Breaking the silence WSO conductor thrilled to be back on the podium, even if just virtually

A lot has changed since Daniel Raiskin last stood on the podium at the Centennial Concert Hall to lead the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/11/2020 (678 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A lot has changed since Daniel Raiskin last stood on the podium at the Centennial Concert Hall to lead the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

It was more than eight months ago, March 7 to be precise, when the WSO’s music director shared centre stage with the orchestra and his friend, concert pianist Alexei Volodin. It was a memorable evening, as Volodin performed Beethoven’s fourth and fifth piano concertos, along with the Austrian composer’s Choral Fantasy along with a choir.

Days later, the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, and Raiskin’s life and career. He would spend much of the spring and summer with his family at their flat in Amsterdam, introducing WSO’s videos from the other side of the Atlantic and cheering on orchestra members’ various outreach events that took place over the summer.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra conductor Daniel Raiskin is leading a virtual presentation of An Evening in Vienna tonight.

“This journey has been so long. I’ve been isolating on various occasions throughout these eight months whether at home or on my trips in September and October in various places in Europe,” says Raiskin, who conducts the WSO on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in a livestreamed performance titled An Evening in Vienna.

Raiskin, who conducts orchestras throughout Europe and Asia as well as the WSO, wouldn’t appear on stage again until Aug. 13, when he conducted the Sinfonia Varsovia in Warsaw.

“Emotionally it was very special and I won’t forget the first concert I was able to conduct in Warsaw in August,” Raiskin says. “That was the longest time of silence in my career. It was very stressful, very emotional.”

The Russian-born, Dutch conductor returned to Winnipeg three weeks ago and immediately began a two-week quarantine that has become mandatory for all travellers to Manitoba.

That’s given him a week to get reaccustomed to life with the WSO, speaking with friends and preparing for Friday’s hour-long concert, which includes Mozart’s Serenade in E-flat major and Sinfonia No. 7 in D minor, composed by Felix Mendelssohn.

“It’s something you need to prepare for, both emotionally and practically,” he says of life in quarantine. “This is something you actually can withstand, a kind of investment into something that is a very important goal you’re trying to reach.

“Knowing all that, I think I did quite OK, and obviously there was a lot of cooking, eating, drinking, Skyping and Zooming, but that’s pretty much the normality of the day.” 

The time alone has also given him a chance to reflect on the way orchestras such as the WSO have had to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. The WSO played a show with a small audience at the concert hall in September, but has since been forced to perform livestreamed shows.

He recognizes the need for change to prevent spreading the coronavirus, but he says after conducting concerts of various sizes and audiences in Europe, he’s noticed many differences.

“The first couple of projects I was leading, the orchestras were unusually distanced on stage, with two to three metres between the musicians. You lose the sense of compact, group effort,” he says.

While livestreamed concerts, such as tonight’s show, are the only way musicians can safely perform for audiences during the pandemic, the players miss feeling the crowd’s anticipation of the first note played and the cheers afterwards.

“The creation of the magic that arises in the atmosphere of the concert hall during live performances is created by the presence of two parties: the performing musicians and an audience that follows every bit of movement, sound and expression that comes from the stage,” Raiskin says. “When you take one of these elements out the equation, you’re dancing alone. 

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Daniel Raiskin leads the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as they rehearse for Back-to-Back Beethoven at the Centennial Concert Hall way back on March 5.

“It takes a special skill to imagine, projecting that kind of emotion, to an empty hall. This vacuum, this emptiness, is very difficult to absorb, especially for us, the musicians on stage, where the emotions and the adrenalin are driving fast and high. You need a good sense of resolution after all this tension and emotion you create.”

Not hearing that applause can be jarring.

“(Manitoba Opera) with the seven Winnipeg sopranos that I enjoyed online also was a kind of bizarre experience,” Raiskin says of the Nov. 7 livestream of The Sopranos of Winnipeg. “Usually, these kinds of performances call for bravos after each and every soprano takes the stage.

“These kind of pieces dissolving into a deafening silence was strange.” 

Raiskin is certain the WSO will be able to overcome these obstacles in Friday’s performance.

“What’s most difficult in the last eight months of the year is we have been deprived of expressing who we are,” he says. “I think that making music when we project before the full hall will be definitely rivalled by the joy we are going to project that we are able to perform. I can assure you this is going to be a celebration and jubilation of what we can do and who we are.”  


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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.

Concert preview

An Evening in Vienna

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

● Livestream from the Centennial Concert Hall

● Friday, 7:30 p.m. A pre-concert talk begins at 7 p.m.

● Tickets: $25 at

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