Every New Year brings with its fresh new beginnings, and this month also marks the next chapter in the life of this column as I proudly assume the byline of Music Matters.
I would like to, however, first acknowledge my predecessor and writing colleague of 10 years, Gwenda Nemerofsky, whose sensitive insights and thoughtful commentary filled this space until her untimely death in November. Over the past decade, Gwenda and I were not only staunch allies, but also became good friends. I know how much pleasure she took from writing this column every two weeks and look forward to continuing in her footsteps. Gwenda was also a consummate professional who deeply loved music -- often stating this is what helped sustain her throughout her two-year illness. I was privileged to witness this first-hand, sitting with her and her husband David at Westminster United Church during Canzona's recent performance of J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor -- and her last concert review. The image of her steadfastly jotting down notes despite her obvious physical discomfort, frequently closing her eyes to allow the choir's soaring voices to sweep over her has become a cherished memory.
And fittingly, the Mass's final movement Dona nobis pacem -- give us peace -- became its own perfect, profound benediction to her musical and writing career.
As another calendar year begins -- and the concert season roars on -- there is still a plethora of fine concerts from which to choose. Here are my own top 10 picks, in no particular order:
Local music fans will be able to bid a fond farewell to the world renowned Hilliard Ensemble before they retire for good in December. The sublime 40-year old male vocal quartet performs Arvo P§rt's Litany and Tesla in New York composed by Jim Jarmusch and Phil Kline during the first two nights of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival: Beyond. The contemporary music fête runs Jan. 25-31 at the Centennial Concert Hall, Pantages Playhouse Theatre and Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. NMF passes (which range from $59-$99) and individual tickets are available through the WSO box office, 204-949-3999 (www.wso.ca), and Ticketmaster, 1-855-985-ARTS (ticketmaster.ca).
Also retiring this year, Canzona's founding artistic director/conductor Henry Engbrecht prepares to lay down his baton after helming the Baroque choir for 25 years. The popular ensemble joins forces with the Winnipeg Boys' Choir and Musicbarock Ensemble in J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion at Westminster United Church, April 13. Note the earlier start time: 6 p.m. Tickets are $12 to $25 at McNally Robinson Booksellers.
If you can't get to the Big Apple in May, the WSO offers a sneak peek at its innovative program that earned it a coveted spot during the Spring for Music festival at New York City's Carnegie Hall. The two shows, aptly titled Carnegie Hall and slated for May 2 and 3 at the Centennial Concert Hall, showcase Scottish percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq in an evening of quintessentially Canadian works.
Marc-André Hamelin, the Canadian classical pianist with a rock-star following, wraps up Manitoba Chamber Orchestra's 2013-14 season with Mozart's Piano Concerto, No. 17, in G Major, K. 453 at Westminster United Church, May 28. Tickets are $8 to $28 at McNally Robinson, the West End Cultural Centre, Organic Planet and MCO Ticketline, 204-783-7377.
The Winnipeg Guitar Music Society whisks six-string lovers to the sunny climes of Spain and Greece courtesy of Duo Melis. Husband-and-wife team Susana Prieto and Alexis Muzurakis perform Feb. 27 at the Planetarium Auditorium with tickets ranging from $20 to $30 at 204-667-5250 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weep, Sing and Sigh -- that's actually the name of the show -- as Virtuosi Concerts presents Russian pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff performing Chopin's Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise, Op. 22, and a trio of Rachmaninoff's Preludes Op. 23, Jan. 25 at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, University of Winnipeg. Tickets are available at 204-786-9000.
Camerata Nova presents the renowned early music ensemble Les Voix Humaines in Perchance to Dreame, featuring music by Purcell, Henry and Willian Lawes, Christopher Simpson and John Jenkins on Feb. 4 at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Tickets are $10 to $20 at cameratanova.com.
Summer in the city means festivals are in full swing. The Winnipeg Chamber Music Society's annual Music and More! is always a treat with this year's two concerts, June 3 and 5 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, featuring Mozart's String Quartet in D major, K575. Tickets are $10 to $25 at the WSO box office. For more information go to wcms.mb.ca.
Every three years the Agassiz Chamber Music Festival celebrates all things cello with its International Cello Festival of Canada. This year's offering, held at various locales from June 18 to 22, features an impressive array of international artists including Winnipeg's Yuri Hooker and Minna Rose Chung. For more details, see agassizfestival.com.
Groundswell also teams up with Icelandic festival núna (now) to present music from the country composed over the past 50 years, April 28, at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall. Ether/Aura: The Sounds of Iceland includes Åskell M°sson's memorable Prim for solo snare drum -- one of Dame Evelyn Glennie's favourites. Tickets are $13.50 to $24.50 at 204-943-5770 and McNally Robinson.
So there you have it, folks -- just a quick taste of all the bountiful riches to come. Enjoy the music and I'll see you in two weeks.