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Artist-run collective provides night of serenity in weeklong fest

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The hottest party in town continued as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival took music lovers to Iceland's outposts with its fifth concert in its weeklong series, Icelandia.

Wednesday night's program featured composers from the Bedroom Community, an Icelandic artist-run collective created by Valgeir Sigur�sson, Nico Muhly and Ben Frost in 2006. The three founding members were later joined by Sam Amidon, Danel Bjarnason and Puzzle Muteson with three of the collective's members present at this year's festival.

In every storm -- or yes, even every new music festival -- there is an eye of pure serenity. This year's moment came with the Canadian première of Credo by composer/keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson. Performed by Winnipeg's Prairie Voices, impeccably prepared by Vic Pankratz, with the WSO Strings, the spellbinding work bathed the ear with aching beauty that recalled past NMF performances of the great Estonian composer Arvo Part's music several years back.

Sveinsson's expressive music had one overlapping phrase building to the next. Its a cappella sections laced throughout the sinuous work were particularly stirring as were many of its ethereal solos and duets eventually leading to an exultant coda. The clearly moved audience of 1,246 leapt to their feet with a rousing standing ovation including heartfelt cries of bravo.

However, Muhly's optimistically titled So Far So Good, co-commissioned by the WSO and Seattle Symphony Orchestra did not fare as well. The New York-based opera composer stated he had purposefully set out to create a non-narrative piece. True, this abstract, one-movement work began with dramatic promise but then splintered into halting fragments of jagged horn and percussion licks juxtaposed with the strings. Its kaleidoscopic nature with constantly shifting timbres felt restless without ever building to a clear resolution; even non-narrative works need a through-line to resonate.

Bjarnason's Bow to String: For Cello and Orchestra welcomed spectacular cellist Shauna Rolston once more to the stage, heard during Monday night's performance of Vincent Ho's City Suites. The three-movement piece, described by the composer as "crazy to quiet" is just that -- and more. The intensely focused opener, Sorrow Conquers Happiness practically buried Rolston with the orchestra attacking their own instruments as vigorously as the soloist.

The NMF continues tonight with acclaimed dance troupe La La La Human Steps at the Centennial Concert Hall, 7:30 pm.


Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival


Centennial Concert Hall

Wednesday, Feb. 1

Attendance: 1,246

(four stars out of five)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2012 C4

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