There’s a boneyard out there filling with the remains of now-defunct arts organizations.
And the latest casualty in that group fallen prey to the vagaries of changing tastes and times is the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Winnipeg, which shuttered its doors after its Sept. 25 annual general meeting chaired by board president Nicki Kirton.
It’s no secret the organization, co-founded in 1990 by late Winnipeg music educator/conductor Glen Harrison and his wife Margaret, has been struggling in recent years due to soaring production costs and plummeting ticket sales, uttering its final death rattle during The Yeomen of the Guard, presented in April at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre.
The show, performed with a live orchestra led by Michelle Mourre, capped the society’s 27 years of presenting iconic operas penned by the Victorian writing team of librettist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, who are renowned for their witty lyrics and effervescent patter songs.
"It’s been a great ride," Harrison’s son, Reid, said immediately following the overwhelming majority vote to officially wind things down by next September, calling the decision "bittersweet."
The younger Harrison’s own familial and artistic roots have run deep within the organization since its genesis. He’s a co-founder, sang principal roles, led the orchestra as its resident conductor, and directed its last 10 annual productions as artistic director.
"We’re leaving when the organization is still at its height, artistically speaking, which is important. This is really about the fact that our audience has both figuratively and literally died off.
"It could have been death by a thousand cuts, so we’ve made this decision and are leaving on a high note," Harrison said, adding his mother has also given her full blessing for the society’s swan song.
Keeping the society’s legacy alive, an endowment fund using $10,000 of residual money will be used to establish the Glen and Margaret Harrison Scholarship at the Winnipeg Foundation. This will be bolstered by additional ticket revenues from a final, farewell concert recital (and let this be my public petition for baritone Fred Cross to reprise his brilliant I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General aria) slated for next spring to ultimately create a yearly scholarship awarded to a Manitoba post-secondary student studying musical theatre or opera.
And so with its final tra-la-la, the G & S Society of Winnipeg has joined the ranks of so many that have gone before, including the Wednesday Morning Musicale, Junior Musical Club of Winnipeg, Music Inter Alia, IZ Music, Ivory Echoes, the Musical Offering, and the list goes on.
Can this simply be viewed as a type of cultural clear-cutting, where some groups naturally rise and others fall in the ecosystem of our arts world? Even maestros — regardless of how popular or beloved they might be — come and go.
But it’s also striking that others live well into their ripe years, including the city’s grande dame, the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg, which is 124 years old, or its kid cousin, the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, which is in its 96th season. Others include the Winnipeg Music Festival (a hale ’n’ hearty 101), the Winnipeg Boys Choir (now a grandfatherly 93), and even the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which celebrates its 71st anniversary this year.
Relative newbies include the Manitoba Opera at 49; the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra close on its heels at 46; and its musical twin, the Winnipeg Singers, also 46 years strong.
I’ve always liked the idea of the ancient Mexican ritual Dia de Los Muertos, (Day of the Dead), birthed by the Aztecs 3,000 years ago that honours the dearly departed over two days each year on Nov. 1-2, and overlaps the Catholic tradition of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
This time of year therefore strikes me as an opportune time to also pay homage to the ghosts of all these musical organizations now fading into memory, as yet another longstanding member in our arts community bites the proverbial dust-to-dust.
Or perhaps just simply this:
One of the many poignant memorials in England dedicated to Sullivan following his death in 1900 is a bronze bust in which a figure of "Grief" is flanked by images of "music" and a guitar. The inscription is — you guessed it — a snippet from The Yeomen of the Guard: "Is life a boon? If so, it must befall. That Death, whene’er he call, Must call too soon." As these lines wafted over the G & S Society’s ever-faithful, die-hard fans last spring, it thus performed its own epitaph, creating the perfect, fitting bookend to its nearly three decades of song.
Canadian pianist Jane Coop will perform an inaugural concert on Nov. 14 on the Canadian Mennonite University’s newly acquired Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, gifted by Toronto donor Vicki Hathaway in honour of the retirement of her brother-in-law, longtime CMU music professor Dietrich Bartel.
The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the Laudamus Auditorium, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd.
The concert also reunites the internationally acclaimed artist and massive three-metre-long piano, which includes an extremely rare 97 keys — the extra nine notes being covered and used only to enhance the resonance of the lower register.
Coop personally handpicked the piano in Vienna in 1973 with Hathaway’s late husband Tom, a former Canadian Bösendorfer technician, and subsequently recorded on it during the 1980s.
"This Bösendorfer Imperial is a treasure of a piano," CMU president and pianist Cheryl Pauls says via email. "It’s a huge instrument with a most delicate and exquisite sonic capacity, and it teaches you how to listen with greater depth and draw out more beautiful timbres," she says.
"Jane Coop is a much celebrated and cherished Canadian artist. CMU is honoured that she is coming to Winnipeg for this inaugural concert featuring music of Beethoven and Rachmaninov," she adds. "Jane was my piano instructor during my DMA studies at the University of British Columbia, so the honour of her coming is personal as well."
The artist will also give a public master class with CMU students on Nov. 13. For tickets or further information, call: 204-487-3300, ext. 0, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.