Faster than you can say snake eyes, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is betting music lovers will ante up and throng to its newest concert series, Thursday Night Classics at Club Regent Casino.
The three-show lineup, sponsored by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, kicks off Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Transcona gaming venue’s 23,000-square-foot Event Centre, with subsequent concerts, including a fourth, special Mother’s Day add-on program performed through early July.
"The whole idea is to play these lighter, ‘Top 40’ classics that we usually don’t have a chance to perform during our regular pops or masterworks series," WSO maestro Alexander Mickelthwate, who leads Thursday night’s opener, says of the new lineup.
The first concert, Down the Danube, features works by Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and others, toe-tapping waltzes and polkas as well as Wagner’s stirring Ride of the Valkyries.
"We have some really beautiful pieces programmed, including the first movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, and even Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony with audience participation," the German-born conductor enthuses. "I might even ask someone to conduct."
The WSO players have long proven their chops as adaptable musicians, taking the show on the road to a variety of halls, churches, school gymnasiums across the province as well as Assiniboine Park, The Forks, Pan Am Pool and even the Hudson’s Bay downtown store basement last month during the 2017 Winnipeg New Music Festival. They’ve also supported several pop acts at the casino since 2014. This time, the orchestra takes centre stage with its own dedicated program.
"It’s the WSO everywhere program," executive director Trudy Schroeder jokes of the one-year pilot project during an interview.
"We do know that orchestras these days have to be so adaptable and connect with audiences with different kinds of offerings. It’s an experiment for us and is a new way of reaching out to the community."
The June 1 program titled Bolero! showcases music of the jazz era, including Leonard Bernstein’s Candide overture, Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, the Gershwins’ Girl Crazy, Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, and a nod to Hollywood film composer John Williams with his stellar theme to the film Star Wars.
Mediterranean Romance is on July 6 and includes passionate works by Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, as well as excerpts from Georges Bizet’s fiery Carmen. The series’ sole matinee, its Mother’s Day show planned for May 14, features kinder, gentler offerings from J.S. Bach to Haydn, as well as Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Mickelthwate will share conducting duties with WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano, with the latter taking the podium for the last two shows.
The WSO’s venture also includes a few more notable differences. Each show will be performed up close and personal, with the audience members situated around the orchestra musicians on the main floor, creating a unique, all-immersive experience. There’s even cabaret seating available to further enhance the informal, easy-breezy vibe.
"This more intimate seating arrangement is actually a big factor," Mickelthwate says. "When we’ve had donors sitting right onstage (at the Centennial Concert Hall) with us before, they were literally blown away. It’s such a completely different experience because of the volume and emotional intensity of the music. I think people will be really surprised by the impact."
And, not least of all, food, pop and alcoholic beverages will be offered, thematically matched to each night’s program. For example, music fans can munch on ginormous pretzels or swill beer for the first German concert or tipple on sangria for the final, Spanish-flavoured show.
"This new series is ideal for people who love classical music but who might not necessarily be ready for a Bruckner or Mahler symphony," Schroeder replies when asked what kind of audience the organization is hoping to attract. "They want the symphonic sound, but in a slightly more accessible format," she adds. "We’re very excited about these concerts and think it’s really an amazing venue to enjoy your classical favourites."
For series passes, $86, individual tickets ($36 to $66), Mother’s Day add-on tickets ($36 to $66) or further information, call the WSO box office at 204-949-3999 or visit wso.ca.