Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

This year, our hearts were on a string

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The end of the year lends itself to reminiscing. So many concerts, so much music!

The year 2011 was another rich musical one in Winnipeg, with a variety of concerts featuring everything from the debut of Vincent Ho's The Shaman, Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra and the incomparable Dame Evelyn Glennie as soloist to a rousing run of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S Pinafore by the local G&S troupe. We really have a tremendous bounty from which to choose and something to suit even the most eclectic musical taste.

I didn't get out to every show, but did attend many that left me feeling wonderfully fulfilled. Here are five that stand out in my mind as 2011's memorable musical moments. They are in order of the level of impression they left on me.

First up -- no contest -- is the International Cello Festival of Canada (ICFC) that ran June 15-19. A combined production of the Agassiz Music Festival and the Winnipeg Cultural Capital of Canada 2010, this huge undertaking paid off big time. Artistic director Paul Marleyn and his Agassiz team attracted 60 cellists from around the world for 14 concerts of glorious music that attracted audience members in droves.

Opening night boasted six world-class cellists: Shauna Rolston, Colin Carr, Desmond Hoebig, Yegor Dyachkov, Yuri Hooker and Paul Marleyn. They serenaded us with music of Haydn, Morlock, Sallinen, and Chan Ka Nin. Smaller daytime concerts were packed to the rafters; organizers dragged extra chairs from anywhere they could find to accommodate the crowds.

The final night culminated with the ICFC Festival Orchestra of Cellists: 50 professional, amateur and student cellists onstage at the Centennial Concert Hall. Local students had the thrill of sharing music stands with the likes of Swiss-born cellist brothers Patrick and Thomas Demenga and Canadian Denise Djokic.

The event's atmosphere was unlike anything I've ever experienced in the city. The enthusiasm and camaraderie of festival-goers was heart-warming and exciting. The entire festival was a fantastic experience for all involved and one can only hope it will return. Once was definitely not enough.

The runner-up memory is the January guest performance of Canadian piano phenom Jan Lisiecki with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. He played Chopin's Concerto No. 1 in E Minor for Piano and Orchestra to a sold-out audience who came to see if everything they'd read about this extraordinary young man was true.

Lisiecki, now 16, dislikes being called a prodigy and when you hear him, it's easy to forget that he's so young. He may look his age, but his poise and polish rival those of any veteran performer. Lisiecki plays with innocence, instinct and freshness that is entirely his own -- a wondrousness that is refreshing. As his fingers blurred to the finish, the audience erupted in an immediate roar, jumping to their feet.

A pair of violin performances comes next. James Ehnes' Tchaikovsky Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) in April earned him three curtain calls and a standing ovation. It's an art to bring something new to an old standard like the Tchaikovsky and Ehnes did not disappoint. Right up until the finale, he made the work crackle with excitement, tackling it with workmanlike assuredness, while still producing glorious expression, musical sensitivity and an ability to make his 1715 "Marsick" Stradivarius sing.

Longtime WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig was at her very best as soloist in March, playing the lyrical Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major. A vision in sparkling sea blue, Hoebig played with palpable joy, as phrase built upon phrase and delicate trills pulsed. The first movement's cadenza was an amazing feat of fluid virtuosity, marked with double stops, tempo changes, lightning-quick runs and thrilling flourishes from Hoebig's gracefully sweeping bow. This was fascinating and triumphant playing. You couldn't ask for more.

No. 5 memory of the year is June 7's Winnipeg Chamber Music Society's Annual Mozart and More! mini-festival. Artistic director David Moroz and ensemble always come up with something unique at this light-hearted festival.

Wolfgang Schröder's entertaining Eine Kleine Lachmusik had the audience in stitches from the start, as violinists Gwen Hoebig and Karl Stobbe, violist Daniel Scholz and cellist Yuri Hooker romped through a comical mish-mash of familiar works. It is important to note that despite wearing tuxedos, Stobbe was barefoot, while Scholz sported red flip-flops. We knew something was up!

They opened with strains of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but before we could settle into the familiar melody, snippets of other composers' works snuck into the movement. The introduction of Beethoven's Fifth came out of nowhere. Foot stamps punctuated the Menuet, containing part of Haydn's Surprise Symphony and even some Liszt. And what comic compilation is complete without Rossini's William Tell Overture? How delightful it was to see the lighter side of these talented players.

A polished performance of Mozart's Quintet in C Major with additional violinist Elation Pauls completed the program.

Now let's look forward to more memorable musical moments in 2012 -- and thank the wonderful players and orchestras for making 2011 a magical year for classical music audiences.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2011 D3

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