It was only day two of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival (NMF) but it's already clear musical innovation, inspiration and creativity are alive and well in 2013. The all-North American program included two world premières, an award-winning work and an established piece.
American composer Michael Gordon's 1992 work, Romeo started the night off with a bang, its vigorous nature and driving rhythms punctuated by brass bringing to mind a busy big city downtown street during rush hour.
Conductor Alexander Mickelthwate ably directed traffic. We were on the edge of our seats.
Edmontonian Daniel Belland was the winner of this year's Canadian Music Centre's Emerging Composer Competition. His work, Voyage, conducted by Richard Lee was at once spirited and lively. Its light-heartedness showed a unique style, using the orchestra to its best advantage.
Belland, who was in attendance, received whistles of approval from the audience.
Local composer Jim Hiscott's two-movement Corsican chant-inspired Cantu had its moments. Hiscott described his visit to Corsica where he witnessed Granitula, an annual Good Friday event in which the medieval confraternities form a procession.
The introduction was pensive, with tight harmonies in the strings, but then the work meandered unpredictably and it was difficult to keep listeners' interest. Surging brass, well-played woodwind solos and the meditative sections were highlights.
Hiscott saved the best for last, though.
In the final part of the movement, Chant Spiral, the music came to life in a display of direction and purpose with swooping brass and hearty timpani. This could have happened sooner.
The second movement, Montagne et Ciel, featured fluid writing for woodwinds and heartfelt solos from principals Gwen Hoebig on violin, Dan Scholz on viola and Yuri Hooker on cello.
Excitement built gradually and overall, the musical ideas were clearer.
Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis' Redemption Cycle is a cycle of five works based on the theme of humanity's spiritual fall and redemption. The WSO commissioned and premièred Book 3 in honour of Hatzis' 60th birthday.
The first movement, Dreams of Power (Joseph in Egypt), began as dark and brooding, blossoming into a complex mélange of dramatic orchestration.
At times, it was full-bodied and mysterious, then suddenly effects came from every nook and cranny of the orchestra. It was substantial, while at the same time, sparkling and magical.
A little country peeked out from Exodus (Joshua), before it became raucously uninhibited with plenty of percussion and piano thrown in for good measure. Bird calls and wind whooshed through.
Violist Scholz dug into his feisty solo and musicians yelled, "Hah!" as the movement drew to a frenzied end.
Crying seagulls opened The Psalmist (Asaph), which featured an ultra-sultry English horn solo playing the leitmotif that continued on oboe before being picked up by the orchestra.
This captivating work is one you will want to hear again and again.
The NMF continues nightly through Saturday.