Like most of us, when the forecast turns from snowstorms to sunshine, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra delights in the opportunity to get outside.
The WSO is about to embark on its 2019 summer season, which will take the 67-member orchestra on a tour of indoor and outdoor venues across Winnipeg and into western Ontario.
"It’s a lot of fun," said Jean-Francois Phaneuf, WSO vice-president of artistic operations and community engagement.
The summer season kicks off with a mainstage performance at the Red River Ex on June 19 — a first for the symphony.
"Usually, the type of artists they’ll have are country artists or more rock or pop," Phaneuf said. "We’re very excited about this because every time we play in these new venues, I think there are people who are not totally familiar with the symphony."
To appeal to audience members who haven’t taken in a show at the Centennial Concert Hall, the orchestra’s set list will include a wide variety of music, including classics by Beethoven, show tunes from Broadway and works by famed film score composer John Williams. There will also be an opportunity for audience participation during the show.
This mixing of contemporary and classic music is part of Phaneuf’s larger vision for the WSO, which is focused on building an audience for the future by getting young people interested in the symphony today.
"I think one of the false concepts is that it’s for the privileged, you have to know classical music, you have to be rich, you have to wear a tuxedo," he said. "We’re breaking down these barriers and I think it’s working very well."
After its inaugural performance at the Ex, the WSO will split into small groups and play more than 30 concerts on June 22 and 30 for its Symphony in the City event. A free community celebration will be held at the Centennial Concert Hall on June 27 and the symphony will play outdoor concerts on the Kenora harbourfront on June 29 and at Assiniboine Park’s Lyric Theatre on June 30. The season wraps up with a Canada Day performance at The Forks on July 1 with Winnipeg-based roots rock band Eagle and Hawk.
"Canada Day is totally crazy. It’s like being part of Woodstock," Phaneuf said.
This will be Daniel Raiskin’s first time taking part in the summer season since his appointment to music director of the WSO in 2018. Raiskin, who will be conducting most of the shows, is looking forward to getting to know his audiences in a new context.
"These concerts are a perfect way to connect to people of all ages, backgrounds, musical preferences and tastes," he said via email from Germany. "(For) both audience and performers, cutting the distance between us short — we all love beautiful music and beautiful weather."
While the WSO’s summer season is a great opportunity for the orchestra to connect with the community, playing outdoors presents an interesting set of challenges.
"Playing an open-air concert even with a stage and a concert shell is different from being in a concert hall. Everyone onstage needs to adjust quickly to this," Raiskin said.
"We play many shorter works during these concerts as opposed to quite substantial symphonies. This is also a special kind of art — to be able to create a jewel of a performance during just a few minutes-long composition."
Not to mention the joys of contending with the sun, wind, rain and, of course, mosquitoes.
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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