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Orchestra revisits 1972 debut performance

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Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can't Go Home Again, but the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra is doing just that.

In honour of its 40th season, the orchestra is re-creating its first-ever concert, tonight at 7:30 p.m., at Westminster United Church.

It was Oct. 19, 1972, in the auditorium of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, when this staple of Winnipeg's musical community presented its first performance. At the helm was conductor and founder Ruben Gurevich, then a violinist with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and CBC Winnipeg Orchestra. According to MCO managing director Vicki Young, Gurevich started the MCO "as an opportunity to play chamber music repertoire in an intimate setting." The ensemble was then composed of 19 string players.

For this evening's concert, the MCO will be led by former conductor Roy Goodman, who headed the orchestra from 1999 to 2005. The program is almost identical to the inaugural one -- an intriguing concept by MCO planners.

"We started looking back at the works we had commissioned over the years, at guest artists and repertoire and somehow landed up back on the very first concert," said Young. "It looked like a lovely concert and one that we thought Roy might really enjoy conducting."

Selections will include Grieg's lyrical suite, From Holberg's Time, Rossini's Sonata for Strings No. 3 and Canadian composer John Estacios' Such Sweet Sorrow -- the only deviation from the original program.

"It was Roy who suggested substituting Such Sweet Sorrow for a piece by Weinzweig because he commissioned and conducted the première of Estacio's piece and we have played it several times over the years," Young explains.

Renowned Winnipeg soprano Tracy Dahl says she is thrilled to be part of this MCO season. She is performing Benjamin Britten's song cycle, Les Illuminations, based on the writings of 19th-century author Arthur Rimbaud (tenor Arthur Janzen was soloist in the 1972 concert). This is Dahl's first time singing the work and she calls it "a great adventure in learning." She hasn't sung any Britten pieces in many years.

"Britten wants the voice to be an instrument," Dahl says of the nine-movement work. "In one of the pieces (Marine), you feel like you are soaring above the ocean. There is the effect of the choppiness of the water -- and every now and then it flows. You feel like you are on a wave... there is lots of imagery."

Les Illuminations presents challenges for the veteran singer. "I am really enjoying it, but some of it is devilishly hard," she admits. "It's not particularly high; some of it is very low. It's all for effect... some of the orchestral writing is just exquisite."

Dahl also said there is "tons of solo violin," for concertmaster Karl Stobbe to delve into.

MCO principal oboist Caitlin Broms-Jacobs is the other soloist. She'll play Vivaldi's Oboe Concerto in A minor, RV 463, but it may not be the one performed by Douglas Bairstow in the first season. "Vivaldi wrote three oboe concerti in A minor," Broms-Jacobs says. "The first program didn't specify which one."

Nonetheless, she is enthusiastic about the work, which she'd never heard before. "It's not commonly played," she says. "The first and last movements are exciting. They go by quickly and are a blur of virtuosic-sounding playing. They're not in the normal form of standard baroque music, but are always changing.

'Like mist over a Venetian canal'

"Vivaldi should be played with fire and intensity. The second movement, by contrast, is completely tranquil, like mist over a Venetian canal."

If this sounds poetic, it is very much a reflection of the sensitive musicality of Broms-Jacobs' playing. At 29, she is well aware that the MCO's first concert occurred before she was born. "It was a significant concert," she says. "I would have loved to have heard it." She considers it a great honour to be part of this celebratory performance.

"To be asked to play a concerto at any time is a thrill," she says. "Playing with the MCO is so inspirational. After just the first few bars I always say to myself, 'This is why I play the oboe.'"

Adding to the festivities, the MCO will announce its 2013-2014 season tonight. The lineup looks as stellar as always, with return visits from young Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, who has been burning up the international concert trail since his last visit to the MCO stage, virtuoso French horn player Jamie Somerville, incredible soprano Suzie Leblanc (also here May 14 with countertenor Daniel Taylor), and pianist extraordinaire Marc-André Hamelin playing Mozart.

Tickets for tonight's 40th anniversary concert are $26.50/adults, $24.50/seniors and $7.50/students, available at McNally Robinson Booksellers or at the door.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2013 D3

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