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Definitely ready for Carnegie Hall stint

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In two simple words, the title of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's final Masterworks concert encapsulated the driving focus of its entire 2013/14 season: Carnegie Hall.

After seemingly endless months of anticipation, the WSO unveiled its auspicious, all-Canadian contemporary program Friday night it will perform next week at the Spring for Music (S4M) festival being held at New York City's Carnegie Hall. The 66-year-old orchestra was chosen from a competitive field of 33 North American orchestras to play at the four-year-old -- and final -- festival that runs May 5-10.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra




Carnegie Hall


Centennial Concert Hall


Attendance: 1,086


(Four and a half stars out of five)



The first of the three works led by Alexander Mickelthwate, Symphony No. 1 in C minor is by Canada's senior statesman composer, R. Murray Schafer, originally premièred in March 2011 by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Schafer has written a postmodern ode to the symphonic form, with its three episodic movements unfolding as a kaleidoscopic soundscape of both sound and texture.

Very Vigorously is taut with tension, filled with dramatic gesture and insistent interpolations by the various instrumental sections.

A rising oboe solo is followed by a flute; whiffs of winds rise like smoke from the solemn depths. Schafer has built a career on conceptual, environmentally influenced works; his first and only symphony is a masterful, abstract expression of the wider orchestral palette.

The second movement, Mysteriously is the most introspective of the three. Its low strings that begin the section are punctuated by bass-drum strikes. Whistling effects by the orchestra members resonate as a ghostly choir.

The third movement, Fast and Furious is just that, featuring muted brass, bursts of rapid-fire runs contrasted by a sauntering solo trumpet.

Derek Charke's Thirteen Inuit Throat Song Games, premièred by the WSO in 2010, is a playful, brilliantly conceived melting pot of classical and indigenous forces featuring acclaimed Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq.

The shorter work structured as 13 sections with titles including Sound of Water and Story of a Goose flows seamlessly, alternating between earthy folksy tunes and pure guttural utterances with the barefoot Tagaq adding her own growling, raspy counterpoint.

Charke has also imagined an entire spectrum of extended string techniques that emulate the otherworldly sounds of these age-old vocal games, called Katajjak. This is a significant Canadian work that should be performed on the Carnegie program; one note, however, is that the amplified Tagaq could -- and should -- have been louder to further increase her presence.

The program closes with Vincent Ho's barnburner The Shaman: Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, composed especially for internationally renowned Scottish percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie in 2010 and the resounding hit of the WSO's New Music Festival in January 2011.

After an atmospheric opening signalled by delicate finger cymbals, Glennie -- as a modern-day shaman -- invokes the spirits with rattles, shakers and cymbals during the first movement Ritual that steadily grows in intensity.

The powerhouse performer also coaxed with the contemplative Fantasia -- Nostalgia that ultimately leads to Interlude: Conjuring the Spirits.

Fire Dance is an explosive tour de force with dramatic sweeps of orchestral colour becoming a canvas for Glennie's dazzling virtuosity. As expected, her performance earned a rousing standing ovation with cries of bravo.

There was even an encore -- the only choice for a program destined for the Big Apple -- Leonard Bernstein.

Bravo to the WSO and all its guest artists as they take the show on the road next week to Carnegie Hall.

The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 B5

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