Over the years, I’ve often ended this column with the phrase, "Support live music, it matters!"
It’s safe to say it’s never mattered more than now, as arts organizations embark on a second full season of COVID-19 that has tested the mettle of even the most resolute.
Some groups are forging ahead, while others understandably remain on the sidelines, lying fallow for now.
It’s also no secret that choirs around the globe have been reeling since March 2020, with performances particularly fraught owing to singers’ potentially virus-carrying "aerosols." Many ensembles still licking their wounds after pushing pause last year.
Here is a list of concerts worth checking out from now until the snow flies, based on information available at press time. There will undoubtedly be many changes to come during our ongoing "pandemic pivot," so keep an eye on your favourite groups’ websites for late-breaking news and further updates. COVID-19 has taught us to be prepared for anything, and this year is no exception.
That includes health and safety protocols when attending live performances, including showing proof of full vaccination status/picture ID, mandatory masks, physical-distancing parameters, the demise of intermissions, as advance ticket purchase only for the lion’s share of organizations.
So here we go!
1) After setting a high bar with its 2020/21 season almost entirely presented via livestream technology last year, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra roars out of the gate early with its first in-person concert since last October. This weekend’s Pops opener, Bluegrass Symphony, featuring its newly monikered neWSOunds band — WSO players Gregory Hay (banjo), Chris Anstey (fiddle), Mike Kemp (percussion) and Meredith Johnson (double bass) — promises to get toes tapping and light up smiles beneath those masks with a program of contemporary and traditional bluegrass tunes led by Julian Pellicano. The show kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall with livestream options now available for all performances, and accessible later through the WSO’s newly minted My WSO TV permanent digital platform.
Two Canadian dynamos are coming to town this fall: critically acclaimed pianist Stewart Goodyear performing Grieg’s thunderous Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, on Oct. 2; and Cameron Crozman, whom CBC Music calls "Canada’s next big cello star," tackling Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 on Nov. 20, with both WSO (A)bsolute Classics concerts led by Daniel Raiskin. wso.ca
2) Manitoba Chamber Orchestra also offers three in-person concerts led by Anne Manson this fall, rounded out by eight additional programs beginning next March. Two separate evening performances of each show will be presented for a reduced-size audience at Westminster United Church, with an online option available at a later date.
First up is Stravinsky, Spohr and Still — Oh My! on Sept. 21-22, featuring Winnipeg oboist Caitlin Broms-Jacobs’ own arrangement of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Other can’t-miss shows include 2018 Canadian Folk Music award winner Raine Hamilton on Oct. 21-22, and Winnipeg-based, world-class sopranos Tracy Dahl and Andriana Chuchman in an eclectic program of solo arias and duets on Oct. 26-27. All shows at 7:30 p.m. www.themco.ca
3) GroundSwell celebrates its 30th anniversary season this year with a full slate of six live/online concerts. Its first offering, Not Seeing a Flower, will be presented Oct. 22 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Muriel Richardson Auditorium, guest curated by cellist Leanne Zacharias. Billed as presenting the cello in a "series of distinct dialogues and collaborative responses," the multi-disciplinary program features a new chamber concerto by Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizee, with additional works by Travis Weller (Austin, Texas), Andrew Norman (New York City) and Michael Oesterle (Montreal). gswell.ca
4) After a one-year hiatus, the plucky Winnipeg Classical Guitar Society’s International Artist Concert Series returns, including the Montreal/Ottawa-based Cowan and Cicchillitti Duo being presented in partnership with Prairie Debut at St. Boniface’s Precious Blood Church on Oct. 30, 8 p.m. winnipegclassicalguitarsociety.com
5) In one of the rare sightings of a vocal group this season, Camerata Nova launches the festive season with Celebrating the Carol, a free holiday concert (including a collection for Winnipeg Harvest) on Nov. 27, 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 28, 3 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Stay tuned for a rebranding of this group being announced this fall (no spoiler alerts here), including a bold new name and plans for an ambitious spring choral event. cameratanova.com/16/
6) The venerable Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir led by Yuri Klaz — preparing for its 100th anniversary in 2022 — is planning to hold its annual Christmas concert in November (date N/A), pending health and safety regulations. thephil.ca
7) Another group still "TBA" is Virtuosi Concerts, with its season launch expected this month. virtuosi.mb.ca
8) Manitoba Opera enthralled listeners last November with its online recital, The Sopranos of Winnipeg. This year it’s marking a graduated return to the stage with its first of two productions: Menotti’s The Telephone and Poulenc’s La voix humaine with an onstage WSO led by Naomi Woo in her MO debut, Nov. 5 and 6. Then it’s off to the ball with Rossini’s version of archetypal fairytale La Cenerentola (Cinderella) on April 2, 5 and 8 — the 49-year-old company’s first fully staged opera since November 2019. mbopera.ca
9) Women of Note — an auditioned women’s community choir led by founder Patricia Rabson that often flies under the radar — presents a virtual performance in recognition of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Children, and Reconciliation in late October. The choir, now in its 28th year, also has a live performance of Here We Come A Carolling! slated for Dec. 5. womenofnote.ca
10) The Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg is preparing to hold its biennial WMC McLellan Competition this year — its April 2020 finals were cancelled, owing to COVID-19 related lockdowns — with semi-final rounds being held Feb. 26 and subsequent finals with the WSO on April 20. Plans for its regular fall lineup, including a November program as part of the first-place winner’s prize package for the Eckhardt-Gramatté National Competition are pending. wmcwpg.ca
There you have it — more live concerts than we’ve seen in over a year, and a greater bounty than last fall’s opening as our arts organizations continue to evolve, adapt and ultimately transcend these ever-changing times.
Please note this is not an exhaustive list but only what’s on record right now. So grab your immunization card, QR code, or purchase a livestream ticket, mask up and get out there (if you are comfortable being in a hall), and support live music — yes, it matters, and our cherished arts groups need you more than ever.