New Music Festival 2017 to celebrate Canada’s dynamically changing landscape

Alexander Mickelthwate Random Notes
Alexander Mickelthwate
Random Notes

Dear music lovers,

It’s been a while since my last column. First of all I would like to wish you a wonderful new year. At the symphony we are buzzing along. In autumn I conducted some fantastic concerts, Debussy’s La Mer and Wagner’s Tristan. And in the Pops, we had concerts with Jann Arden, Finjan and E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial. Oh, yes. E.T. was back. “Going Home.”

But today I would like to tell you about the most creative week in Canada at the end of January: the Winnipeg New Music Festival. As you know, the festival is internationally recognized, and last year was our 25th anniversary. The festival has a huge impact on how the symphony is perceived both at home and abroad. You may not know this but the invitation for the WSO to perform at Carnegie Hall three years ago was based on the programming of the festival.

At the festival we perform music from living composers that ranges from the beautiful to the dramatic to the odd. A little bit like the Fringe Festival, a must-see for every Winnipegger.

This year we take another new twist, highlighting mystical outliers, mythological spaces and a birthday party.

Let’s start with the birthday party: Canada 150! Our festival will celebrate Canada’s birthday by painting a vivid picture of the dynamically changing cultural landscape in Canada. Whereas the United States calls itself a melting pot, Canada’s pride is the mosaic. The cultural mosaic. We will perform works of composers that are Canadian-Tadzhik, Canadian-Serbian, Canadian-Sri-Lanken, Canadian-Icelandic, Canadian-Greek. Well you get the point. The classical music world has opened up to so many additional cultures, which combine their heritage with western traditions to create something fresh, original and vibrant.

Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. Photo by Bo Huang.
Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. Photo by Bo Huang.

In addition, we will feature works by Métis and Cree composers to honour the powerful roots of this beautiful country.

The centrepiece will be a new symphony by Christos Hatzis for full orchestra with Inuit and Middle Eastern singers, electronics and visuals: Syn-Phonia (Migration Patterns): a coming together of cultures that creates something awesome and new.

Internationally acclaimed Meredith Monk will be guest composer. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy Sacksco.
Internationally acclaimed Meredith Monk will be guest composer. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy Sacksco.

As I mentioned above, besides the birthday party we will hear music from mystical outliers and performed in mythological spaces. With this in mind, our international guest composer will be Meredith Monk, about whom the New York Times wrote last spring, “She remains, more than 50 years after the start of her New York career, a peerless mixture of otherworldly and human.” That’s a genuine must-see.

And on the chance you believe in angels or non-denominational spiritual beings, I have something for you. Finnish composer Rautavaara wrote many orchestral works based on his visions. The most powerful is his mystical Symphony No. 7, Angel of Light, which we will perform during the festival.

What kind of mythological places am I talking about? Well, there are several in town, which reflect a certain mythology of Winnipeg. The Thursday performance will be in the basement of the Hudson’s Bay: an amazing kaleidoscope of chamber works in different corners of the vast empty space, paired with individual memories of this historic building.

And after our final performance on Friday we will present a 12-hour Drone at the Duncan Sportsplex, a nostalgic floor-hockey space behind Eaton’s warehouse, five minutes from the Concert Hall. This presentation is being curated by Melissa Auf der Maur, former bass player with Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins. We start at midnight and go right through to noon the next day. And the music will range from wild and exciting to calm and soothing with different partners, from Thom Bargen coffee to Yoga Public (you can practice your Downward Facing Dog).

Turkish composer Fazil Say. Photo by Marco Borggreve.
Turkish composer Fazil Say. Photo by Marco Borggreve.

The final orchestral work of the festival will be the Mesopotamia Symphony by Turkish composer Fazil Say, a stunningly cinematic piece which is rooted in the middle European classical tradition but is using colourful ideas from the Middle East, including bass flute, bass recorder and an odd, early electronic instrument known as the theremin.

The Winnipeg New Music Festival is exciting and unique, one of my most cherished musical events every year. I hope I got you interested. Come backstage and say hello.


Alexander Mickelthwate is music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

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