August 8, 2020

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Erasing music's boundaries

Winnipeg roots-rock and classical composers build bridges for Manitoba Skylines project

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/12/2019 (247 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Some artists travel to gain inspiration for their next project, but for others, such as singer-songwriter Scott Nolan and classical composer Glenn Buhr, it is coming home that sparks the creative process.

Buhr and Nolan are both recognizable names in the city’s music scene but for fairly different reasons. Both returned to Winnipeg after time away, and have since been working on a new collaborative project, Manitoba Skylines, which takes its name from a track penned by Nolan. It’s one of many Nolan has written recently pegged to ideas of home, family and his childhood.

The pair hadn’t worked together in the past, but Buhr reached out to Nolan by way of email to suss out whether Nolan would be interested in collaborating; after a few visits in Nolan’s studio, they began comparing compositional notes.

Supplied photo</p><p>Classical composer Glenn Buhr (left) and singer-songwriter Scott Nolan will pair up for Manitoba Skylines, a collaborative concert at the West End Cultural Centre.</p></p>

Supplied photo

Classical composer Glenn Buhr (left) and singer-songwriter Scott Nolan will pair up for Manitoba Skylines, a collaborative concert at the West End Cultural Centre.

"We were two guys that kind of, at least creatively, ended up in a similar place but from entirely different backgrounds. You know, I remember when we got to the point in our friendship where we started showing each other how we approached work, that was the intriguing part to Glenn because I mean he’s a doctor of music, he’s a professor, so not only is he an artist, but he teaches people music, so I think he had a curiosity," says Nolan.

"Glenn is passionate about songwriting outside of the classical idiom. We’ve got a lot of things in common yet are completely different. With Glenn, he’s got a broad, global audience for his work, but maybe not for him, per se. Such a weird juxtaposition that his work would travel successfully without him, whereas it’s the opposite for me."

It wasn’t too long before Nolan shared with Buhr some of his works in progress, demos of those songs steeped in personal memories of Manitoba; Buhr took the tracks home and began to create string arrangements for quartet, leading the songs down a path of chamber folk rather than the roots-rock of Nolan’s previous work.

“He (Glenn Buhr) was so gracious and thoughtful about respecting the music that already existed, I was pushing him to feel free to go a little further. I was quite interested in hearing it become more of a collaboration beyond just creating arrangements.” –Scott Nolan

"He was so gracious and thoughtful about respecting the music that already existed, I was pushing him to feel free to go a little further. I was quite interested in hearing it become more of a collaboration beyond just creating arrangements," says Nolan of Buhr, who co-founded (along with Bramwell Tovey) the Winnipeg New Music Festival in 1990.

The culmination of the project will be the concert on Thursday, Dec. 5 at the West End Cultural Centre, which will feature Nolan, Buhr and the 12-piece Fallen Angel Orchestra, which will be the world première of the tracks Nolan and Buhr collaborated on. Except for the microphones for the vocalists and a guitar, the entire performance is un-amplified, and the musicians will be stationed on the floor of the WECC rather than the stage, with audience members all around (and above) them. The seating arrangement was partially inspired by the late Mitch Podolak, a co-founder of the West End Cultural Centre, who was very much about bringing the music closer to the people.

"It’s merging the two worlds a little bit and I think the venue, we’re using a new-music approach with the concert in the middle of the WECC and not on the stage," says Nolan adding bleachers will be brought in as a nod to Buhr’s past work with the Winnipeg New Music Festival, where bleachers were placed around the orchestra.

"Most of the time you mount a show to make some type of profit. We went into this saying, ‘Let’s mount the show we dreamed of.’ I joke with Glenn this whole thing was something I didn’t even have a chance to dream of, it’s so amazing that I wish I could say I thought of it early on, but I didn’t."

Nolan and Buhr have recorded four songs with the Ontario-based Penderecki String Quartet, three with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and plan on recording the concert at the WECC, but there’s no concrete plan as to how or when or if the tracks will be released in the format of a traditional album.

“We wanted to build a site where it would be high–end and interactive and user–friendly, where Glenn and I would be permanent artists–in–residence and we would have rotating guest artists and, ultimately, moving forward, the hope would be we could commission new work as well as new collaborations.” – Scott Nolan

In addition to the concert and recorded music, Buhr and Nolan have started to think bigger-picture and have plans in the works to develop a virtual art gallery, music platform and record label, DreamPlay, inspired by the exceptional online archive created by Neil Young and his team. The hope is DreamPlay will help to build bridges between different artistic communities, as Manitoba Skylines has built a bridge between roots and classical music. Ultimately, it will not only be a place to display and create work, it would provide a way to fund it, as well.

"We wanted to build a site where it would be high-end and interactive and user-friendly, where Glenn and I would be permanent artists-in-residence and we would have rotating guest artists and, ultimately, moving forward, the hope would be we could commission new work as well as new collaborations," says Nolan.

"Everything evolves; I mean seeing (Polaris Prize winner) Jeremy Dutcher collaborate with the symphonies, what a remarkable thing. So this is it, this is where we’re at historically, where we need gatekeepers and people that care enough to go, ‘You know, this is an important time here that we properly curate these things,’ and recognize that relationships can be fostered here and we can create new forms.

"And if could find myself in that position beyond thinking of my own work, I’d take great pride in being able to connect different people who maybe would have never even known each other."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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