If you'd like to feel good about the future of the Winnipeg arts scene, all you need do is spend an hour with Heidi Ugrin and Luke Nickel.
This dynamic pair, both music students at the University of Manitoba, are the founders and co-curators of a new event that gets underway tonight -- the three-concert Cluster New Music and Integrated Arts Festival.
They personify the apparently never-ending supply of talent and idealism that gives this city its reputation as a cultural capital.
"We're young and we have nothing to lose," says Nickel, 21, who is taking an undergraduate degree with a double major in composition and flute performance.
Adds Ugrin, 25, a pianist and master's student in composition: "We want to push the envelope as much as we can."
The goal of Cluster is to provide a forum for a new generation of art-music composers to explore the intersections between sound, light, dance and architecture, among others
"Multi-disciplinary" is the term their elders would use, but they prefer "integrated," because they like the notion of everything fitting together. Their overall name, "Cluster," connotes a similar meaning.
Ugrin and Nickel are well aware of who and what has gone before them. Both have been regular attendees of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival.
When they were kids, both cut their performance teeth in the Winnipeg Music Festival. Both have already composed chamber operas that have been staged by the U of M's Contemporary Opera Lab program.
Both have gone to numerous concerts staged by Winnipeg's long-running Groundswell new music organization.
In fact, they've been taught by Groundswell principals in their U of M studies, and several of their professors are Cluster participants.
"I couldn't be more supportive," says one of them, Gordon Fitzell, a U of M professor of theory and composition who has been tagged Cluster's guest composer. "They're young, but they have a vision for the future that's quite rich."
They came up with the idea more than two years ago, after they had met in class while Ugrin was still an undergraduate. But they've been working flat out now for almost 18 months.
They've programmed some 30 pieces over the three nights, including a couple of their own.
The three concerts are being presented in three separate venues -- the University of Winnipeg's Eckhardt Gramatté Hall, a visual art studio in the Exchange District and the Park Theatre on Osborne Street. This will provide each show with a very distinct personality.
The music and instrumentation will lean toward the technological, the improvisational and perhaps even the flat-out incomprehensible.
"We're trying to explode the notion of the traditional concert," Nickel says.
They've corralled a talent list of 36 performers and composers, many of them friends and fellow students, a few of whom are flying in from other cities.
They are paying all the talent, not a lot, they admit, but enough as Nickel says, "to show them that we value what they do."
Their overall budget is $10,000. They've raised $6,000 of this, in cash and services, by tapping every business and organization connection they could come up with.
Not a cent of it comes from arts grants. As students, they are ineligible.
They've taken the remaining $4,000 from their own savings accounts, and they're relying on tickets sales to break even.
"It's a small amount of money to lose considering how much we've learned," Nickel says.
Of course, like all first-time promoters, they've had to do everything themselves, from booking the venues and finding the sound and lighting equipment, to printing up the brochures and even supplying the wine and snacks for the after-concert receptions.
"I estimate we've been working 35 hours a week on this," Ugrin says. "That's on top of our studies, our part-time jobs and our relationships."
Adds Nickel: "Our parents are used to us coming home at 11 o'clock at night and having us spend another couple hours on the computer."
They want to emphasize that they do not conceive of Cluster as a one-time happening. They're already programming next year's event, and they're determined to see it enter the constellation of Winnipeg's ongoing arts festivals.
"We're in it for the long haul," Ugrin insists. "We're enthusiastic and optimistic, and we see endless possibilities."
TICKETS for Cluster are $10 per night for students and $15 for adults. Three-night passes are $25 and $40.
They are available at Room 425 of Artspace, 100 Arthur St. and at the Kenaston Wine Market, 1855 Grant Ave., or by phoning 223-9939.
Thursday, 8 p.m.
Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, U of W
A Manitoba night featuring compositions by Orjan Sandred, Michael Matthews, Kevin Curtis and Gordon Fitzell, a light installation by Herb Enns, and a performance by the Harrington/Loewen duo.
Petals, Shadows, Airports
Friday, 8 p.m.
Perrett/Roy Studio, 5th floor, 290 McDermot Ave.
The EP Trio from Montreal explores the latest in performer-electronic interractions.
The Great Divide
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Park Theatre, 698 Osborne St.
Featuring percussionist Gina Ryan, the films and sound of Bryan Besant, and the Cluster Troubadours (with Ingrid Gatin).