Concert a tribute to losses of pandemic WSO playing pieces of peace, healing

Emotions will run higher than any notes played or sung Thursday night at the Centennial Concert Hall.

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Emotions will run higher than any notes played or sung Thursday night at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Concert preview

Manitoba Remembers: A COVID Elegy
With Tracy Dahl, Kelly Bado, Don Amero, Maples Collegiate Choir, the Winnipeg Singers, Gwen Hoebig and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
● Thursday, 7 p.m.
● Centennial Concert Hall
● Free admission. Tickets must be reserved at wso.ca. A free livestream will also be available at wso.ca.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra presents a free community concert, Manitoba Remembers: A COVID Elegy, Thursday at 7 p.m., an evening that will focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Manitoba families and communities.

Those who have suffered from the virus include many the orchestra, perhaps none more notably than its musical director and maestro, Daniel Raiskin.

His wife Larissa was in Kharkiv, Ukraine, helping her mother, Galyna Reznikova, who was receiving cancer treatments, when Russian armies invaded and missiles rained down on the country’s cities, including Kharkiv

They spent 40 hours on an evacuation train to reach the border between Ukraine and Slovakia, where Raiskin met them. They eventually found a place for Reznikova to stay in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital, where Raiskin has conducted many times and has built friendships over the years.

Russian-born WSO conductor helped wife, mother-in-law flee Ukraine

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, lead by conductor Daniel Raiskin, open the 2021 Winnipeg New Music Festival. The performance is being streamed live from the Centennial Concert Hall directly to viewers online. January 23, 2021.

Posted:

The Russian invasion of Ukraine hit shockingly close to home for Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra music director Daniel Raiskin.

His wife, Larissa, and his mother-in-law, Galyna Reznikova, barely escaped war-torn Ukraine with little more than the clothes on their backs after a perilous, 40-hour train ride to the relative safety of Slovakia late last month.

“Total disbelief,” Raiskin says of his state of mind over the phone from Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. The Russian-born maestro has led the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra as its principal conductor since 2020 and had been preparing for a concert when the first missiles began raining down on his Ukrainian wife’s birthplace of Kharkiv.

“This has been a terrible example of how close this tragedy can get to your own front door, and how it can dramatically impact your loved ones where you feel completely desperate. This is not a movie,” he said in an interview Saturday.

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Her immune system was weakened by chemotherapy treatments and the stressful journey, Raiskin says. She contracted COVID-19 somewhere in the chaos and died March 24 in a Bratislava hospital.

“It was doubly terrible to see all this effort and courage my wife had to exhibit to extract her mother from the war zone, make it safely to western Europe and then still see her mother taken away by COVID,” Raiskin says.

“So this is very, very close to me also in regard to the project we are doing on Thursday. It’s going to be a really special commemorative event but also with a sense of hope, looking forward. We’re not out of the woods on too many fronts, including the one that’s very real, the war raging in Ukraine.”

Raiskin says concerts are built to create a narrative and that the choice of music to be played, which will include works by Mozart as well as opera, R&B and country performances, will resonate for audiences at the concert hall or those viewing at home on a free livestream at wso.ca.

“I’m sure that being part of this event will also be part of me telling the way my family has been impacted by COVID,” he says.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS WSO maestro Daniel Raiskin has a very personal connection to tonight’s concert, Manitoba Remembers: A COVID Elegy.

Soprano Tracy Dahl, the Winnipeg Singers, the Maples Collegiate Choir, country artist Don Amero and R&B singer Kelly Bado will also perform.

Joining them will be Gwen Hoebig, the WSO’s longtime concertmaster, who will be a soloist performing The Lark Ascending, a piece for solo violin with orchestra by British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams, who wrote it in 1914. It has since become one of the world’s most popular 20th-century classical works.

“We know music is a means of healing and I think the intent behind (the concert) is to really create an atmosphere of recognition and healing,” she says.

“The piece I’m playing is so symbolic of that. It really is so peaceful and transcendent and I’m looking forward to playing it. It’s extremely appropriate for this event.”

The violinist has performed the The Lark Ascending many times, most notably as the title track on a WSO album released in 1998, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, the orchestra’s musical director at the time.

“The piece I’m playing is so symbolic of that. It really is so peaceful and transcendent and I’m looking forward to playing it. It’s extremely appropriate for this event.” – Gwen Hoebig

“I’m going to be a little bit different than I was then, but certainly drawing on the knowledge of that,” Hoebig says, adding Raiskin will offer some input as well. “He usually has some wonderful suggestions.”

She is one of several members of the orchestra who contracted COVID-19 during the Omicron-variant wave in early 2022 and she has since recovered from the virus’s respiratory symptoms.

”It was minor, a couple of days of uncomfort and then lingering for another week or so, so it wasn’t like it was a serious thing,” Hoebig recalls.

The WSO’s string section has performed with masks since it returned to the stage from a pandemic hiatus in the fall of 2020, but Hoebig, as guest soloist, will be able to perform without wearing one, although she will take a rapid antigen test prior to taking the stage.

“That’s the first time I will be able to play on stage without a mask in a couple of years,” she says. “Playing with a mask on is really uncomfortable.”

Alan.Small@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

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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