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This article was published 22/1/2021 (523 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Like most arts organizations, Virtuosi Concerts, Winnipeg’s international recital and chamber music series, has had to shift gears amid a pandemic that has silenced stages all over the world — including the University of Winnipeg’s Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, Virtuosi’s home since 1993.
Being a performance-based organization during COVID-19 isn’t the only challenge this institution has had to face, however. The past year also saw the retirement of Virtuosi’s founding artistic director Harry Strub and, effective March 31, Virtuosi and the University of Winnipeg will officially end its partnership of 30 years.
Andrew Thomson, Virtuosi Concerts’ executive director, says with the pandemic, coupled with budget cuts at the U of W due to a reduction in provincial funding, he saw what was coming.
"It was very amicable," he says. "Our success and the reason we existed was because of Harry Strub, who is still a professor at the U of W. And so, it was always a positive relationship. But the realities are, they had lost all the international students and all the other pressures and unknowns, so they felt this was the best time to separate."
For Virtuosi, however, it felt like the worst time to separate. No concerts means no way to generate income. The university offered half an operating grant which Thomson was thankful for, and they are hoping to continue to use Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall when live performances can happen again, but the future is full of uncertainties.
And so, the organization has decided to focus firmly on the present.
Tonight, Virtuosi will present a virtual concert featuring Yuri Hooker, principal cellist at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and up-and-coming cellist David Liam Roberts, who was named one of Canada’s "30 Hot Classical Musicians under 30" by CBC in 2019. The concert, recorded by videographer Julie Epp and sound engineer Joe Dudych, will be available on YouTube at 7:30 p.m.
"Code red was actually kind of helpful because we realized, ‘OK, we have to put to bed the dream of having concerts at a distance, you know, with like, 25 per cent capacity,’" says Madeline Hildebrand, Virtuosi’s interim artistic adviser. "And it allowed us to focus all of our energy into online concerts and how to obtain grants and funding for online concerts."
Tonight’s concert was made possible by the provincial government’s Safe At Home Manitoba grant, which provided $3 million to a variety of Manitoba organizations and individuals to produce free, virtual programming. Virtuosi will produce three additional virtual concerts, also featuring Manitoba musicians.
Virtual concerts is not only an opportunity to try a new format, Thomson points out, but a chance to connect with new audiences. And for the artists, it’s an opportunity to experiment with different programming — all of it laying the groundwork for Virtuosi 2.0.
"Classical arts organizations have gone through a huge shift, especially at the end of 2020, because not only were we dealing with our stages literally being silenced, we were also, as artists, thinking, ‘Well, how can I incorporate a lot of the global conversations about equality and diversity into my art? How can I use the stage as a platform to share a message?’" Hildebrand says.
"I think that there will always be room for the composers who have contributed to the classical canon — and I mean the pillar composers: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart," she says. "These people will always exist, and we should value them and pay homage to them. But, at the same time, there’s room for so much more growth, and there’s room to say so much more. And when you tell artists, ‘We’re interested in what you have to say,’ programming can really change."
The shows will go on — and so, too, will Virtuosi.
"We believe that the future is ours, we just have to find the path," Thomson says.