Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/12/2008 (4465 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The WSO is taking intriguingly divergent forks in the road for the 18th annual festival, which runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 2009.
The more traditional path takes a page from Canada's cultural history. The repertoire may not be quite "cutting edge" but it has a consistent theme.
"We're kind of tracing Canada's musical lineage," says Vincent Ho, composer-in-residence and co-curator of the festival along with artistic director/conductor Alexander Mickelthwate. "It's basically Part 2 of 2008's Made in Canada theme."
The NMF explores the origins of the unique Canadian identity with repertoire by composers from France, Great Britain and, of course, Canada.
This festival has a reputation -- not just locally, but worldwide -- as an innovative driving force behind new music from across the globe. Many orchestras have followed suit with their own versions of the WSO's yearly winter event, but as the vanguard, it has maintained its position apart from the rest.
And so this year's NMF is entitled Extase! (French for ecstasy). Take from this what you will, as this provocative title evokes something different in each of us. "We're exploring all aspects of ecstasy -- love, passion, spirituality," explains Ho.
With that in mind, many of the musical selections make sense. Take Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila Symphonie, scheduled for opening night. This gargantuan work, inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde, is splashy and sensual. With its spectacular solo roles for piano and ondes martenot, an early electronic keyboard instrument played by French-Canadian musician Jean Laurendeau, it represents, in the composer's words, "love, joy, time, movement, rhythm, life and death."
Another featured work is French composer Henri Dutilleux's cello concerto Tout un monde lointain, performed by gifted WSO principal cellist Yuri Hooker. Commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich, it is a mysterious and sensitive work, introspective and virtuosic.
Brit John Tavener's Requiem closes the festival. This will actually be the work's North American premiere, and from Ho's description, it sounds visually and acoustically interesting.
"The brass will be in the second balcony," he says, "and there will be a special configuration of the musicians and chorus on the stage. This will produce an antiphonal effect."
According to the composer, the subject for this composition is "the perennial truth of all the great religions."
On that same evening, the orchestra will play a work of special significance to Ho. It is his own composition, entitled Fallen Angel: In Memoriam Richard D'Amore. "I was inspired to write this by a striking photo called Eagle and Nude, by photographer Richard D'Amore," he explained.
Ho met D'Amore years ago and grew to respect him as an artist and a person. The feeling was mutual. While working on the composition, Ho heard that the photographer had been tragically and violently killed.
"This changed the direction I was going with the work. It became much more spiritual," he says. "I poured my heart and soul into it -- and it became my epic work."
Truly Beating a Different Drum: The almost indescribable Montreal-based ensemble Scrap Arts Music is an example of the riskier, more offbeat direction of this festival. Led by founder, composer and inventor Gregory Kozak, this five-person band plays a series of percussion instruments you won't see anywhere else. Kozak fashioned them himself from anything he could find -- industrial scrap, accordion parts, even artillery shells.
Ho worked with the group in Banff a few years ago.
"Their music is designed around their instruments," he said. "It's nothing like what you learn about music in university."
Their instruments are not only visually striking, but they are performed with physical theatrics that will resonate throughout the concert hall -- and likely in your memory for some time to come.
The world premiere of Kozak's Composition for Chariot of Choir and Strings will unveil his most newly invented creation, a 9.75-metre-long stainless-steel percussion/string instrument.
Not to leave out choral and film enthusiasts, there will also be performances by the University of Manitoba Singers and Women's Choir. Prairie Voices and several soloists will perform Richard Einhorn's score to a screening of the 1928 silent film Voice of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc, with filmmaker Guy Maddin hosting.
News of the 2009 New Music Festival comes out just in time for Christmas, with passes now on sale for $69 (adults), $59 (seniors) and $39 (students). For information or for single-ticket pricing and scheduling, visit www.wso.mb.ca or phone 949-3999.