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Music

WSO season opener reflects CMHR's debut

Guest pianist again brings inspiring performance

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/9/2014 (1001 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 67th season by giving voice -- literally -- to the throngs celebrating the recent opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Friday night's season-opening Masterworks concert led by Alexander Mickelthwate featured Moscow-born guest pianist Natasha Paremski performing George Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F.

Alexander Mickelthwate with his WSO.

KEITH LEVIT PHOTOGRAPHY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Alexander Mickelthwate with his WSO.

Back by popular demand, the New York City-based spitfire dazzled audiences back in September 2012 with her interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23. This time around, the 26-year-old pulled off another jaw-dropping feat: managing to create her own lingua franca by integrating Russian temperament with the exuberance of American jazz.

Gershwin's piano concerto -- notably his only work in this genre -- premièred in 1925 at New York City's mythical Carnegie Hall with the composer at the keyboard. Seeing the WSO players reprising their red accent colours -- shoes, scarves, and ties -- worn during their performance at that same venue during the Spring 4 Music festival created an effective visual segue to this brand-new season.

After the orchestra's strangely subdued beginning, Paremski re-infused the stage with energy, utterly riveting her listeners by the time she reached the top of her opening glissando. She attacked the first movement Allegro with verve, unafraid to let her hair down during its funky syncopated riffs.

After principal trumpeter Brian Sykora's bluesy solo that begins the Andante movement, the pianist then matched him one sultry note for the next, later adding wispy runs that disappeared into the ether. She then showed us her full bravura during the Allegro agitato, leading to cheers of bravo and a spontaneous standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd.

The program also included Aaron Copland's Canticle of Freedom performed by the 36-voice University of Manitoba Singers (Elroy Friesen, director) with the WSO.

After being blacklisted during the dark witch-hunt days of 1950s McCarthyism, Copland wrote his roughly 10-minute ode based on Scottish poet John Barbour's ever-timely 1375 text extolling the virtues of freedom.

It's appreciatively difficult balancing voices with a full, 67-piece orchestra. Mostly, the singers' words were crisply heard. At other times, the orchestra threatened to engulf the ensemble. Nonetheless, its final, thrice-repeated message of "freedom" that grows increasingly insistent could be heard loud and clear.

Antonn Dvor°k's Symphony No. 9 From the New World, famous for its plaintive, spiritual-inspired Goin' Home theme rounded out the evening. Inspired by the wide-open spaces of the Prairies after the 19th-century Czech composer, remarkably, spent a summer composing in Iowa, the four-movement work has earned its status as one of the best-known in the symphonic repertoire.

Mickelthwate set convincing tempi for each of the sections, resisting temptation to excessively indulge its Largo theme. Ever-popular and audience-friendly, this choice provided a solid beginning to a new season of music-making, earning the evening's second standing ovation.

The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall, and Sunday afternoon, 3 p.m. at Brandon's Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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