The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra took a walk on the wild side as Canadian throat-singing superstar Tanya Tagaq unleashed her powerful vocals for a crowd that just couldn't get enough.
The penultimate concert of the highly acclaimed New Music Festival featured the Nunavut-born singer/visual artist who also appeared earlier during the week. The environmentally friendly program also featured the WSO strings as well as Grammy award-winning contemporary music ensemble, eighth blackbird.
Considered the foremost throat singer in the world, Tagaq's performance simply defies description. She developed her own style of throat singing -- traditionally performed by pairs of singers -- over the past decade and sings with a joyful abandon rarely seen on the Concert Hall stage. Her guttural voice seems to bellow from her depths in a primal display of vocal gymnastics, gasping with rhythmic overtones before soaring to mercurial heights. It's safe to say the new music crowd will not soon forget her.
Canadian composer Derek Charke's 13 Inuit Throat Song Games, composed originally for the Kronos Quartet and re-envisioned for this concert, consists of thirteen evocative slices of Inuit life. Its 13 sections, with suggestive titles like Dogs and Story of a Goose, each flow into the next as one organic entity. The barefooted Tagaq's throaty voice provided both counterpoint as well as rising above the strings like a howling wolf. One only wished that the powerful singer perched precariously on a stool beside the orchestra could have been more visible.
The program also included the North American premiere of New Zealander John Psathas' Abhisheka (Sanskrit for "to pour"). The introspective, eight-minuute work began with muted strings as individual solos performed by the WSO principal players whistled like the wind. This delicately textured work effectively evoked the spirit of Arctic stillness.
Canadian composer Michael Matthews' The Language of Water, originally premiered by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in 2006, also creates its own unique sound world. Composed for 22 independent string parts, the evocative, one-movement piece rose and fell back into its watery depths under WSO maestro Alexander Mickelthwate sensitive direction.