Local music fans fell head over heels for Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot during his Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra debut Saturday night and judging by the palpable rapport between the Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based artist and his 932 listeners, it became love at first bow.

Local music fans fell head over heels for Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot during his Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra debut Saturday night and judging by the palpable rapport between the Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based artist and his 932 listeners, it became love at first bow.

The WSO’s latest (B)eyond Classics concert led by Daniel Raiskin featured the 27-year old dynamo in Samuel Barber’s sole Violin Concerto, last heard on this stage in 2017 and also notably marking Pouliot’s first visit to our fair province.

Lauded as "one of those special talents that comes along once in a lifetime," (Toronto Star), the Juno-award nominated musician and alumnus of L.A.’s prestigious Colburn School who made his orchestra debut at age 11 has been carving out an impressive solo career including performances with major orchestras throughout North America and Europe.

In addition to his virtuosic technique, the soloist’s utter freedom and ease often evokes the compelling artistry of a younger Joshua Bell; underpinning his music-making with a fierce conviction and wholly authentic artistic voice. His passion ensured he left nothing behind onstage, including delivering an enthralling, full-throttle Presto in moto perpetuo finale driven by lightning speed triplets and performed like a blazing banshee on his 1729 Guarneri del Gesu violin, on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank.

Beyond his dazzling pyrotechnics, Pouliot also displayed his masterful artistry during the first two movements, knowing exactly what he wanted to say during the opening "Allegro" with its long arching, carefully sculpted thematic material, delivered with relish, a perfectly controlled bow and resonant tone. He then projected his mid-range melodic lines during the more introspective "Andante" as the beating heart of the contemporary work – and notably only his sophomore performance of the work with orchestra since first performing it with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in September 2020.

As expected, the crowd leapt to its feet with a demand for three curtain calls for the beaming fiddler, leading to an encore of his own Celtic-inspired arrangement of The Last Rose of Summer, penned during a COVID-created quarantine that hinted at more original works to come from this rising international star. It is hoped he will return to this stage — and soon.

This season has already introduced several, lesser-known works reflecting today’s push for more inclusive, culturally diverse programming, and this latest bill proved no exception. The WSO première of British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Overture from The Song of Hiawatha offered an unabashedly romantic crowd-pleaser written by the late 19th-century artist often hailed as the "Black Mahler," teeming with sweeping lyricism, and a remarkably cinematic sensibility light years before the advent of film.

The evening ended with Czech composer Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, From the New World, written in 1892 during the composer’s sojourn in the U.S., premièred by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in December 1893, and last heard on this stage in 2014.

Kudos to principal English Horn Robin MacMillan for her plaintive solo that stirred the soul, that nonetheless could have been given more time to breathe during the "Largo;" its lyrical melody later morphed into a spiritual Goin’ Home by one of Dvorak’s pupils continuing to inspire and console generations throughout the ages.

Despite Raiskin’s sensitive, often highly animated direction, the overall performance admittedly felt uneven, from an initial, strangely tentative opening by the low strings during the first movement’s "Adagio" section – that did thankfully eventually find its footing — with a few rogue horn notes askew. The brass, at times overly zealous during the same movement, did redeem themselves later with their loud ‘n’ proud "Scherzo" theme, now given wider berth, before a fiery "Allegro con fuoco" finale led to the night’s second ovation for this still much beloved, original Bohemian rhapsody.

For further information including tickets to the online performance, visit wso.ca

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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