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Back to her roots

Renowned conductor returns to Winnipeg for symphony performance

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/1/2018 (912 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

<p>Keri-Lynn Wilson, who grew up in Winnipeg, is heading the WSO’s next Classics ‘B’ program this weekend.</p>


Keri-Lynn Wilson, who grew up in Winnipeg, is heading the WSO’s next Classics ‘B’ program this weekend.

Internationally-renowned conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson returns to her roots this weekend when she leads the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) in its next Classics "B" program, Nielsen and Mozart. The concerts on Friday, Jan 12, and Saturday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall also feature Canadian solo violinist Alexandre Da Costa performing the wunderkind’s sparkling Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major (a.k.a. The Turkish) on his Devault Stradivarius.

Supplied</p><p>The concerts will also include solo violinist Alexandre Da Costa.</p>


The concerts will also include solo violinist Alexandre Da Costa.

"It’s just very special when you have family in the audience, which includes your 98-year-old grandmother," Wilson says of her homecoming concert during a phone interview, with her last appearance on the WSO podium in 2001. "It brings back so many wonderful, warm memories of my childhood growing up in the most musically influential environment of my career."

Born to mother Lynn Sharples, a professor of English at the Universitè de Toulon in France, and Carlisle Wilson, a musician and retired music consultant, Wilson left the city in the mid-1980s to pursue a bachelor of music degree in flute performance at New York City’s fabled Juilliard School. During her subsequent graduate studies, the conducting bug bit — hard — and Wilson abruptly changed course after realizing she needed a larger palette in which to express herself musically. She made her conducting debut with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1990 at the tender age of 23, and completed not one, but two master’s degrees in flute performance and conducting in 1994, immediately becoming appointed associate conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra that she led from 1994-98.

Renowned for her elegant, nuanced performances, the maestra has now led opera, symphonic, and chamber orchestras all over the world, including Vienna, Stockholm, Hanover, Leipzig, Munich, Florence, Rome, Palermo, Warsaw, Moscow, Bilbao, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Bucharest, Ljubljana, Zagreb, as well as major orchestras throughout North America. Notably, Wilson also became the first woman appointed chief conductor of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra between 2014-15, and has graced the podium for such traditionally male-dominated symphonic bastions as the legendary Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.

"I’ve been very fortunate," she says modestly of her success forged by an ironclad work ethic, which has also included teaching herself French, Italian, German and Russian to better rehearse players in such hallowed halls as Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.

The artist also credits her formative years growing up in Winnipeg for providing a well-rounded musical education, which included studying piano with her Icelandic grandmother, Thelma Wilson, singing with her grandfather, J. Kerr Wilson, playing violin with her now retired father Carlisle, as well as playing flute and violin in his Winnipeg Youth Orchestra since age 10. Her sister Tiffany and brother Carlisle also lead musical lives, as do her many aunts, uncles and cousins.

Now based in New York City, where she lives with her husband of 15 years, Peter Gelb — former president of Sony Classical and now general manager for the storied Metropolitan Opera — Wilson is on the road for a rigorous 10 months of the year, and swims daily to stay grounded.

"That’s like medicine for me. It keeps me in shape and is excellent for fighting jet lag. A nice glass of wine at the end of the day helps," she says with a laugh.

Supplied</p><p>The concert will feature the world première of Harry Stafylakis’ dramatic Holocene Extinction.</p>


The concert will feature the world première of Harry Stafylakis’ dramatic Holocene Extinction.

This weekend’s concert features the world première of WSO composer-in-residence Harry Stafylakis’ dramatic Holocene Extinction.

"It’s a really powerful piece that uses great orchestral forces," she says. "It really speaks to the incredible changes happening right now in the world physically and philosophically, and has great energy."

The program rounds out with Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No.3 (Sinfonia espansiva), described by Wilson as a "fascinating work with beautiful moments, singing melodies and great rhythmic drive."

Conductors such as the still-going-strong, 93-year-old former WSO maestro Victor Feldbrill, who opened the WSO’s season in October, are known to have remarkably lengthy careers. When asked if this is the life she imagined, Wilson doesn’t miss a beat.

"Oh gosh, the stage was always my dream, so perhaps it is. I love performing, but probably would never have imagined the kind of orchestras that I’m now conducting, like the Vienna Philharmonic, which was really cool," she says. "But I don’t spend any time reflecting, because my philosophy is that you’re only as good as your last rehearsal."

Wilson believes that is the beauty about conducting.

"You do your best work when you’re 80 years old, and it’s the growth that I love with more experience and years behind me. I’m grateful for these constant invitations, and it’s been going very well, and I’m very happy. It’s a wonderfully satisfying and rewarding career," she says.

Admittedly, it takes a certain fortitude — or chutzpah — for the WSO to lure guest artists to "Winterpeg" in the frozen depths of January.

Yet Wilson is looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the city’s famous cold snaps again.

"I really feel that growing up in Winnipeg with its cold winters makes you quite strong and stoic," she says. "It has given me a lot of strength and made me into this kind of Icelandic warrior that can deal with all this travel and jet leg. Winnipeggers have a great character and that’s why they’re tough, with also a great sense of humour. I think it’s really more special in the winter, and is even exotic."

On a particularly poignant note, Wilson will also be leading her former teacher, WSO principal flutist Jan Kocman, who has performed with the WSO for an astonishing 44 years. Wilson herself performed as soloist with the orchestra back in 1995. But what she relishes most is having her proud family members, including her nonagenarian grandmother and inspiring mentor in the house cheering her on.

"She’s my most prized audience member," she says warmly.

The concert will be performed Jan. 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall. For tickets or further information, visit: wso.ca



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