The feeling in the Bella Concert Hall was distinctly festive last Sunday as the Festival Chorus hosted The Vancouver Chamber Choir in a choral event that celebrated both the approaching retirement of Jon Washburn as conductor of the Vancouver Chamber Choir and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Calgary’s Festival Chorus.Founded in 1959 by Gerald Bales and John Searchfield to celebrate the anniversary of Handel’s death (1759) and the birth of Henry Purcell (1659), the event was initially a one-off that turned into Calgary’s longest-standing oratorio choir. It was the Festival Chorus under John Searchfield that gave Calgary its first live performances of Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as a host of other major choral works.For a time during the late 1970s, the Festival Chorus was the CPO’s choral ensemble, giving annual performances of Messiah as well as other works. Following John Searchfield’s retirement from the chorus, Bryan Trevor led the ensemble before the present leadership by Mel Kirby (also of Calgary Opera), who has continued the chorus’s traditions and also expanded the chorus’s repertoire into the realm of world music.For this gala event, Festival Chorus expanded its reach, not only by inviting the Vancouver Chamber Choir, but by including alumni singers from the Chorus (and others) in an event that was entitled “Let the People Sing.” Some 30 choristers joined the chorus to prepare two choral works that also included the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the massed group being conducted by Washburn.The concert opened with the first half performed by the Vancouver Chamber Choir. No stranger to Calgary audiences, the Vancouver choir was a major factor in drawing the large audience that attended the Bella Concert Hall, an excellent venue for such an event. Making its 92nd tour in 48 years, the last with Washburn as conductor, the choir presented its most performed and most enjoyed works as presented over this long span of time.To no surprise, this included the music of J.S. Bach, on this occasion the motet Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden. The 20 members of the choir gave a delicate, nuanced account of this joyous motet, the tempo quite quick, something that asked for much vocal agility on the part of the choristers. But practice does tend to make perfect, and with the background the choir has in this music, all the many choral pitfalls were easily surmounted.But still better things followed, notably the Trois Chanson de Charles d’Orleans by Debussy, a marvel of subtle textures and refinement, as well as a superb rendition of Benjamin Britten’s challenging Hymn to St. Cecelia. For me, as performance, there were the two best items on the concert.The first half concluded with R. Murray Shafter’s The Garden of Bells, now a staple of the modern Canadian choral literature and Washburn’s own attractive arrangements of four spirituals — both delivered with the authority and verve that has become the choir’s trademark.On its own, The Festival Chorus revisited 1959 with two choruses from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, as well a selection of favourites by modern Canadian composers. These included Healey’s Willan’s Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One and Ruth Watson Henderson’s clever Les Raftsmen. In these items, it was good to have the sterling voice of Oliver Munar in the tenor solos.The massed group with the extra singers presented two well-known choral items from the modern repertoire: Morten Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium and the cheeky Laudamus Te from Francis Poulenc’s Gloria. Having the professional singers in the performance greatly helped the tuning and the bass support to these highly enjoyable works.And to conclude the afternoon, The Festival Chorus and The Vancouver Chamber Choir offered a medley of Stephen Foster songs arranged and conducted by Washburn, all sung with sentiment or verve as the music needed. Colleen Arthparia was a redoubtable supporting pianist for the entire concert, delivering crisply performed accompaniments with her customary polish and high technical command.Given the amount of applause, one might have hoped for an encore — it was certainly asked for — but the program was full length as it was. The event clearly took a tremendous amount of organization, but everything worked seamlessly — a fitting tribute to two fine ensembles and equally fine conductors, without whose tireless energy and enthusiasm none of this could happen.