At 50, MCO embracing technology, honouring tradition Chamber orchestra pulled positive change out of pandemic experience
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This article was published 24/10/2022 (224 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Maintaining continuity while still evolving and growing — that’s the plan for Manitoba Chamber Orchestra for the next 50 years.
The orchestra celebrates its 50th season anniversary this year and has a host of special programs planned to mark the occasion with 10 in-person concerts and six online shows over the course of the next few months.
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with the Winnipeg Singers
Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster Ave.
• Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
• Tickets $36 (in person), $25 (online only, available to Dec. 8) at 204-783-7377 or at themco.ca
On Wednesday, the Winnipeg Singers, led by conductor Yuri Klaz, join the MCO (conducted by Alexander Weimann) to perform Bach’s F major Lutheran Mass, filled with glorious choruses and deeply moving arias.
An ensemble of international repute, the 24-voice, Winnipeg-based choir also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. This is their first collaboration since the pandemic.
Like most arts organizations that were negatively affected at the height of COVID-19, the MCO was forced to navigate unique challenges, too.
While he’s loath to say there was any sort of silver lining to the disaster wreaked by the pandemic, marketing and communications director Conrad Sweatman acknowledges the restrictions forced the organization to evolve.
“COVID was funny in the way that it introduced the element of technology to concert presentation,” Sweatman says. “I think that the challenges of the pandemic have compelled us to think about the next future in interesting ways.”
Concert manager and violinist Boyd MacKenzie agrees.
“COVID provided us with challenges, but it also gave an opportunity to develop the video, which was initially meant to be of a temporary nature but has evolved into a permanent feature of the orchestra.”
During the pandemic the orchestra developed relationships with artists whose work was particularly suited to online presentations. These relationships continue to flourish. Pianist Nahre Sol for instance, who has half a million subscribers on her YouTube channel, will once again present her music as part of the anniversary program. The performance will feature a projected music video.
“I think the pandemic made us think a little bit more about technology and how we can incorporate it. It will help us do two things: connect with younger audiences and connect with people who aren’t necessarily based in Winnipeg.”
The desire to connect with another generation of concertgoers and music lovers has seen the MCO forge relationships with younger composers, such as Kerey Harper, who grew up in the northern First Nations community of St. Theresa Point.
Self-taught composer Harper, who is in his 20s, began making music by recording rain, stones and natural sounds in his remote community, accessible only by plane or winter roads.
Harper will be performing his electro-acoustic piece in March next year at the West End Cultural Centre as part of the Equinox: Chamber Night concert, with Larry Strachan as musical adviser.
While the MCO has dealt with the challenges it’s faced in very progressive ways, Sweatman is quick to assure audiences that the orchestra isn’t straying too far from its roots.
“We have been reoriented and recalibrated as an organization in a way that’s really going to put us in a great position to deal with the next 50 years, but a chamber orchestra is a chamber orchestra, and we are a chamber orchestra and will continue to do the things a chamber orchestra will do.
“Even people I think who are more contemporary or eclectic in their tastes, when they come to a chamber orchestra they still want to see a chamber orchestra. So I don’t want to give the sense that we are denying our identity or our history,” he says.
MacKenzie says one of the great features of the MCO is its ability to grow together as a team while still honouring traditions.
“One of the parts of its great success is that it is constantly evolving, but there is a sense of longevity and permanence in our administration and in our conductors. The administration and the musicians really do operate as a team. These are not just words. It always has a feeling of team spirit; it really does.”
Striking the right balance between the traditional and the modern is key to the MCO’s continued success, Sweatman believes.
“I’ve mentioned some of the musicians we are working with as new collaborators but there are also some of Canada’s top established classical soloists, like James Ehnes and Marc-André Hamelin, performing. There’s always an area of the MCO, of our programming that’s going to be about what’s happening the world today with new music and how can we, as an organization, jump into these things with a forward-thinking mindset.”
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AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.