With Cortland Hultberg having happily traded conducting for gardening, we welcomed our new conductor, Ramona Luengen, with excitement and anticipation. Her reputation as an amazing source of leading edge repertoire and fantastic programming was evident as soon as we gathered at Whistler in August for our fall retreat. Staying for two days at the Tantalus Lodge provided time for sight reading, bonding over shared meals, and a tiny bit of partying. We also celebrated the release of our newest CD titled “O Kosmos” which was Cort’s last recording with us. The press called it a “joyful, upbeat and bright series of works” and “eclectic repertoire for a mix to keep listeners’ fingers off the shuffle button”.
There was another hugely exciting development on the horizon…and it almost didn’t happen. A letter from Copenhagen languished all summer in a pile of other pay-your-own-way invitations to choral festivals and competitions. When it was finally opened as the new season started, we realized that this was a bona fide invitation to be the choir in residence for the Copenhagen Choral Festival in October 1996! Were we too late? Stuart Tarbuck fired off a fax and we waited and waited to get a reply. (Boy, how email has changed the world!) We were to discover that this invitation came as a result of the organizer of the festival having been in the audience of our concert at the World Symposium on Choral Music, back in August 1993! (That was the infamous concert where Cortland was unable to conduct because he had hurt his back so Stuart had stepped up to conduct the concert from within the choir.)
Meanwhile it was time to share our new conductor with our audience. Our first concert with Ramona Luengen was titled “Try to Remember” and contained works to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Ramona was warmly received by our loyal audience members at the reception that followed. By December we knew that Copenhagen was still on, but had very little information about it. More faxes were sent! We went on to perform our traditional Christmas concert at Shaughnessy Heights and hired Miles Ramsay for the first of many times to be our special guest storyteller. We finished the Christmas season by singing on the CBC’s Early Edition show. In January we prepared for the upcoming CBC Choral Competition at our retreat, and recorded our pieces in February. In April we performed our spring concert titled “All in a Name” and received a glowing review. We could announce with confidence that our trip to Copenhagen in October was going ahead, and plans were firming up. The evening was capped with a Hawaiian themed party hosted by David Cousins.
Two events took place in May. First was a benefit concert to establish a fund for the Rae Fetherstonhaugh Music Scholarship. The second was a brand new experience…we were to be in a movie! In fact, if you visit the Theatre in the Sky on the top of Grouse Mountain today, you can still see Phoenix singing Fix Me Jesus, in full choir robes, as part of a high definition B.C. travel film produced by KCTS/9. HDTV had just been introduced to North America, and this film was very leading edge!
In June, the results for the CBC Choral Competition were announced and we received second prize in the Contemporary category and $2000 in prize money. Our final activity of the year was fulfilling our obligation as a silent auction prize! On July 13, a group of us performed at Hycroft Manor for a 50th wedding anniversary. It would only be a number of weeks until we would meet again to start our next season!
In 1995/1996 Phoenix was…
Deborah Mehes (Gibson)
Brian (Hoot) Gibson
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