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School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design

Catherine Robbin celebration concert March 1

One of Canada’s best known mezzo-sopranos and Director of York's classical vocal studios performs in the Faculty Concert Series before her retirement later this year

February 20, 2018

Catherine Robbin celebration concert March 1

Catherine Robbin is joined by soprano Vania Chan (BFA ’08) and mezzo soprano Lillian Brooks (BFA ’15) along with collaborative pianists, Susan Black and Doreen Uren Simmons for a special edition of the Faculty Concert Series on March 1 in the Tribute Community Recital Hall. They perform works by Handel, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler along with French duets, Canadian contemporary songs, and English songs to celebrate Robbin’s university career in advance of her retirement in July of 2018.

One of Canada’s best known mezzo-sopranos, Robbin established an international reputation from her debut year in 1972, performing with leading conductors throughout the world. Her illustrious thirty-year performing career included performances and recordings with conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Trevor Pinnock, Christopher Hogwood, Bernard Labadie, John Nelson, Andrew Davis and many others in concert halls from Rome to Tokyo. She performed and recorded a wide range of vocal music but is particularly noted for her interpretations of Baroque and Romantic repertoire in oratorio, opera and recital.

In 2003, Robbin retired from a performing career, giving her farewell concert at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto with Tafelmusik. Since then she has been the director of classical vocal studies in the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design.

When Robbin decided to give one final recital at York, she immediately decided to share it with former students, soprano Vania Chan (pictured above in the left photo, front row, second from the left)  and mezzo soprano Lillian Brooks (pictured above in the central photo).

“Vania was one of my earlier graduates, who always excelled both academically and in the studio,” Robbin said. “She has a sparkling voice and an intellect to match. She’s gone on to a masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music and is currently doing doctoral studies in vocal pedagogy back at York’s Department of Music where I am her supervisor. She is also a very busy performer on the Toronto scene, particularly in contemporary music. The second singer I chose was Lillian Brooks, whose mezzo soprano voice immediately called to me from her first audition. The warmth of her voice matches the depth of her communicative powers. After graduating from York cum laude, she won a full scholarship to the Glenn Gould School where she continued to excel. So the three of us will share the program and will sing duets and a trio as well as our solo groups. Sharing the stage with them will be tremendously gratifying.”

Robbin is also pleased they will be joined on stage by collaborative pianists Susan Black, who also teaches at York and her long time accompanist and friend Doreen Uren Simmons (pictured above).

“I have been privileged to work with so many talented and passionate young singers over these 18 years at York and I enjoy keeping in touch with them,” Robbin said. “Their paths have taken them in many different directions, both geographically and professionally. Most of them are still in music, whether teaching, performing,  or both. I’m so proud of them as individuals and as a group. One of the things I was always proudest of, whenever I took a group of voice students to competitions outside of the university was the way that they supported one another. It was often noticed and remarked on by others.”

Throughout her time at York, Robbin put her performance network to use, arranging numerous masterclasses for her students with singers of note including opera star Ben Heppner (pictured above).

Robbin’s students have won numerous awards and have gone on to graduate studies at many Canadian, American and European universities. She is often called upon to adjudicate and to give masterclasses at universities across Canada and for young artists’ intensive programs. She is an honorary patron of The Toronto Children’s Chorus, The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto and Pax Christi Chorale as well as the president of the Art Song Foundation of Canada, an organization which provides financial support to Canadian singers and collaborative pianists who have been accepted into art song programs anywhere in the world. She is also the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including a Juno Award, a Grand Prix du Disque and a Grammy nomination. In 2011, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

July 2018 marks the end of her academic career as she takes a second retirement. She is excited to have more time and adventures with her husband Eugene McEleney (pictured above). “Together we have five children and six grandchildren and we look forward to having more opportunity to spend time with all of them, as well as to do some more world travels,” Robbin said. “I visited so many places as a performer where I only saw backstage of a theatre, a hotel room and an airport. I promised myself I’d go back one day and explore properly.” Robbin also has a passion for painting with watercolours and plans to devote more of her time to exploring that side of her creativity.

York University Faculty Concert Series: Catherine Robbin and Friends

Admission: $15 | $10 for students & seniors.

Box Office: Purchase tickets online or phone 416-736-5888

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