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Unexpected percussion discussion bang on

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Picture it: a young woman dressed in black with an oversized red silk flower pinned in her hair, wearing red dance slippers. She moves to the centre of the Centennial Concert Hall stage. Does she play a violin or maybe sing an aria?

No. Instead, she steps alternately on rubber horn bulbs on the stage floor to make different squawking notes while clicking castanets in her hands.

Once again, the WSO New Music Festival gave us the unexpected on Tuesday night. In the fourth concert of the week-long event, Urban Metal, we were treated to a mélange of music for winds.

The horn-honking damsel was Newfoundland-born percussionist Gina Ryan, who performed Percussion Concerto, a piece she commissioned from Canadian composer Trevor Grahl.

Ryan played an array of percussion instruments with the talented Winnipeg Wind Ensemble providing a sort of distorted echo. Wild and wonderful, it combined creativity with a little magic, all the while exploring the versatility of the many instruments. No possibilities were left untouched, as Ryan rang for the concierge on a counter bell, and dangled a ringing old-fashioned alarm clock from her fingers. Rei Hotoda's tidy conducting style kept the ensemble crisp in the many changes of pace the concerto threw at the musicians.

The audience favourite was British composer Nigel Clarke's Samurai, a throbbing and raucous work influenced by Japanese drumming. The work came in waves, with the elegant woodwinds and xylophone of the University of Manitoba Wind Ensemble first lulling us with a gentle melody. But make way for the low brass and percussion coming through with full force! Conductor Alexander Mickelthwate manoeuvred the ensemble through these ups and downs with alacrity and the four young percussionists did a fine job with their demanding role.

It's easy to see why this exhilarating attention-grabber is Clarke's most played work.

Linda Bouchard's Brasier was a percussionist's dream -- offering them no-holds barred, beat 'em, kick 'em, all-out freedom. Depicting combustion, the work whooshed and crashed, flames licking and crackling, with scattering notes flying like sparks. This was a great use of resources; making images of fire in its different stages appear alive. Energetically playing made the picture spotlessly clear.

Trumpeter Richard Gillis seemed to have a hard time with Jacques Hétu's Trumpet Concerto. This enigmatic work presented many challenges with its disjointed phrases and tricky intervals. Gillis struggled with this awkward style, sounding like he was working hard and straining. The U of M ensemble, on the other hand, played this gracefully, and special mention must be made of the excellent flute and oboe solos.

Overall, Urban Metal was a clever piece of programming that left audience members feeling full of life and looking forward to the next concert.



Concert Review

WSO New Music Festival

Urban Metal

Centennial Concert Hall

Feb. 3 Attendance: 620

**** out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2009 D4

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