Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra launches milestone 75th season with violinist James Ehnes


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World-renowned superstar violinist James Ehnes came home Saturday night as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra officially launched its milestone 75th season with the Brandon-born musician as the featured guest artist.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/09/2022 (251 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

World-renowned superstar violinist James Ehnes came home Saturday night as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra officially launched its milestone 75th season with the Brandon-born musician as the featured guest artist.

The inaugural concert in the (A)bsolute Classics series led by Daniel Raiskin showcased the now Florida-based fiddler in Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61,” with the Centennial Concert Hall filled to the rafters with 2,015 listeners — notably the largest in-person crowd since the global pandemic first shuttered the world in March 2020 — already buzzing with excitement.

After WSO executive director Angela Birdsell welcomed the mixed generation audience with a heartfelt “it gives me hope we are all witnessing the return of live performance for good,” Raiskin led the players through a hushed “Prayer for Ukraine,” by Kyiv-born composer Valentin Silvestrov in 2014 — even more timely and needed than ever.

Then Ehnes strode onstage with his gleaming 1715 “Marsick” Stradivarius in hand, immediately greeted like a conquering hero as one of the world’s most sought-after violinists on the international stage. It’s also noteworthy that the multi-award-winning musician, who “grew up” with the WSO, and continues to perform with major orchestras worldwide in addition to his inestimable chamber music and recording career, marked his professional debut in 1990 with this very same orchestra under the baton of the late, great Bramwell Tovey.


Opening Night with James Ehnes.

After Raiskin set a brisk tempo for the opening movement, “Allegro ma non troppo,” Ehnes made his first entry, his violin scaling the heights with pitch perfect intonation and a honeyed-sweet tone particularly apparent in his uppermost range, with every note impeccably in place, as hallmarks of his renowned, elegant artistry.

An enthralling highlight quickly became his pair of famous “Kreisler” cadenzas that cap both outer movements, designed to showcase the soloist’s bravura. Ehnes executed both flawlessly, including dazzling pyrotechnics, multiple stops, and gossamer light trills leaving many orchestra members — and especially the string players — agape.

Raiskin proved well in tune with the soloist throughout, with the second movement “Larghetto,” infused with noble longing providing a foundation for Ehnes’ deeply felt lyricism. Last but not least, the rollicking finale, “Rondo: Allegro” saw the violinist skillfully navigating Beethoven’s prismatic mood shifts between playful jocularity and flashes of temperament, leading to a thunderous standing ovation, whistles and cries of bravo from the enraptured crowd.

A clearly moved Ehnes, after first sharing “it brings me a great deal of joy,” to have returned to his home province after three pandemic years away, and graciously stating how “beautifully” the orchestra had played, treated listeners with the “Largo” from J. S. Bach’s “Violin Sonata, No. 3 in C Major,” with this musical treasure hailing from Wheat City crafting a perfect, mellifluous grace note to the evening.


Opening Night with James Ehnes.

After two and a half years of (mostly) only live-stream performances, smaller, section-divided “cohorts,” intimate chamber programs, physically distanced, masked musicians, bell covers, and wind players performing from behind large Plexiglas shields to reduce potentially viral-carrying “aerosols,” “Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp minor,” at first blush, seemed a bold, if not arguably defiant programming choice for a season-opener; including its opening lugubrious funeral march fearlessly introduced by principal trumpet Chris Fensom’s “doom-laden” fanfare, and the stage now swelling with an eye-popping, 80 musicians in lieu of the usual 67.

However the epic-scaled work moves towards a triumphal close, with the maestro’s crisp approach ensuring its contrapuntal lines were clearly articulated throughout, despite a few perilous moments during the stormy second movement “Sturmisch bewegt.”

Kudos to principal horn Patricia Evans for her nerves-of-steel, featured “obbligato” solo in the “Scherzo,” taking her place at front-of-stage. A nod also to the maestro and his entire orchestra for their luminous performance of the famous “Adagietto,” originally penned as a love letter from Mahler to his beloved wife Alma, and still providing balm for pandemic-weary, albeit now resolutely more hopeful souls as the new season begins.

The concert is available on demand via For tickets or further info, see WSO’s website.

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