Stirring up ghosts in bowels of the Bay
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/02/2017 (2186 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They brought camp cots and gravity chairs. They lay on blankets, danced in the aisles, texted, tweeted, held hands and, for the most part, listened gobsmacked to the 2017 Winnipeg Music Festival’s daring artistic experiment, its penultimate concert of the weeklong series, the spookily titled WNMF6: Ghosts of the Hudson’s Bay Building.
Thursday night’s 140-minute show (no intermission) took a sold-out crowd of 1,000 deep into the bowels of the historic Hudson’s Bay building for an evening of chamber works. Maestro Alexander Mickelthwate played gracious host for the evening, welcoming the curious, as well as the Bay’s reputed two resident ghosts to the night’s proceedings. This is the second time the festival has explored “alternative spaces,” first taking the plunge last year with its wildly popular concert held at the Pan-Am Pool.
Right out of the gate came one of the night’s most compelling works. The world première of Canadian composer Alexina Louie’s Falling Through Time, composed and performed by Winnipeg’s Clearwater Quartet, showed the artful hand of this national treasure. WSO players concertmaster Gwen Hoebig, Karl Stobbe, violin; Daniel Scholz, viola; and Yuri Hooker, cello, with pianist David Moroz, infused the three-movement work with dramatic flourish, including its opening Cascade, the elegiac Intermezzo — Elegy for Marina Geringas dedicated to Louie’s late friend, pianist Marina Geringas, and virtuosic finale, Falling Through Time, including Moroz’ striking at the inner piano wires.
Another highlight proved to be homegrown virtuoso Lubomyr Melnyk, now based in Europe, who journeyed home for this concert. The Winnipeg-born pianist and newly signed Sony Classical recording artist immediately filled the hall with torrents of sound during his ballet score for The Dreamers Ever Leave You, choreographed by the National Ballet of Canada’s Robert Binet. Melnyk is a true artist who plays with his heart and soul, pulling out melodic peals from his waves of arpeggios that received the night’s loudest cheers and standing ovation for his solo.
Emilie LeBel’s Taxonomy of Paper Wings, based on Emily Dickinson’s 1885 poem catalogue A821 and performed by Toronto-based Cecilia String Quartet (Min-Jeong Koh, violin; Sarah Nematallah, violin; Caitlin Boyle, viola; Rachel Desoer, cello) did not fare as well, with its more delicate, fragmented textures not always fully projecting.
However, composer/violinist Jessica Moss’ solo Entire Populations, proved more successful, with its folkloric appeal that draws both on her own Jewish heritage and Arabic Maqams ideally suited for this kind of house. It became its own postmodern statement on urban decay, with looper pedals creating effective multi-layers of sonic buzz.
Nicole Lizée’s Isabella Blow at Somerset House, performed by the Cecilia String Quartet, pays homage to late cutting-edge designer Isabella Blow, with her posthumous 2013 exhibition at London’s Somerset House teeming with disembodied mannequin heads coiffed with the niceties of fashion. We’ve heard this gifted composer’s arresting works performed here before, often involving millennial-infused electronics. It’s refreshing to hear her distinct voice through more acoustic means, including textural effects and vocalizations by the string layers.
The world première of festival curator Matthew Patton’s The Limits of Almost World bathed the audience in meditative stillness as the Miles MacDonnell Symphony Singers interspersed among the crowd sang plaintive drone. The festival’s string quartet’s (Meredith McCallum, violin; Kristina Bauch, violin; Anne-Elise Lavelle, viola, Sean Taubner, cello) sustained tones provided sonic counterpoint to seamless vocal textures, evoking lost memories of forgotten worlds.
There were more than a few “deer caught in the headlight” moments until Mickelthwate took control as parade marshal. Many of the works could easily have been trimmed, and the lack of an intermission also created its own pressures. Still, kudos to the WSO for daring to go where no orchestra has gone before, melding our beloved city’s glorious past with new possibilities of artistic expression. Even the ghosts appeared to whisper, “Bravo.”
The festival closes tonight with gala finale WNMF7: The New World at the Centennial Concert Hall, 7:30 p.m.
Updated on Friday, February 3, 2017 6:46 AM CST: Fixes headline, adds photos