Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 01/31/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 01/31/2014 8:10 AM | Updates
WINNIPEG Symphony Orchestra's 2014 New Music Festival Beyond made good on its promise to push music to the limit, with one of its most thought-provoking concerts in recent years.
Wednesday night's program, Unholy Noise, led by Alexander Mickelthwate, featured four works by three composers -- two of whom could not be more different.
When the conductor provides what could only be described as a warning while introducing a work, you know you're in for an adventure. Mickelthwate advised the crowd of 635 that absolutely "nothing is going to happen" during the North American première of American composer Glenn Branca's Symphony No. 11 (1998). He was right -- mostly.
The 40-minute work is a meandering, rootless symphonic beast without any clear form, structure, dynamic contrast, harmonic design or forward thrust. By dividing the musicians into three sub-groups, Branca creates "interpenetrating fields," la Charles Ives, where walls of indistinguishable sounds meld and lurch.
This might seem one of those wildly indulgent pieces where you secretly count off the minutes until the final measure -- or simply pack up and leave, as some did that night.
Many audience members appeared dazed, bewildered, numbed or just plain bored.
Others giggled with nerves, while still others leaned forward in utter engagement.
However, by rocking the status quo, Branca pushes his listeners -- hard -- to examine their own expectations and deep response to music and, by extension, art.
Not much happening onstage? Actually, a lot went on during this surprisingly daring, conceptual piece that was awarded a standing ovation. Kudos to Mickelthwate and his musicians for their conviction and stamina in pulling it off.
The program also featured the world première of Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson's Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-Five, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the arrival of Icelandic settlers in Manitoba, and the birth of the province's Icelandic Festival.
New Music Festival fans will remember hearing the Reykjavik-based composer's Dreamland during the 2012 festival. His latest work, co-commissioned by the Icelandic Festival and Winnipeg's consul general of Iceland, Hj°lmar Hannesson, is similarly epic in scale, as a haunting tribute to the settlers from his homeland.
Sigurðsson's atmospheric, textural score creates a sense of place, with muted trumpets evoking foghorns and shimmering, closely woven strings depicting the barren landscape. Horn players blowing air through their instruments effectively suggested windstorms across sea ice.
The one-movement piece's only weakness proved to be its barely audible live electronics, generated by the composer. Still, it's one you'd like to hear again; it rings with organic truth deriving from ancestral bonds between composer and content. It also received a standing ovation.
Frank Zappa's The Perfect Stranger, once conducted by Pierre Boulez on the American maverick's 1984 album of the same name, opened the program.
Another Branca work, the Canadian première of Free Form, recalled the minimalism of trailblazing pioneer composers John Adams and Steve Reich.
The NMF has naturally evolved throughout its 23-year history. This program -- and especially Branca's piece -- recalled the festival's glory days, when greater artistic risks were taken, and audiences were pushed beyond their own expectations of what art is, and can be.
The NMF wraps up tonight with Richter & Silvestrov: Beyond at the Centennial Concert Hall, 8 p.m.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2014 D3
Updated on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 8:10 AM CST: Corrects spelling of Sigurðsson
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Ryan Adams headlines Oct. 12 in Winnipeg
George Harrison tree killed by beetles in L.A.
Piano Man Billy Joel to get Gershwin Prize
Review: Kitten's debut album is synth heaven
'Trouble in Paradise' among new CD releases
Ryan Adams in town Oct. 12
'The Black Market' top album on iTunes in Canada
Canuck singer Mendes breaks through on charts
Molly Rankin fiddling with pop formula
Twain to wrap Las Vegas residency in December
Ex-'X Factor' judge trial nixed over lying claims
Ex-Destiny's Child member arrested in SC
New alcohol charge against John Mellencamp's son
'Weird Al' on his weirdly successful week in music
B.C. music festival death prompts security concern
Fred Eaglesmith, Fast Romantics, coming to town
Court blocks cremation of Kasem's remains
Feel-bad hits of the summer
Weird Al Yankovic achieves comeback, again
Trent Reznor contemplates the future, the road
'The Black Market' tops HMV Canada CD sales chart
Lady A moving at jetliner's pace in life, studio
Dirty Daddy: Bob Saget comes clean in new memoir
Radio host Alan Cross hired back by Edge 102
Beyonce leads MTV Video Music Awards with 8 nods
Blues legend Johnny Winter dies at 70 in Zurich
WSO's sweet music makes balance sheet sing
Celine Dion says husband doing well
Ron Howard to direct Beatles documentary
Best of Brazilian music coming to New York
Jason Mraz to tour 5 New York boroughs in Sept.
Brett Kissel leads CCMA Award noms with eight
Docu-reality series follows musicians' gridiron gig