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This article was published 25/5/2016 (2181 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For 25 years, University of Winnipeg psychology professor and impresario Harry Strub has tended Virtuosi Concerts like a watchful parent, carefully orchestrating every detail of its nine-concert season that has made it one of the most well-respected chamber music series in this country.
The organization will pay a special tribute to its tireless founding artistic director when it holds a 25th anniversary gala Thursday, June 2 at 6 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The concert features acclaimed pianist Angela Cheng performing an eclectic program of solo works by Haydn, Beethoven and Chopin. Arts broadcaster Eric Friesen will serve as host.
"I feel strongly that Virtuosi Concerts as a program of excellence has contributed to the reputation of the University of Winnipeg, and I feel that that’s a pretty important legacy," the erudite producer states over wine and cheese. "We also have to marvel that, even with strained finances, the U of W has supported me through six university presidents, with that support critical to VC’s success."
Strub says choosing Cheng for the event was a no-brainer, with the beloved artist having graced Virtuosi’s stages multiple times — including during its second concert back in 1987 — with her last appearance in April 2011. The Ohio-based pianist, who also anchors the fledgling Pinchas Zukerman Piano Trio, in addition to teaching at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, has been a crowd favourite for years.
"There’s a warmth to her playing that is very compelling," Strub explains of Cheng. "She’s been a sweetheart for Winnipeg audiences, and I really did believe it was a perfect choice for us."
Born in Hamilton, Ont., Strub eschewed the family business — Strub Pickles — to follow his dream of becoming a teacher. After arriving in Winnipeg in 1966 to begin his professorship at the U of W’s United College, he began presenting a steady stream of guest psychology lecturers on a shoestring budget, which eventually morphed into the Music at Noon series, and later, the Millennium Library’s noon-hour Skywalk Concerts and Lectures Series — among others — in 1990.
After being approached by CBC producer Jim Hiscott to co-present the U of W concerts, Virtuosi Concerts was formally founded in 1991 and boasts a healthy subscriber base of 275 patrons, who faithfully attend concerts at the U of W’s Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall.
One of the most defining features of Strub’s tenure is creating what he calls the "Virtuosi experience." Audience members are treated like kings and queens, offered complimentary pre-show wine-tastings, as well as a post-show reception where they can mingle with world-renowned artists.
More recently, Virtuosi also launched an emerging artist showcase co-ordinated by Winnipeg pianist Madeline Hildebrand with executive director Andrew Thomson. Local musicians audition for an opportunity to perform during the first five minutes of each concert. The young artist chosen to open for Cheng’s concert will be pianist Daniel Tselyakov, who studied with her at Oberlin.
However, producing his own classical series is also personal for Strub, with the seeds of his own deep love for music sown early. He began piano lessons as a child, and still practises music every day by his go-to composers J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff on his 1950 Steinway. He also regularly takes lessons with New York City-based artist Peter Vinograde, who opens Virtuosi’s 26th season in September.
Milestone anniversaries always give pause for reflection. When asked how long he plans to continue — and more delicately, what succession plans are being put in place for Virtuosi’s next quarter-century — the famously modest Strub, who also just celebrated his 50th year of teaching at the U of W, responds quickly.
"When I retire from teaching, I will retire from Virtuosi Concerts, as the marriage of the two has been very important to me," he says. "But I don’t want to retire. I’m enjoying myself and it’s been too fulfilling. I think another five years is reasonable, but five years ago that was also a reasonable number. We are creating a succession plan, but I have no immediate plans at the moment. I’m simply having too much fun."
For more information and to purchase tickets ($125) to the gala, visit www.virtuosi.mb.ca.
Also marking an anniversary this year is Winnipeg’s Esprit de Choeur, led by Valdine Anderson, which holds its own gala concert on Sunday, June 5 at 4 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. The vocal ensemble, dedicated to choral works written for women’s voices, will perform a program including Ola Gjeilo’s Song of the Universal for choir, piano and 11-piece string ensemble, as well as the commissioned world première of Canadian composer Glenn Sutherland’s complete Two Songs from the Firmament.
More information and tickets ($20 and $250 are available at espritdechoeur.com.