Welcome back! As leaves begin to fall and nights grow cooler, Winnipeg’s classical music scene is already heating up with another sumptuous feast of world-class concerts. Here are a few that caught my eye from now until yuletide, listed in (mostly) chronological order:
1. Legendary soprano Renée Fleming marks her local debut as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra presents the Grammy-winning singer performing Strauss’s Four Last Songs as the latest offering in its annual Asper Foundation Opening Night Series. The one-night-only concert, led by Daniel Raiskin on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall, will be followed the next night at 5:30 p.m., with Fleming, a fierce advocate for mental health awareness, presenting a free seminar titled Music and the Mind: A Conversation with Renée Fleming. Advance reservations required. wso.ca
2. The Winnipeg Classical Guitar Society welcomes Syrian ensemble the Orontes Guitar Quartet as part of its ongoing International Artist Series on Saturday, Sept. 14, 8 p.m., at Precious Blood Church, 200 Kenny St. The group is the first to be supported by New York City-based program the Artist Protection Fund, with the players now taking refuge in Canada from warfare and political strife in their homeland. The show also features guitar sensation Iqui Vinculado from the Philippines. winnipegclassicalguitarsociety.com
3. Virtuosi Concerts roars back to life with the renowned Montrose Trio performing Dvorak’s Trio in E minor, a.k.a "Dumky," as well as Schubert’s Trio in E-flat major on Saturday, Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m at the intimate Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, tucked away in the University of Winnipeg. www.virtuosi.mb.ca
4. Polycoro Chamber Choir, under the baton of John Wiens, takes its fearless following to the dark side — literally — with two performances of season-opener Dark being seen, er, not seen, on Sunday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. with the venue yet to be revealed. The program, featuring the lush harmonies of Part, Tallis, Whitacre, Monk and Rutter, will be sung sans lighting with the audience encircled by singers. www.polycoro.ca
5. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg, the city’s oldest continuously operating musical organization, led by some of Winnipeg’s grandest dames. Their opening concert, Beethoven’s Cellists — presented in partnership with Prairie Debut and slated for Sunday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery — features Toronto-based cello duo VC2 (Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt), in a program inspired by the 19th-century German composer’s cello sonatas. womensmusicalclubofwpg.ca
6. Speaking of Germany, the Westminster Concert Organ Series celebrates the "king of instruments" with Leipzig, Germany-based organist Sebastian Heindl on Sunday, Oct. 27, at 2:30 p.m. at Westminster United Church. The 21-year-old artist recently took home top prize for the 2019 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition in June, including a noteworthy $40,000 Pierre S. du Pont First Prize. westminsterchurch.org/wcos_2017-18/
7. The Winnipeg Chamber Music Society — now in its 33rd season and comprised of violinists Gwen Hoebig and Karl Stobbe, violist Daniel Scholz, and cellist Yuri Hooker, with pianist/artistic director David Moroz — performs a program spanning three centuries of chamber music, including works by Haydn, Bartok and Brahms on Sunday, Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. wcms.mb.ca
8. OK, if there’s one concert to definitely see this year, it’s Groundswell’s The Naked Voice, curated by Winnipeg composer Diana McIntosh, now in her final season as one of the 29-year-old group’s co-founders. The program showcasing vocalist Helen Pridmore being held Thursday, Nov. 14, 8 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery includes a world premiere by McIntosh, as well as a rare opportunity to hear Canadian-Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic’s heart-stirring chamber opera Love Songs with "I love you" performed in 100 different languages. gswell.ca
9. Manitoba Opera opens its new season with Carlisle Floyd’s 1955 gripping tragedy Susannah, featuring Winnipeg soprano Lara Ciekiewicz in the title role. The three-performance run opens Saturday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall and runs through Friday, Nov. 29. mbopera.ca
10. Canzona, led by Kathleen Allan, rings in the holiday season with J. S. Bach’s magnificent Magnificat in collaboration with the WSO on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2, p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Keep your ears open for the baroque master’s Cantata No. 147 featuring iconic chorale Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. canzona.ca
11. Back by popular demand, Quebec-based lyric soprano Karina Gauvin, hailed as the "queen of baroque opera" (Opera News), returns to the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra stage for an all-Bach program on Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Westminster United Church. The concert will be led by Anne Manson and also features the Winnipeg Singers. www.themco.ca
12. The Winnipeg Singers are still basking in the well-deserved afterglow of garnering the "Grand Prix" award for most outstanding choir at the Golden Voices of Barcelona international choral competition in July, in addition to winning all three competition categories.
The choir present festive favourites in Christmas with Brass, led by Yuri Klaz and featuring the Winnipeg Brass Quintet on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. www.winnipegsingers.com
13. Polycoro’s Wiens moonlights as guest conductor for Camerata Nova in ROSA [mys.ti.ka], showcasing American cornetto player Bruce Dickey and others. The mostly Renaissance program also includes a contemporary work by CN artistic director Andrew Balfour, with two 7:30 p.m. shows slated for Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. cameratanova.com
14. The venerable Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, also helmed by Klaz, promises to make spirits bright with Christmas with the Phil on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the choral-friendly Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Guest artists include local organist Wes Elias, pianist Donna Laube and the St. James-Divisional Children’s Choir led by Heather Neufeld. thephil.ca
And finally, while you’re awaiting your next show, Winnipeg musicologist Don Anderson presents his latest course, Composer Buddies, exploring the collegial ties that bind artists, as well as their personal relationships. The weekly program will be offered at the Community Classroom at McNally Robinson Booksellers each Tuesday, from Sept. 24 to Oct. 22, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., with more details here: www.mcnallyrobinson.com
As usual, this represents only the tip of the iceberg, with many more terrific concerts listed on each group’s website. Enjoy the music and see you in two weeks!
More can’t-miss concerts
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra with Russian-born maestro Daniel Raiskin, now in his second full season on the podium, offers its own cornucopia of stellar concerts, whether your taste runs to Bach or Zeppelin. The 2019/20 season also sees beloved, endlessly versatile maestro Julian Pellicano promoted from resident conductor — a role he’s had for the last six years — to associate conductor (Pellicano was also recently named principal conductor of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet). There’s a brand new baton on the block, too: Canadian dynamo Naomi Woo begins her inaugural season as WSO assistant conductor.
Here are a few more picks worth considering, including several guest artists particularly near and dear to Raiskin’s heart.
The first of those is Austrian-born violinist Benjamin Schmid, who performs Korngold’s Violin Concerto Sept. 27-28, with the program also featuring Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 and Mozart’s Symphony No. 31. Celebrated Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman tackles Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto March 20-21, performing on the very same Stradivarius, dating to 1690, on which the work was premièred in 1881, while Russian pianist Alexei Volodin scales a musical Mount Everest, playing all five Beethoven concerti during two back-to-back concerts, March 6-7.
“These are people who very strongly define my artistic DNA,” Raiskin told Free Press entertainment editor Alan Small last February. “These not only are my dear and longtime friends, but very special partners onstage that I have been performing with. The people whom I’m onstage with are an extension of who I am. It’s a way of showing even more of myself and my insight to Winnipeggers.”
Pops fans won’t want to miss hearing hit group Pink Martini Sept. 20-21, or this year’s holiday show, featuring the New York Voices Dec. 13-15. A lovely, lilting Journey Down the Danube showcases local soprano Jessica Kos-Whicher and WSO violinist Jeremy Buzash on Sept. 22.
Kids of all ages can start counting the sleeps until Winnipeg’s very own brilliant entertainer Al Simmons lights up the stage with his zany antics as part of the Kids Concerts series on Jan. 19.
Movie buffs will be treated to a full lineup of flicks with live symphonic score, including Jurassic Park Oct. 26-27, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, April 4-5.
A trio of “specials” this year includes 2018 Polaris Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher on Oct. 9 at the Burton Cummings Theatre, and everyone’s favourite holiday oratorio, Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 7. Folk/indie-rock sensation Serena Ryder marks her symphonic debut with the WSO on Feb. 20, with Winnipeg’s treasured singer/songwriter/composer/guitarist Steve Bell returning for his first non-holiday concert in more than 10 years on Oct. 25.
For more details or choices — and there are plenty from which to choose — visit www.wso.ca