New chef in charge of musical menu at Edmonton’s Pro Coro

EDMONTON - The position of artistic director at Pro Coro Canada was finally announced Friday night, and the winner is: Michael Zaugg.

The sixth person to hold the job since the choir was founded in 1980, the Montreal-based Zaugg beat out some fairly stiff competition in San Francisco’s Magen Solomon and Yale Russian Chorus conductor Mark Bailey to replace Richard Sparks, who left last year for a position at the University of North Texas.

Since moving to Canada in 2005, the Swiss-born Zaugg has been artistic director of the St. Lawrence Choir in Montreal as well as the Cantata Singers of Ottawa. He founded the Montreal Choral Institute, an organization dedicated to choral education, and has worked as guest chorusmaster of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

Back home in Europe he appeared with the Danish National Youth Choir, the Academic Chamber Choir of Ljubljana in Slovenia and was chorusmaster of the Swiss oratorio choir regioChor for five years.

Zaugg was also the first Swiss conductor accepted to the postgraduate diploma for professional choir conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Zaugg is something of an admitted epicurean who likes to create gourmet meals for his family when not travelling between his many jobs.

The Journal asked him a few questions about food, music and working with singers.

“What I find interesting when comparing music to making a meal,” Zaugg said, “is the idea of wanting to make sure there’s a taste ofeverything on the menu, not just all sweet or salty or only one kind of condiment.

“I’m trying to present something so that each listener is satisfied; they don’t have to eat everything, but in the end they’ll feel satisfied.”

Q: Your first program in November, when you were applying for the position, showed something of this attitude toward food and music.

A: “Yes; in those terms I was looking for colours, the smell or taste of a meal, how the wine was presented. Arranging is a big part of this as well; it’s all transferable to music.”

Q: Is it exciting for you to connect with singers in a choir for the very first time?

A: “It’s very exciting to really get in depth with them, yes. I started to know them a bit a few months ago, but now I’ll have time to get to know each one’s skills. They’re all great singers, but somebody may have a taste for pop, or someone may love jazz; another may like world music. I’ll be able to see their individual strengths. I think of it as a big mixing board, like you see in the studio. I start adjusting each one so that I can create a good overall sound.”

Q: You seem to be very attuned to the potential needs of your choir.

A: “People can be attracted to music on various levels, be it intellectual, spiritual or emotional. There are many points of approach, but one thing that’s important is to create possibilities for the singers to shine. I’m a singer myself (he toured with the Swiss Chamber Choir, the Chamber Choir of Europe, the World Chamber Choir and the Stockholm Chamber Choir), and I think about what feels good for the voice; that’s where the choir and I definitely understand each other.”

Q: Have you started to think about long-term plans with the choir?

A: “When I came back after the concert in November I thought about a three- to five-year plan. In terms of repertoire there’s so much I want to do. Some I won’t be able to do because I need a 60- to 70-voice choir, and for that I have the Montreal choir, but there is other music that I can use with a specialized group like Pro Coro. There’s a full library I can now do because of this job.”

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© Michael Zaugg 2019