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Smaller musical groups offer big performances

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Alexandre da Costa will appear as part of this season�s Vituosi Concerts� series.

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Supplied Photo Alexandre da Costa will appear as part of this season�s Vituosi Concerts� series.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is heading to Carnegie Hall in the spring of 2014. This is a marvellous opportunity for the organization, now in its 66th season. With a program of all-Canadian music, they will represent our city well.

Two other well-established and well-publicized arts groups, Manitoba Opera and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, have audience-enticing 2013-2014 seasons with name guest artists.

But if you limit yourself to the "big three," you'll be missing out on some exceptional performances by some smaller, but by no means lesser, musical groups.

Case in point, an absolutely stellar recital I attended this past Sunday. It was the opening concert of the Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg's 109th season and they kicked it off in style with Ottawa pianist David Jalbert in a spellbinding performance of Bach's inimitable Goldberg Variations.

Jalbert charmed the audience with very informative and amusing opening remarks about the origin of the work and its form, often referring with wry humour to the great difficulty of the piece (even suggesting he was going to down a bottle of scotch backstage before getting started).

You knew from his playing this was a labour of love and that years of work had gone on behind the scenes. His concentration and dedication to the music was palpable and the execution inspiring. Jalbert illustrated the changing moods of the variations with seamless transitions, his lightning-quick fingers in one variation turning to gentle stroking, sensitively ornamented.

All of us in the audience knew we were hearing something special.

And there are many more of these lesser-known opportunities out there if you keep an eye out for them. Unfortunately, most of these smaller organizations can't afford to take out full-page ads about their offerings, nor do they have the staff to constantly promote their performances. You can usually find brochures and posters advertising upcoming concerts at McNally Robinson Booksellers and many of them are listed on

In the meantime, here are a few shows I am particularly looking forward to that I didn't have room to mention in my picks of the season.

Canzona, our local Baroque choir, is going all-Bach this season. Why not go with a sure thing? On Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. they will be joined by MusikBarock Ensemble for a performance of the glorious Mass in B minor. The challenging St. Matthew Passion is on the program for their April 13 concert. Both are held in the musically ideal venue of Westminster United Church.

These will be the final performances led by founding conductor and artistic director Henry Engbrecht, so a bit of history is being made as well. Engbrecht has helped shape Manitoba's famed choral landscape and the final concerts before his retirement will be emotional for many.

I have always been impressed with the programs put together by Virtuosi Concerts over the years. Their Saturday night events feature soloists and chamber groups hand-picked by musically astute artistic director Harry Strub. He assembles a great mix of established artists and up-an-coming musicians, all top quality.

The eye-catching cover photo on their brochure is of Canadian violinist Alexandre da Costa, whose passionate playing has made him popular around the world. He will perform on March 8 with regular colleague, multiple award-winning pianist Wonny Song. Their program at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall in the University of Winnipeg is entitled Aimez-Vous Brahms?. (Remember the classic gut-wrenching movie of the same name with Ingrid Bergman, Yves Montand and Anthony Perkins?) It includes all three of Brahms' Sonatas for Violin and Piano, never before played in Winnipeg in their entirety.

And if having the hair on your arms stand on end signals an exciting experience, you'll certainly get it at the Westminster Concert Organ Series (WCOS) season opener on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. I know you're thinking, "Organ? Are you serious?" Yes, I am. There is nothing like the sound, sight (sit in the balcony) and feel of the organ. It resonates through your body and watching the organist juggle multiple keyboards and the pedalboard with his feet is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The WCOS has managed to snag an organ superstar for this performance: Jean-Baptiste Robin, the organist at the Royal Chapel of Versailles Palace in Paris. His program has some familiar pieces, including Bizet's Entr'Acte from Carmen, Debussy's Prelude l'après-midi d'un faune, as well as some Romanian folk dances by Bartok and Liszt's Prelude and Fugue on Bach.

These are just a few of the hidden treasures that add that special touch to Winnipeg's music scene. If you look for them, they'll be there. Enjoy!

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2013 D5

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