Flin Flon Community Choir

Flin Flon Community Choir performs Handel's Messiah in New York City (Crystal Banting)

The invitation to perform at New York's Lincoln Centre came absolutely out of the blue. Crystal Kolt, the Flin Flon Community Choir's musical director, says she was cooking dinner for her family when she received the phone call.

On December 1 the choir will perform Handel's Messiah as part of the Distinguished Concerts International New York City (DCINY) Concert Series.

Dr. Jonathan Griffith, artistic director and principal conductor of DCINY, said in a statement that the northern Manitoba choir was chosen "because of the quality and the exceedingly high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers. These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community."

The Flin Flon choir will share the stage with choirs from Singapore, Shanghai, Australia, Canada and New York. They will perform a beefed-up Messiah re-orchestrated for massive choir and orchestra in 1959 by Thomas Beecham and Eugene Goossens .

This concert has even been named by BBC Magazine as the number one Christmas event in North America this year.

Kolt points out that last year's performance of this work received a rave review in the New York Times. "I think New York loves the 'go big or go home' approach with this edition," she said. "I think they like that big choir surround-sound, the big orchestra. And particularly with Messiah I think they really enjoy that global community."

Crystal Kolt

Crystal Kolt has been preparing the Flin Flon Community Choir to perform Handel's Messiah (Julian Kolt)

Kolt says this initiative presents an educational and development opportunity for them. The choir pays a performance fee to cover some of the costs and had to do some serious fundraising for the travel. 

"It becomes a financial coup for them and a great opportunity for us. And the community in New York really enjoys it and so I think it just has an overall big draw for that reason."

52 choir members will be travelling from Flin Flon. They have also invited other alumni and friends from different cities to join them, including former Flin Flon resident Jennifer Hanson, now living in Atlanta, Georgia. That presented some challenges when it came to rehearsal, but the choir received technological help from the University of Winnipeg and its Cisco lab to help connect musicians from different cities using cameras and the internet so they could rehearse together in real time. 

The singers are looking forward to meeting the choir from Singapore with whom they have been paired up. They have each been learning each other's music which they are excited to share.

Kolt says she is also looking forward to re-connecting with the Whitney family in New York. It was philanthropist, businessman and arts supporter Cornelius Vanderbilt ("Sonny") Whitney, who founded the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Limited and built the Whitney Forum Ice Skating Rink in Flin Flon. "This will be the final thread of a beautiful circle," she said.

Kolt says the choir is very ready for this performance. "We've been working on it really hard for a year and we're excited about meeting people and we're just chomping at the bit to get there and hear what that first rehearsal is going to be like."

This is not the first time the Flin Flon choir has performed in New York City. In 2002 they performed at Carnegie Hall.

The choir does not shy away from large-scale projects. Over the years they have performed the music of Mahler and Beethoven with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and premiered two musicals, Bombertown and Three Brides for Kasos, both composed by Mark Kolt. 

The Flin Flon Community Choir performs Handel's Messiah at Lincoln Centre's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City on Dec. 1.