WSO embraces the winter

Winnipeg New Music Festival to launch in frozen amphitheatre, include instruments made from ice


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The Winnipeg New Music Festival has developed a worldwide reputation over 27 years of being a musical event that’s “out there.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/12/2018 (1347 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg New Music Festival has developed a worldwide reputation over 27 years of being a musical event that’s “out there.”

And “out there” will the 2019 festival remain. Literally.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra will launch its flagship event on Friday, Jan. 25, at an ice amphitheatre dubbed Pavilion Sub Zero, to be designed by warming huts mastermind Peter Hargraves and built on the Assiniboine River at The Forks. The amphitheatre, which is expected to house a few hundred spectators, can remain standing for further winter concerts before it must be pulled down before the rivers begin to melt come springtime, WSO conductor Julian Pellicano says.

The WSO will perform Inuksuit, by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. (Supplied)

The orchestra will also embrace the dead of winter by playing instruments carved out of ice.

The concert, dubbed Glacial Time, will include the piece Beauty of Winter by Norwegian composer Terje Isungset, who will carve drums and horns and join the WSO and vocalist Maria Skanes in the concert. The orchestra will also perform Inuksuit by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams, with assistance from percussionist Victoria Sparks and the University of Manitoba Percussion Ensemble.

The Glacial Time concert will be the latest logistical challenge for the WSO and Pellicano, who is the project’s co-ordinator, and on concert night, will be one of the percussionists onstage performing with the icy instruments. Their sound is dependent on the density and thickness of the ice used to create them.

“To be honest, we don’t know because they will be created by Terje on the spot and specifically for this piece,” Pellicano says. “I believe his ice instruments are quite varied and create all sorts of different timbres. There’s certainly an element of spontaneity with this music.

“These days, 21st-century percussionists are called upon to do all kinds of different things, so it would not be out of line for one of the percussionists to be called upon to play an ice horn, for example.”

What is a certainty is the music, which Pellicano says is specifically composed to be played outdoors. That means it will be mostly percussion-based, as wooden instruments such as violins, cellos and oboes can react poorly in cold weather.

Oh yes, the weather. You don’t need a weatherman to know it’ll be cold at the end of January in Winnipeg. For Pellicano and the WSO, that’s another aspect out of their control.

“Of course, that’s a concern, both for the audience and the players. We’ll definitely take some precautions, so that it’s a space that’s comfortable to listen as well as for the musicians to play.”

Earlier this year, Pellicano led the symphony in a concert aboard the newly renovated Nonsuch, with violins and trumpets avoiding the rigging and sails on the replica of the 17th-century merchant vessel that is permanently docked inside the Manitoba Museum. He’s looking forward to this next musical challenge.

“I love doing performances in unconventional spaces. I take on these projects with great love and interest. I’d say this is a new level,” Pellicano says.

“It’s a great way to kick off the festival, but it’s also a cool way to pay homage to how the Winnipeg Symphony and Winnipeggers embrace this festival in the dead of winter. When most organizations and people would just be indoors and not go out and do stuff, we in Winnipeg say the opposite, we say, ‘Let’s have our festival in the coldest part of the year.’”

The WSO returns to the cosy confines of the Centennial Concert Hall for the rest of the new music festival. On Saturday, Jan. 26, Bramwell Tovey, the founding conductor of the festival, takes the podium for a program that includes Brittle Fracture, a new work by WSO composer-in-residence Harry Stafylakis.

Daniel Raiskin, the WSO’s new conductor and artistic director, makes his New Music Festival debut in 2019, including the Jan. 30 concert that includes the Canadian première of Lonely Angel (Meditation) by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, a longtime Raiskin collaborator, as well as a musical partnership with Animals as Leaders, a progressive heavy metal group from Washington, D.C. Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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