Basilica concert showcases European classical music filtered through 200 years of Inuit tradition

Europe meets Labrador in a performance Saturday night at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

Lady Cove women's choir performs, joined by Newman Sound Men's Choir, NSO and Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds

Classically trained Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds rehearses ahead of Saturday night's concert at the Basilica of St. John's the Baptist. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Europe meets Labrador in a performance Saturday night at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

Makkipok! Labrador Inuit Music for Passiontide and Easter features classical music brought to Labrador by German missionaries more than two centuries ago. Memorial University School of Music professor emeritus Tom Gordon was shown a cache of original handwritten scores from churches in Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik in 2003 — music by Mozart, Haydn and Bach.

"There were these absolutely priceless manuscripts, some of them 200 years old. I couldn't believe it," he said. "Over the course of 200 years, in the voices of Inuit singers, at the hands of Inuit organists, this music has been turned into something that's really much more an expression of Inuit cultural values than it is of European."

The concert will showcase the Lady Cove Women's Choir, joined by the Newman Sound Men's Choir, the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra Sinfonia and soprano Deantha Edmunds.

'Life-changing' experience with music

Edmunds, a classically trained Inuk soprano, told CBC that her first time performing Inuktitut versions of classical music was "life-changing."

"Hopedale is where my father grew up, and so when we did the tour of the Labrador coast, to release the CD Pillorikput Inuit: Inuktitut Arias for All Seasons, we performed in Hopedale first, and they had what's known as a 'love feast,' actually, at the Moravian church, this beautiful, beautiful, bright humble church," she said.

"And with Tom [Gordon] playing the organ, and my singing, these wonderful arias in Inuktitut, especially the one from the Messiah, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, in Inuktitut, it's always been one of my favourite arias, and to sing it in Inuktituit, in Hopedale, in the church where my father grew up as a young boy, it took my breath away."

The concert starts at 8 p.m., with tickets — $35 adults, $30 students and seniors — available at the St. John's Arts & Culture Centre box office.