, and has come to be regarded as one of the finest professional choirs in Canada. Since 1997, the Elora Festival Singers has also formed the nucleus of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers, both of which Edison conducted until being placed on a leave of absence in March 2018 due to sexual misconduct allegations.

Repertoire and Recordings

The Elora Festival Singers is known for its eclectic approach to choral music. While the majority of its recordings and concert music comprise traditional repertoire (Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Purcell, and Vaughn Williams), it has recorded several albums featuring the music of contemporary composer Arvo Pärt and two albums of folk music. It has commissioned new compositions from such Canadian composers as John Beckwith, Glenn Buhr, Leonard Enns, Srul Irving Glick, Gary Kulesha, Imant Raminsh, Eric Robertson, and Timothy Sullivan.

The Elora Festival Singers has recorded more than 20 albums with the Naxos label, including The Mystery of Christmas (1997), which received a Juno Award nomination for Best Classical Album: Vocal or Choral Performance, and I Saw Eternity (2012), which earned a Juno nomination for Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral. Eric Whitacre: Choral Music (2010) was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance and received rave reviews, with the choir being praised by the Classical Review for its “fluent, smoothly blended sound, well suited to Whitacre’s expansive phrases and shimmering harmonies.”

Concerts and Touring

The choir presents approximately eight concerts during the Elora Festival, in addition to its own series of eight to ten concerts held between October and May at Elora’s St. John’s Church, or, for larger-scale works, at the Church of Our Lady. It has collaborated with a number of ensembles, including the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and the David Warrack Jazz Ensemble (for a performance of Dave Brubeck’s jazz oratorio Light in the Wilderness: An Oratorio for Today). The choir’s 25th anniversary season (2004–05) opened with an ambitious performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Poulenc’s Gloria with the Elora Festival Orchestra.

The Elora Festival Singers has toured throughout North America and Europe. The first tour, in 1991, covered Ontario, eastern Canada and northern New York, and included the choir’s New York City debut. In addition, the choir has made appearances at such prestigious venues as the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Der Musikverein in Vienna.

Administration and Funding

Since 2005, the Elora Festival and the Elora Festival Singers have been administered as one body. In addition to regular support from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, in 2001 the choir was awarded a three-year Trillium Foundation grant for its “Singers in School” youth workshop and concert series.

Sexual Misconduct Allegations

In March 2018, amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, Noel Edison was placed on a “personal leave of absence” from his roles with both the Elora Festival Singers and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir after several allegations of sexual misconduct were brought to the attention of the boards of both organizations. A third-party group was hired to investigate the allegations against Edison, which CBC News reported “were brought forth by a number of male complainants and are said to have occurred over a number of years.” Following the investigation into the allegations, Edison was fired from his roles with the Elora Festival and the Elora Festival Singers on 21 April 2018. He resigned from his position with the Mendelssohn Choir on 25 April. 

Selected Discography

  • A Celebration of Song. 1995. (Independent label)
  • The Mystery of Christmas. 1998. Naxos 8554179
  • Gabriel's Message - One Thousand Years of Carols. 1999. Naxos 8554723
  • Vaughan Williams. Mass in G minor/ Motets. 2001. Naxos 8554826
  • Pärt. Berliner Messe/ Magnificat/ Summa. 2004. Naxos 8557299
  • Willan. In the Heavenly Kingdom. 2006. Naxos 8557734
  • Pärt. Music for Unaccompanied Choir. 2006. Naxos 8570239
  • Lauridsen. Choral Works. 2007. Naxos 8559304
  • Whitacre. Choral Music. 2010. Naxos 8559667
  • Wachner. Complete Choral Music Vol.1. 2010. Naxos 8559607
  • I Saw Eternity. 2012. Naxos 8572812
  • Patrick Hawes. Revelation. 2017. Naxos 8573720

Further Reading

  • Scott, Dick. "Talented Elora choir helps launch KWS Baroque Series," Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 29 Sep 1988

    "Durham concert association presents Elora Festival Singers," Oshawa This Week, 11 Jan 1991

    "Elora Festival Singers offering four concerts in series this year," The Elora Sentinel, 10 Oct 1995

    Cavanagh, Sheila. "Elora Festival Singers to perform four concerts during 1995-96 season," Fergus/Elora News Express, 11 Oct 1995

    Finch-Durichen, Pauline. "Choir faces artistic challenge," Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 11 Mar 1997

    Currie, Harry. "Elora Singers wrap season at River Run," Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 5 May 2000

    Volmers, Eric. "Renaissance composer highlights first show," Guelph Mercury, 12 Oct 2002

    Perlman, David. "Two of Ontario's best: Turning twenty-five," The WholeNote, Jun 1-Jul 7, 2004

    Crew, Robert. "Grand designs for Elora Festival's silver year," Toronto Star, 8 Jul 2004

    So, Joseph. "Elora Festival making sweet music at 25," La Scena Musicale, Jun 2004