Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki dazzles audience as WSO ends 75th season


Advertise with us

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra ended its 75th season with a joyful bang Saturday night, as it presented two blockbuster performances led by maestro Daniel Raiskin.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra ended its 75th season with a joyful bang Saturday night, as it presented two blockbuster performances led by maestro Daniel Raiskin.

Its final (A)bsolute Classics concert featured dynamo Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, marking his WSO debut with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, op. 11. The 145-minute program (including intermission) also included Beethoven’s mighty Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125, a.k.a. the Choral Symphony, which has been spreading its joyful message of love for humankind since its Vienna première in 1824.

The critically acclaimed Calgary-born Lisiecki, 28, who has been dazzling audiences since he was 15, held nothing back, displaying an iron-clad conviction in which his Chopin often shook a defiant fist at life, rather than spinning webs of poetry.

Photo by Steve Salnikowski

Acclaimed Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki was a featured guest soloist at a concert hosted by Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on Saturday.

He attacked the Allegro maestoso like a lion, his highly visceral performance at times seeing him rise from his bench, his eyes closed in fierce concentration, as his fingers nimbly danced up and down the keyboard with quicksilver runs and gossamer-light embellishments.

He then treated the capacity audience of 2,080 to a luminous Romanza: Larghetto, beginning with an unusually languid opening statement of the theme in the piano following the strings’ hushed introduction, infusing his performance with a suspended quality.

The artist’s gorgeously lyrical phrasing ensured this movement sang, the bell-like tones in his uppermost register matched equally by thoughtful voicing of chords, his dynamic palette ranging from declamatory outbursts to whisper-soft utterances.

By contrast, the rollicking finale, Rondo: Vivace, inspired by Polish folk dance Krakowiak, saw the pianist punching out its syncopated rhythmic accents with gusto, with Raiskin holding tight rein over the players throughout, his artistry matching Lisiecki’s note for note. Their simpatico performance led to a rousing standing ovation, and even a few cries of “bravo” between movements.

In response, the pianist performed an encore of Chopin’s Nocturne No.21 in C minor Op. posth., further showcasing the sensitive pianism one hopes will be heard again on this stage soon.

The entire second half featured Beethoven 9, with guest soloists Marie-Josée Lord, soprano; Catherine Daniel, mezzo-soprano; Charles Reid tenor; and Michael Nyby, baritone, joined by the Canadian Mennonite University Festival Chorus (Janet Brenneman, artistic director).

Photo by Steve Salnikowski

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s final (A)bsolute Classics concert marked pianist Jan Lisiecki’s debut with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, op. 11.

In 2020, arts groups around the globe had just launched long-planned series of concerts and events for Beethoven 250, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1770. Many performances of Beethoven’s Ninth — written in profound deafness, and not performed locally since 2015 — were hijacked as COVID-19 began ravaging the world, including this concert, intended to cap the WSO’s 2019/20 season.

Raiskin brought dramatic temperament to its fiery first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, while infusing the roughly 75-minute piece with requisite gravitas. The initial horn solo became buried but fared better during the following Scherzo/Trio movement, Molto vivace, bristling with energy.

The more introspective Adagio molto e cantabile, propelled by the strings’ seamless, overlapping phrasing, proved the eye of the storm before the climactic finale. Its iconic Ode to Joy theme — inspired by Schiller’s same-titled poem — is the calling card of this symphony.

Nyby immediately asserted his booming presence, his rich baritone heralding joy with a repeated “Freude!” that enthralled, as did his duet sections sung with Reid. The latter was compelling during the primary theme’s seventh variation, a.k.a. the Turkish March, his robust tenor with crisp diction soaring, underscored by an exuberant male chorus.

There were balance issues at times among the four soloists, despite Lord and Daniel’s individually strong voices, which greater projection during their ensemble sections would have easily fixed.

However, this takes nothing away from hearing this monumental work performed live; it was met with a thunderous ovation.

Three years after it was originally scheduled, in “Beethoven 253,” the long-awaited performance has taken on deeper meaning. It not only trumpets joy but survival, with the WSO having weathered 75 years, including the gale storms of a historic pandemic, but still drawing solace and inspiration from Beethoven’s immortal masterwork.

A digital link to the concert is available at

If you value coverage of Manitoba’s arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow the Free Press to deepen our reporting on theatre, dance, music and galleries while also ensuring the broadest possible audience can access our arts journalism.
BECOME AN ARTS JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

Arts & Life