The Winnipeg New Music Festival will aim for the skies in 2023 after two years spent mostly on the tarmac.
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s signature event includes a partnership with the Royal Aviation Museum Western Canada, which will host two of the festival’s six concerts from January 26 to February 26. 3, 2023.
The museum’s new home near Richardson International Airport opened in May, and soon after, the WSO was seeking a boarding pass for the new music festival.
“When I saw the place, I immediately saw that this is where we have to do this. There is a lot of atmosphere, it is very meaningful and it arouses a lot of curiosity, ”explains Daniel Raiskin, music director of the orchestra, who estimates that he spends 50-60% of his life in airports and on planes to Winnipeg or flying to other concerts in Europe and Asia.
“Aviation on the physical plane connects people and lifts them up to the skies. Music connects people and lifts their spirits to the skies…in a time when people are at their lowest.
Performances begin Jan. 26 at Centennial Concert Hall with Launchpad, a presentation of works by nine composers who are part of the WNMF Composers Institute. Raiskin and WSO Associate Conductor Julian Pellicano will conduct the symphony, along with RBC guest conductors Jaelem Bhate and Dmitri Zrajevski.
The festival will afterburn on January 28 in the concert hall with Ancestral Tales, which includes a new work by Finland’s Kalevi Aho, the festival’s distinguished guest composer, and Adizokan Suite by Sandra Laronde and Eliot Britton, which will include dancers from Red Sky Performance and throat boxer Nelson Tagoona, who combines the throat singing of Inuit culture with contemporary beatbox and hip-hop vocals.
The evening will also feature the long-awaited debut of Myth, a new piano concerto by WSO Composer-in-Residence Haralabos (Harry) Stafylakis. The work, which focuses on its Greek heritage and the country’s storytelling tradition, was set in 2020 for the WSO and New York pianist Jenny Lin to perform, but its premiere was delayed by the COVID pandemic. -19.
“I’m really thrilled and relieved that we can finally bring this to life,” Stafylakis says. “To Daniel’s chagrin, I took advantage of the two-year delay to make some small adjustments.”
The WSO will also pay tribute that evening to Bramwell Tovey, who died in July, by performing one of the compositions, sky dance. Tovey was the orchestra’s music director from 1989 to 2001 and co-founded the festival.
“I had the chance to meet him in person at the 2019 festival,” Raiskin said of Tovey. “The music community is greatly indebted to Bramwell, for the way he inspired new music around the world.”
The festival moves to the Museum of Aviation for its next two shows, featuring a performance of ambient composition by Brian Eno music for airports, which includes maverick Dutch bassoonist Bram van Sambeek, highlighting a January 29 concert, and New York-based Kinan Azmeh’s Cityband – a quartet led by Azmeh, clarinet soloist and composer – presenting a fusion of classical music, jazz and Syrian folk.
The festival’s final two shows return to the concert hall on February 1 and 3, both focusing on Aho, who Raiskin said was thrilled to hear that the festival would be featuring his works.
“He immediately responded, ‘There is such a thing as a new music festival, 10 days of new music only and I can be a part of it and you’re actually going to play my music, not just one track but four?’ Raiskin remembers saying Aho.
“One of the privileges of performing contemporary music with living composers is the ability to work with them live,” says Raiskin. “Having them in the concert hall during rehearsals and performances of the music they’ve created adds a whole different dimension to the process.
“I can’t ask Bach, Beethoven, Mahler if they like what I do.”
It took a bit of coaxing from Raiskin, as well as about $7,500 of his own money to pay for publication costs, to commission a new marching band from Aho that will kick off the Jan. 28 program and be part of the 75th WSO anniversary.
“He wrote me a long letter that it’s not possible, but (he) will,” Raiskin says.
Raiskin is looking forward to attending the festival, one of the events that drew him to the WSO and Winnipeg. While the presence of COVID-19 remains and the WSO will provide live streaming opportunities for fans in Manitoba and around the world to enjoy concerts from home, he believes recent symphonic performances prove that musicians and their fans are ready for the in-person festival experience.
“I would insist in this case, if all good things are three, all bad things are two, then (a cancellation) won’t happen a third time,” he says. “We’re looking forward to starting afresh, with a bang, with a lot of hope, with an ability to react to what it means for all of us to go through the past two years.
“It has to happen. We have to, and I think we will.
Alan Small has been a Free Press reporter for over 22 years in a variety of roles, most recently as a reporter in the Arts and Life section.
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