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Audience lifted through the seasons

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The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's 2014 New Music Festival Beyond took audiences on a modernistic journey through the seasons before moving toward the pure white light of hope as it wrapped up with its seventh and final program: Richter & Silvestrov.

Friday night's concert led by Alexander Mickelthwate featured two Canadian premières by Max Richter and Valentin Silvestrov, capping off a weeklong celebration of boundary-pushing contemporary music and ideas.

In his Four Seasons Recomposed that premiered in October 2012, British composer Richter dares to tackle Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, dated 1723. He re-imagines the 18th-century master's iconic four violin concerti: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, twisting and bending their melodic material into practically every shape possible while adding his own harmonic underpinning. On record saying he used only 75 per cent of Vivaldi's original thematic material, the piece unfolds as a dreamy, postmodern pastiche of musical loops, phasing and other assorted minimalistic devices.

It's always a joy to see longtime WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig take the spotlight. This Winnipeg treasure -- now notably in her 27th season with the orchestra -- has played in every NMF since its inception. She performed her virtuosic solo part with precision and clarity that also became a showpiece for her commanding artistry.

Certain sections in the crowd-pleasing work stand out. During Winter's slow movement, the violinist performed her languid solo as though a wispy memory, juxtaposed with the orchestra's glassy harmonics that created an otherworldly soundscape. Another section, Summer's finale with its driving "storm," gained new ruggedness with Hoebig digging in hard -- as she did with her fiery runs during Winter's first movement while holding fast to its rapidly shifting rhythms. Her sensitive dialogue with continuo player, principal cellist Yuri Hooker, also displayed these two musicians' real rapport.

The program also included Silvestrov's haunting Requiem for Larissa (2000) composed in memory of his late wife, Larissa, based on the Latin mass for the dead as well as text by Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

The Mennonite Festival Chorus, impeccably prepared by co-directors Rudy Schellenberg and Janet Brenneman, provided a sense of gravitas as they made their own trajectory through the seven-movement work that begins as a cry from the depths in its first Largo, until finally climbing upwards to its stirring finale Allegro moderato. One highlight proved the central fourth movement Largo that grounds this work with the words of Shevchenko's poem The Dream.

Although ostensibly a festival of living composers -- and this year, all male composers -- the NMF would not exist without the musicians who tirelessly learn, rehearse and perform complex scores every night for a week.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 A28

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