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New Music Festival features eclectic lineup

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Button up your overcoat. Canada's Arctic takes centre stage at this year's Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival.

The fest's 19th edition is called Breaking New Ground and opens with an ice-breaker tomorrow night at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

If you can't attend every performance, here are some highlights I selected with the enthusiastic guidance of WSO composer-in-residence and festival co-curator Vincent Ho.

Opening Gala

Arctic Postcards (7:30 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Concert Hall) is full of world premieres, introducing the Arctic theme in full gale force while simultaneously celebrating 2010 as International Polar Year.

Distinguished Canadian guest composer Derek Charke will debut Falling from Cloudless Skies. He has a special interest in acoustic ecology and the study of environmental sound. His experiences in the Arctic and concern for the state of the environment crystallize in his work. "Composers and sound artists can't recreate nature but they can shine a spotlight on it," he wrote.

WSO principal cellist Yuri Hooker will premiere famed British composer John Tavener's Popule Meus.

Ho's much-publicized and long-awaited Arctic Symphony completes the evening. Inspired by his 2008 Arctic tour aboard the CGGS Amundsen as part of the Artist-on-Board program, it is a musical journal of various aspects of the frozen North in Ho's signature perceptive, contemplative style.

Throat singing and choirs

For Manitobans who love their choral music, Songs of the Earth (7:30 p.m. Sunday at Westminster United Church) is the show.

Music from Finland, Venezuela, the United States and Canada are all on the program, with some contributions from locals. The Winnipeg Singers will perform works by Winnipeg composers Andrew Balfour and Sid Robinovitch and the University of Manitoba Women's Choir will sing Rautavaara's Lorca-sarja and Jerusalem Luminosa, by one of last year's festival faves, Abbie Betinis.

The energetic Prairie Voices Choir will do what they do best -- the unusual -- in Joshua Penman's Becoming, a piece about mystical ecstasy, inspired by indigenous cultures and employing Buddhist chants among other captivating techniques.

And if you've never experienced throat singing, you're in for a treat as leading Canadian throat-singer Tanya Tagaq kicks off the evening with her own improvisation.

Jenny Lin

On Monday at the concert hall, fearless pianist and recording artist Jenny Lin will tackle Brazilian composer Arthur Kempela's Nosturnos, described by Ho as "a knuckle buster, knockout piece."

Four Paintings by Leestemaker, composed by Ho for string quintet and piano, will make its Canadian debut, with Los Angeles artist Luc Leestemaker reading his poetry between movements. He will also be displaying and auctioning off paintings.

Sheer curiosity should bring you to Metamusik (7:30 p.m. Wednesday night) where Bending Hendrix by Canadian Mike Janzen hits the concert hall stage. "Even if you've never heard of Jimi Hendrix, this is mind-blowing," says Ho. "It's a dynamite, strong work, full of virtuosic craftsmanship." Popular local guitarist Greg Lowe does the honours.

Then there's Tim Brady's The Guess Who Symphony, which features movements entitled American Woman (Rites of Strings) and Runnin' Back to Saskatoon/Concerto for Orchestra and Map. Hard to resist.

Thursday's double bill features Charke's 13 Inuit Throat Song Games with Tagaq and string orchestra in the 7:30 p.m. show and distinguished guest ensemble Eighth Blackbird Ensemble at 9 p.m. Named after Wallace Stevens' poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, the Grammy Award-winning group, made up of flutes, clarinets, violin, viola, cello, piano and percussion will play works written especially for them by Stephen Hartke, Gordon Fitzell and Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Reich. Reich's Double Sextet will blow your socks off with its driving rhythms.

The festival ends on a high note Friday with Amplify, Multiply, Remix and Redefine... Oh My! The centrepiece is New Zealander John Psathas's View from Olympus for piano, percussion and orchestra. He composed the music for the 2004 Athens Olympics. "It's pure adrenaline, in-your-face aggression," said Ho. "When I first heard it, time stood still."

There's plenty more, so check out the schedule at See you at the festival.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2010 d3

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