In Winnipeg, you know it's spring when special musical offerings start to bloom throughout the city. This year is especially prolific with the upcoming International Cello Festival, he Winnipeg Chamber Music Society's Mozart and More! mini-festival (with its final concert tonight) and two more exceptional offerings that are very affordable.
Starting Tuesday, June 14, are the free weekly lunchtime concerts known as Music at the Millennium. The name is derived from the venue, the stately Millennium Centre at 389 Main St. (near McDermot Ave.)
Every Tuesday at noon until Aug. 9 inclusive, local musicians will serenade you in the high-ceilinged marble hall of the building. There is no admission charge. We have Winnipeg philanthropists and music devotees Bill and Shirley Loewen to thank for the series.
"I had put some money toward the renovation of the Millennium Centre," Bill Loewen said in a telephone interview. "There was some left over and we decided to use it for that purpose."
The centre, once a Canadian Bank of Commerce branch, reopened in all its splendour in 2002. Its live acoustics lend themselves particularly well to solo instrument performances. "The music sounds a little different than in most locations," said Loewen.
"Bill is a true music lover -- and that's rare," said artistic director Richard Turner, principal harpist in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO). "He also has great wisdom."
Turner is likely referring to the fact that it was Loewen who originally suggested the idea of the series after hearing some concerts at the centre. "Music works very well there," Loewen said. But he leaves the artistic decisions to Turner. "Richard looks after that very, very well," he said.
The lineup for the midday concerts is a who's who list of Winnipeg's best, starting with WSO and Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (MCO) principal cellist Yuri Hooker playing some of the best repertoire ever composed for the instrument by Benjamin Britten and J.S. Bach. Last year, WSO assistant principal cellist Rafael Hoekman (who is heading this fall for greener pastures with the Calgary Philharmonic) gave a memorably inspiring performance of a Bach solo suite, followed by a delightful duet by Popper with his cellist wife Meran Currie-Roberts.
June 21 features longtime WSO principal flute Jan Kocman with his partner, the talented oboist Caitlin Broms-Jacobs. MCO concertmaster Karl Stobbe continues his sojourn through the Ysaye sonatas and Alan Harrington returns, playing bassoon and saxophone.
"The level of artistry speaks volumes about our community," said Turner. "And audiences get to hear instruments they wouldn't often hear as soloist." Case in point: the July 26 concert featuring bass trombonist Julia McIntyre. Turner himself will close out the series, playing with flutist Laura MacDougall. He's keeping the repertoire close to his chest, but revealed that John Denver's romantic Annie's Song will be on the program.
Each concert lasts approximately 50 minutes and sandwiches and drinks are available for purchase, but you're invited to bring along your own lunch if you prefer. It's a very pleasant way to spend a noon hour and the price is certainly right.
Put on your best chapeau and head over to the Midsummer Organ Fête at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, at St. John's Anglican Cathedral, 135 Anderson Ave. The Royal Canadian College of Organists is staging its own royal wedding tribute to the newly wed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
"Organists and Friends at the Wedding" treats listeners to performances by eight organists from across the city. They will be joined by five of their musical friends playing a variety of instruments, all to give Kate and Wills "a noble (if a little belated) nod."
This annual event does something new every year and it's always lots of fun. My mother-in-law and I enjoyed it two years ago when we were bused across the city to various churches to hear and learn about many different organs in Winnipeg.
Last year, my father-in-law joined us as we walked from one nearby church to another for two mini-concerts and a delightful feast of fruit, wine, cheese and crackers. The music was exhilarating and the atmosphere was highly convivial.
This year's tribute to the royal couple is a stroke of genius, which I am confident the group will pull off with their usual panache. And they promise a "sumptuous wine and cheese reception" after the music. You really can't go wrong!
Tickets are $15 at the door or can be reserved by calling 888-2627. Student tickets are $5. All proceeds support the RCCO's scholarship program, used to subsidize organ lessons for students.