Matthew Larkin’s Caelis Academy Ensemble set to make its Ottawa debut

Matthew Larkin

When Matthew Larkin left his post as music director at Christ Church Cathedral, he said he would be moving forward to found a new choir in Ottawa. Well, true to his word, Larkin has done just that and the Caelis Academy Ensemble will debut at Trinity Anglican Church in Ottawa South on Oct. 19 to prove the point. Before the concert, Larkin answered some questions from ARTSFILE while travelling by train to his other, other, day job at St. Thomas’s Church in Toronto.

Q. How did you build Caelis?

A. Caelis is formed of 14 boy sopranos, and six girl sopranos, all of whom I worked with during my time at Christ Church Cathedral (some have moved on from the choir there, while some are still singing at the Cathedral). The 13 adult members of the choir are outstanding professional choristers, some of whom sang with me as kids either at the Cathedral, at St. Matthew’s Church or as adults elsewhere. It’s a group where everyone knows one other well, and it’s a fantastic community of artists.

Q. Why did you build Caelis? There are already a lot of choral groups in town.

A. While not a church choir, per se, we’re a group that is unabashedly working in the centuries’ old “European cathedral tradition” of treble (boy and girl) sopranos, and adult altos, tenors, and basses. The alto section includes three countertenors, notably. We are the only concert choir in the city of this composition, and the only such ensemble that places young people at the centre of the music-making, supported by adult professional singers.

Q. Are you envisioning a full season of concerts eventually? 

A. A full season for sure, though we’re going one event at a time at this point. What we have pencilled in, after next Thursday, is a fundraising concert (on a Proms/Remembrance theme) on the afternoon of Nov. 18 at Trinity Church; an appearance in the Doors Open for Music at Southminster weekly series on Wednesday Dec. 6; an Advent Carol event at Trinity on Dec. 10; Bach’s St. Mark Passion (with Ottawa Baroque Consort) on March 23 (place and time TBA), and a spring concert of modern and impressionistic works on May 25 (time and place TBA). So, lots of stuff, but still some details to work out.

Q. Is the programme for the first concert typical of the kind of music you want to explore?

A. Yes. Sacred masterworks for sure, (as included in next Thursday’s concert) will be our bread and butter, and, although I’m leaning toward the music of the great Baroque masters, we’re going to sing from all historical parts of the literature, before and after.

Q. You are working in Toronto at St. Thomas and commuting from your home in Ottawa. This is an ambitious endeavour … why are you taking it up?

A. I felt a need to change things up, career-wise, and these are the opportunities that presented themselves most vividly. I feel called to all of it, and where I’m called, I go.

Q. You are also in demand as an organ/piano performer? Judging by the times your name pops up on concert lists, it seems successful. Does that suit your schedule? Do you have to be judicious?

Q. A bit, but I don’t think any musician is in a position to pick and choose (at least not entirely). Collaborating with other artists, and with colleagues in other ensembles (or as soloists) is a lot of fun, and it’s how really great relationships are made.

Q. Why does music matter to you Matthew?

A. I can’t imagine my life in any other way, and indeed, music is there for everyone to take hold of, either as a performer or as someone who seeks it out to enjoy (as an audience member). I so enjoy the teaching aspect of it (and most especially with young people), and particularly I live to share my love of this art with others.

Q. You especially like to teach young singers. Why? 

A. The musicians of the future are potentially the young singers of today. I’ve seen how much joy and personal growth come from learning the musical art from a young age. The commitment, discipline, and expressiveness that come with serious music-making are empowering and vital, especially for boys and girls. So often, what a young person can achieve is underestimated. In my experience, they’re very often the most intuitive and generous musicians in the room. With the mentorship our adult singers can offer, the sky’s the limit.

Q. Hopes and dreams?

A. This choir is, I hope, the beginning of something long lasting and lively in our community, offering a high level of musical education and training to the next generation of outstanding choral singers. I encourage music lovers to come and experience it for themselves next Thursday.

Caelis Academy Ensemble
Where: Trinity Anglican Church, 1230 Bank St.
When: Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Adults $25, Students, $10. At the door. For more information click here here.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.