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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Smart' Winnipeg audiences sing a different tune

Posted: 01/26/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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CLASSICAL music may be in decline in that bastion of pop culture to the south, but Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate says there's an attitude here that he hasn't seen in other North American cities.

"It's something here in Winnipeg where people are often adventurous and open to new experiences," Mickelthwate said.

Mickelthwate has directed the WSO for seven years. During that time he's seen the audience become more and more diverse.

"From my perspective we have a really smart, passionate, dedicated audience."

The WSO has branched out, going beyond Bach to create productions based on the music from Bond movies, sci-fi movies and the Idol reality TV shows. It still does the classics in Masterworks, but it also tailors concerts to kids.

Ten concerts sold out last season, Mickelthwate said, spread out among the Masterworks, Pops, SoundBytes, Concerts for Kids series and special concerts the orchestra staged. As well, revenue increased 10 per cent from the year before. In all, 104,000 people attended a WSO concert last season.

The WSO gets the community involved through educational outreach programs for secondary students all over Winnipeg, from Nursery Notes for Preschoolers to Up Close and Orchestral for high school students. Almost 12,000 students took in Bach to School concerts in September. Students don't just sit and watch. There are backstage tours, open rehearsals and in some programs, students get to play along with the WSO.

"It's having a really interactive experience, not having a one-way street and just presenting something," said Mickelthwate.

Classical music is also thriving on the airwaves. In December, a new classical radio station, Classic 107.1, was launched in the city.

"It's a miracle to have this in a community the size of Winnipeg," said Mickelthwate.

Winnipeg may be smaller than the other cities in which Mickelthwate has conducted, such as New York or Dallas, but he has found a marked interest in classical music here.

Mozart may not be making money in American markets, but Mickelthwate says in Winnipeg, there's a broad appreciation for the classics.

"In our classical (concerts) our audience is actually quite young."

Seeing that Winnipeg was recently rated among the top seven intelligent communities in the world by the Intelligent Communities Forum, perhaps that is only to be expected.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2014 A14

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