December 18, 2018

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Darkness & light

War between good and evil at this year's Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's Autumn Festival

Andrea Joynt photo</p><p>Natasha Paremski</p>

Andrea Joynt photo

Natasha Paremski

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2017 (418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra takes audiences from the gates of heaven into the fires of hell when it unleashes its fifth-annual Autumn Festival, Angels and Demons this weekend.

The weeklong series is inspired by the polarities of the human condition and runs Friday, Oct. 27 until Saturday, Nov. 4 at various venues. There are seven concerts, including two featuring the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir. A solo piano recital by Moscow-born Natasha Paremski, who also performs Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor this weekend is being held Monday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In a press release, WSO music director Alexander Mickelthwate says this year’s festival is a personal highlight.

“This music evokes mysticism and paranormal themes… and gives us the chance to wade deep into the emotional waters of the human spirit…” says Mickelthwate, who curated this year’s lineup.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2017 (418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra takes audiences from the gates of heaven into the fires of hell when it unleashes its fifth-annual Autumn Festival, Angels and Demons this weekend.

The weeklong series is inspired by the polarities of the human condition and runs Friday, Oct. 27 until Saturday, Nov. 4 at various venues. There are seven concerts, including two featuring the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir. A solo piano recital by Moscow-born Natasha Paremski, who also performs Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor this weekend is being held Monday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In a press release, WSO music director Alexander Mickelthwate says this year’s festival is a personal highlight.

"This music evokes mysticism and paranormal themes… and gives us the chance to wade deep into the emotional waters of the human spirit…" says Mickelthwate, who curated this year’s lineup.

Marco Borggreve photo</p><p>Russian conductor Daniel Raiskin promises pure and powerful music. Inset: Pianist Natasha Paremski will be doing a solo recital on Oct. 30.</p>

Marco Borggreve photo

Russian conductor Daniel Raiskin promises pure and powerful music. Inset: Pianist Natasha Paremski will be doing a solo recital on Oct. 30.

During the festival, audiences will hear what is considered to be the most popular classical music work of all time by a contemporary composer, entitled Beethoven, Chopin and a Sorrowful Song, with charismatic Russian conductor Daniel Raiskin. He’ll lead the players through Henryk Górecki’s masterpiece Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs).

The maestro, who also serves as principal guest conductor with the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra and Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, last appeared on the WSO podium in February. He spoke over the phone from his Amsterdam home about the elegiac, three-movement work being sung in Polish by Canadian soprano Nathalie Paulin.

Composed in 1976, the nearly one-hour symphony deals with love and loss and resonates as a lamentation for ties between mother and child. It’s based on harrowing texts, including wall etchings by a young woman imprisoned by the Gestapo.

"I compare this very beautiful music to a mass, with powerful buildups in dynamics and harmonies that are both heartbreaking and comforting at times," Raiskin says. "Its simplicity comes with the purity of the idea. You don’t need much to address the real beauty of innocence."

Notably, Raiskin also conducted Górecki’s famous symphony with the late Polish composer in attendance during a 2009 concert with the Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra in Lodz, Poland. It happened to be a year prior to the elder artist’s death in 2010.

"I had incredible luck in meeting Henryk Górecki, having worked with him on two occasions," Raiskin says. "What struck me was he was a person of incredible simplicity and incredible spirituality at the same time. He is a true believer in the best of human nature. He was never tired to repeat that the worst person on Earth is not born being that way. The best in each of us is good, and he was looking for this good through his music."

The eloquent maestro, who travelled to the city earlier this week with his wife and young daughter, also sings praises for the WSO, which he’ll be leading for the third time since 2015.

"My experience making music with this orchestra is incredibly natural and very, very easy," he says. "I’ve only had a few encounters in my professional life where I’ve had this kind of immediate connection and I cherish this. I’m incredibly happy and honoured to continue this relationship with such a wonderful ensemble."

Górecki’s profoundly moving work has clearly struck a chord with listeners over the years and has been further fuelled after the 1993 release of a now-iconic recording with American soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta. That recording has now sold well over a million copies, and topped both classical and popular music charts.

"We are experiencing incredible tensions and divisiveness now in the world," Raiskin says when asked about the piece’s enduring appeal and timeliness. "People are looking for a kind of refuge between the walls of the concert hall. For the hour, we are going to listen to this piece, we will all be one again, because of the power and beauty of this music that touches people’s hearts and souls. Anyone who hears this work is unable to leave untouched or unmoved."

The festival’s second cornerstone is a rare local performance of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Seven Deadly Sins, featuring Winnipeg soprano Sarah Jo Kirsch. The Friday, Nov. 3, and Saturday, Nov. 4, concerts will be led by Mickelthwate.

"It’s just a brilliant period piece from the 1930s written in a gritty cabaret style," Kirsch says of the 35-minute musical. "It’s full of ‘tangy twang’ that brings the uncomfortable reality of an independent young woman trying to support her family in the depths of the Depression era to the concert stage."

Also on the bill is Liszt’s Dante Symphony, a piece that evokes nightmarish images as it takes listeners through hell to ultimately paradise, ending with a heavenly choir of angels singing a hymn to the Virgin Mary.

"Liszt creates a tone painting in a way that really reflects the spirit of German Romanticism of that time," Mickelthwate says of the mystical work. "There’s almost this natural simplicity and naiveté in this piece that is very beautiful, and very honest, and I’m very excited to perform it here in Winnipeg."

Other festival highlights include the WCMS’s chamber night on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Featured are works by Tartini, Liszt and Beethoven performed by the Clearwater Quartet with artistic director/pianist David Moroz.

"Our contribution to this year’s festival includes a sonata inspired by the devil, a ballade based on an ancient Greek myth, a sonnet depicting the eternal struggle between good and evil, and a string quartet of profound spirituality," Moroz says via email.

The venerable Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, led by Yuri Klaz, also performs Darkness and Light, Sunday, Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. The eclectic program is uniquely divided into two halves — Darkness and Light — and features a quartet of guest vocalists.

"There is this feeling of transcendence throughout the entire festival that is very powerful, and especially with all the turmoil in today’s world," Mickelthwate says.

"For me, music has this healing power and connects us to something deeper, and I hope this year’s festival will give solace and comfort, as well as a profound sense of hope."

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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