Finally, what we've been waiting for: the return of the concert season.
Outdoor summer concerts are lovely and light, but nothing quite matches the solidity, acoustics and comfort of an event held in a traditional concert venue. Give me a padded concert hall seat anytime to cosy up in for a few pleasant hours of listening.
Here are my picks of the best concerts this fall. These are presentations with something special -- a top-notch guest artist, a cool theme, exceptional repertoire or some other quality that makes it worth the ticket price. Listed chronologically:
Next Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 p.m., marvellous Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian returns to the Westminster United Church stage with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (MCO). This is an artist who makes a lasting impression on you, with her voluptuous voice, palpable and highly communicative expression and arresting stage presence. I still remember her mesmerizing performance in 2011 and can't wait to see and hear her again.
Bayrakdarian will sing Greek songs, Deux Mélodies Hébraïques by Ravel and four songs in Armenian by Sayat-Nova. The orchestra recently completed recording these and other works with Bayrakdarian at Winnipeg's St. John's Cathedral. It's quite a coup for the MCO as this soprano superstar's CDs are big sellers far and wide. Tickets are $26, $24.50/seniors and $7.50/students at www.themco.ca or 783-7377.
Get ready to shake your booty at Centennial Concert Hall the weekend of Sept. 28-30 as The Contours come to town to perform in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) pops series show Celebrating 50 Years of Motown. Expect many blasts from the past with this stylish group, perhaps best known for their catchy 1962 hit, Do You Love Me reprised in the hit movie Dirty Dancing. This, and songs by The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and The Miracles are planned for each show. They do all that kitschy choreography, too. You can feel the beat already. Tickets range from $23.75-$92 at www.wso.ca or 949-3999.
I first heard violinist Yehonatan Berick in a solo recital in Ottawa in 2011 at the Music & Beyond Chamber Music Festival where he played Bach solo partitas completely from memory. The venue was old St. Barnabas Church -- not air conditioned on a humid 35C July day. The audience was crammed in shoulder to shoulder and Berick, although visibly perspiring, kept his cool and treated us to a sensitive, crisp and vibrant reading of some of Bach's most inspired works. He played here in the Agassiz Chamber Music Festival a few years ago and I would jump at the chance to hear him again.
Berick will be here with his ensemble, the MYR Piano Trio, with pianist Minsoo Sohn and cellist Rachel Mercer on Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. with Virtuosi Concerts. Works by Schubert and Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff are on the program. Tickets (adult/senior/$33, student/$15, high school/$5) available at 786-9000 or www.virtuosi.mb.ca
If you're looking for a heaping helping of joy, it's hard to beat a performance of a Bach cantata. Canzona, the Winnipeg baroque choir, is offering up the jubilant #80 - Eine Fest Burg at their Oct. 28 concert, along with Zelenka's uplifting Missa Votiva at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church at 7 p.m. I have yet to be disappointed at a Canzona concert, and this is due in great part to the longtime expert musical direction and unflagging dedication of Henry Engbrecht. His capable colleague, Elroy Friesen will conduct this concert and MusikBarock will provide orchestral backup. Contact www.canzonachoir.com for ticket information.
It's not often a big name like Canadian tenor Ben Heppner comes to Winnipeg. He will be here to present a gala recital with the WSO on Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. Recognized worldwide for his dramatic sensibility in opera and in concert, Heppner has a warm voice that envelops you without overwhelming. A true Canadian touch! Repertoire is not yet available but this is an undeniable opportunity to see one of the greats in person. Tickets are $35 and $49, $20 for WSO Masterworks subscribers.
You probably won't find singers who enjoy their role more than the choristers of the Rainbow Harmony Project (RHP). At their Thank You for the Music concert in 2011, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as they sang and shimmied their way through seven ABBA hits, Connie Kaldor's Wood River and the hysterical Some of My Best Friends are Straight. On Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m., RHP, comprised of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people who love to sing will present their annual Many Gifts concert at Knox United Church. Music will include sacred and secular Christmas music as well as other seasonal repertoire. You can be assured that the group will put their special touch on this event. Artistic director Vic Hooper will conduct. Tickets are $15 and available at The Happy Cooker, Rainbow Resource Centre, McNally Robinson Booksellers or at the door.
See you at the concerts!