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Jane Enkin

Jane Enkin Previews the Winnipeg New Music Festival 2015

by Jane Enkin, January 2014






January 31 to February 6, 2015

Early Bird tickets are on sale now for the Winnipeg New Music Festival. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra partners with local choirs, a variety of venues including the West End Cultural Centre, and an exciting range of international, Canadian and local artists to present a dazzling opportunity for listeners.

Winnipeg's festival is a distinctive one, with a great reputation among composers and performers worldwide. We have the rare opportunity to hear outstanding artists and music that is hard to find in most concert programs.

At their press conference, enthusiastic festival organizers, including WSO Musical Director and Conductor Alexander Mickelthwate, introduced the series. Music lovers are encouraged to attend the whole series, experiencing the festival atmosphere. This year, rather than one over-arching theme or guest composer, there will be a “spider-web” of connections between the performers, composers and educational opportunities.

One thread is the intersection of human rights and music. World renowned pianist Ursula Oppens performs Frederic Rzewski's grand work The People United Will Never Be Defeated, composed in 1975 as a tribute to the Chilean struggle against a repressive regime. She will speak as part of a panel with the intriguing title The Political Force of Musical Beauty. Local composer Andrew Balfour, in his new piece Take The Indian, works with oral stories to create a reflection on missing children and lost voices. The composer will be on stage as a silent performance artist, interacting with members of the choir. The stories he heard at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he said, were tragic and sad. “It was like being in the sweat lodge,” he said, “a point comes when you feel you want to leave, but it's important to stay.” But the stories also carried a sense of power and healing – they are sacred text.

Another theme is the influence of composer James Tenney, a “composer's composer.” Students of Tenney are featured throughout the festival, and one evening of symphonic pieces will focus especially on his legacy. Local composer Matthew Haas, whose tribute 470 Million Years of Quiet will receive its premiere, spoke of the “ripples in the water” that intersect as composers influence one another. John Luther Adams, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the vast symphonic piece the WSO will play, Become Ocean, composes “in search of an ecology of music.”


There is a strong focus on women composers, with historically significant works by Canadians Ann Southam and Violet Archer, a recent orchestral work by Sarah Neufeld, violinist with the popular Indie Rock band Arcade Fire, and many others. The festival organizers are excited to have a choral work by Caroline Shaw – this is the first time she has set her Partita for Eight Voices on an ensemble not her own, and she will teach unfamiliar vocal techniques to the choir.


John Zorn is one of several composers featured who has an established career outside the “classical music” realm. With his record label Tzadik and his work in jazz/klezmer/hardcore/free improvisation fusion, Zorn has been a strong force in redefining Jewish music.


The Arditti Quartet will perform John Zorn's Necronomicon and James Tenney's Arbor Vitae in a program of chamber works, and will perform in an evening with the symphony. It's exciting for Winnipeg to welcome this ensemble, leaders in the world of contemporary music for the last 40 years.


I'm intrigued by the amount of visual content in the festival. Multimedia works include the Quay Brothers' In Absentia and Nicole Lizée's Hitchcock Etudes, one of the panels is called Architecture as Energy and Space, and there will be a daily changing art installation by Neil Farber and an invitation to join Paul Butler's Collage Party.

This is only a taste – full details of concerts, pre- and post concert events, and ticket prices are available on the Winnipeg New Music Festival website.


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