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Lordy, lordy, listen to who's 40

Winnipeg Singers, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra celebrate milestone

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Turning 40 is a big deal for many of us. It seems to be a marker of sorts, a time when we reflect on who we are and what we've accomplished and look ahead to where we are going -- and maybe even what we want to change.

For the Winnipeg Singers and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, both marking 40th anniversaries this year, it's a time to celebrate -- and they have decided to join forces to do so together.

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m., the two groups will celebrate in a special concert at Westminster United Church. "We've collaborated in the past," says MCO managing director Vicki Young. "We thought we should get together and do something bigger than we could each do on our own."

So music directors Anne Manson (MCO) and Yuri Klaz (WS) sat down and created a program that spans the centuries, starting with Thomas Tallis's complex motet, Spem in alium (I have never placed my hope), working all the way up to Manitoban Glenn Buhr's Ritchot Mass, dedicated to Manitobans who lost their homes during the 1997 Red River flood. Also planned is Vivaldi's antiphonal choral work, Credo in E minor, Arvo Pärt's ethereal Berliner Messe and Jesu, Meine Freude by Mendelssohn.

The 40th anniversary is having a positive effect; Winnipeg Singers executive director Pat Wray, who also sings alto in the choir, says there's excitement over this venture.

"More of the same singers are staying all season. They are sticking around for this." (It is not uncommon for choir members to perform in only some concerts, owing to scheduling issues, other commitments, etc.)

The choir, in its present form, began to produce its own annual four-concert series in 1973, after a short stint as the CBC Winnipeg Singers, singing sacred and secular music for broadcasts. When the CBC could no longer support the choir, it moved ahead on its own, working over the years with artistic directors, William Baerg, John Martens, Wayne Riddell, Mel Braun, Vic Pankratz (who still sings with the group), Rudy Schellenberg and since 2003, Yuri Klaz.

They have become a true Winnipeg institution with a loyal following and a number of CDs to their name. Their special triumph, according to Wray, was a trip to Japan in 2005 to represent Canada in the World Symposium on Choral Music.

The Singers stay close to their roots, commissioning a new Canadian work to perform every year. But they are not resting on their laurels -- quite the opposite.

"We are looking for a new, fresh look for the WS; making each performance an event -- more than a concert," says Wray. "We are trying to get innovative."

The WS continue their celebrations with their next series concert, as well, Fabulous at 40! on Sunday, April 28, at 3 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. They will present favourites chosen by past and present conductors and some works they've commissioned over the years.

The MCO presents a nine-concert series and has maintained a relationship with CBC Radio since 1984, making them well-known across the country. Memorable highlights include backing up k.d. lang for her rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for the live broadcast of the Juno Awards in 2005, performing for more than 7,500 people on Canada Day at Harbourfront in Toronto, touring Canada and the U.S. with Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian (concluding with a performance at Carnegie Hall) in 2008 and a 2009 West Coast tour with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

Music directors and conductors over the years have been Ruben Gurevich, Simon Streatfeild, Roy Goodman, Alain Trudel and since 2008, Anne Manson, who has truly brought the orchestra to new performance heights.

Young attributes the orchestra's longevity and success to a variety of people and things.

"Simon Streatfeild was interviewed on our 25th anniversary and said it was because we can keep renewing ourselves by commissioning new works, and we adapt to different circumstances," she says. "We have had wonderful musical direction. There has always been someone strong at the helm, keeping the focus on musical excellence. We have a strong and deep pool of excellent musicians in Winnipeg."

She gives credit to her predecessor, Rita Menzies, who "for 25 years guided the administration, and laid a strong foundation. We also have a committed and innovative board and good donor/funder support. We try to take advantage of opportunities that come along and create our own opportunities."

Looking to the future, the MCO plans to tour and record more.

"We'd like to take the orchestra beyond the Winnipeg market," says Young. "We will be doing more recordings, commissioning, and developing education and outreach, which is a significant part of what we do."

Tickets are $26.50/adults, $24.50/seniors and $7.50/students at McNally Robinson Booksellers, the West End Cultural Centre or by calling 204-783-7377.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2013 D3

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