A trendsetting year for the NMF

Visits by legendary new music performers ‘a real coup’ for Winnipeg.

Alexander Mickelthwate Random Notes
Alexander Mickelthwate
Random Notes

Dear Lifestyles readers,

It is so nice to write to you again. As you might know, my family and I have been here now for eight years and are very proud to call ourselves Winnipeggers. My kids are big hockey enthusiasts and when I am not in the concert hall I find myself outside shivering at skating practice!

Today I’d like to talk to you about the Winnipeg New Music Festival which starts Jan. 31. Now in its 24th year, the festival has become a very special part of our city. It shines an international light on Winnipeg and is something that we can all be proud of. Our recent tour to Carnegie Hall, in which we performed four works by Canadian composers, was possible in many ways due to the pioneering work we undertake in the WNMF.

Eclectic times
This year’s festival takes a slightly different approach from previous years in that it reflects the complete eclecticism of our time. In many walks of life we are constantly browsing through an extreme range of ideas, images and topics on the Internet, on social media like YouTube, or even tuning into the evening news. Similarly, music in 2015 is inspired by a broad range of ideas, aesthetics and emotions.

This year’s festival traverses these real cultural extremes that we live in, which are often standing right next to each other. WNMF 2015 will feature the most polished contemporary string quartet in the world standing next to Sarah Neufeld from Arcade Fire who is next to John Zorn, one of New York’s most spirited independent composer/creators.

This next to the lush and almost cinematic music of Giya Kanchelli which is the polar opposite of Wolfgang Rihm and Georg Friederich Haas, who represent the first time we will have two major German composers who come out of the Darmstadt tradition of intellectual and precise music. They create music that functions almost more vertically than horizontally, with a new harmonic language of sonorities that are really thought out and full of a sophisticated beauty.

And then from another pillar we have Christopher Rouse who comes out of the American tradition of Copland with a very symphonic, very muscular and exciting music that will be a complete workout for the orchestra. Our own Andrew Balfour has created a powerful and topical new work called Take the Indian. The piece is a meditation on the experiences of survivors of the residential school system and will be performed by Camerata Nova and Prairie Voices.

Arditti String Quartet (Photo Credit: Astrid Karger)
Arditti String Quartet (Photo Credit: Astrid Karger)

We are very honoured to have the Arditti String Quartet and pianist Ursula Oppens here in Winnipeg for the first time. It is a real coup that we are bringing these legendary performers to Canada and probably a first in that the Arditti Quartet will perform twice – first in a concerto for string quartet with the WSO and then in an intimate night of works for string quartet.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear an ensemble described as “unforgettable” by The Guardian. Ursula Oppens is considered a champion of new piano music and will tackle one of the major works of the 20th century. For any new music buff these performances are a must to witness.

One connection point that runs throughout WNMF 2015 is James Tenney, a sort of godfather for many composers and linked to Georg Fredrich Haas and John Luther Adams (both guests this year). Tenney created a different tone language and way of looking at music which is largely outside of the classical tradition. He was a revolutionary thinker who inspired his students and acolytes to create completely new sound worlds that have not been heard before and remain outsider music that is beyond the academy and traditional ways of writing.

Music of many flavours
I think that 2015 is ultimately a real trendsetting year. We go where other festivals have not gone before and draw connections between the many flavours of contemporary music. We will create a platform for new voices, new junctions between composers as well as other artists. We will screen film by the groundbreaking Quay Brothers and collaborate with Neil Farber, the Plug-In Gallery, and Paul Butler.

In short, it will be a cultural feast of the new and a festival we won’t soon forget. Are you ready?

I hope so because I can’t wait for it to start.

See you soon.

Alexander

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