Mu­sic fest tears en­ve­lope wide open

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Holly Har­ris

TO para­phrase an iconic pop­cul­ture slo­gan: the Winnipeg Sym­phony Orches­tra’s 2014 New Mu­sic Fes­ti­val is boldly go­ing where no fes­ti­val has gone be­fore. “This year we go be­yond our reg­u­lar con­ceived ver­sion of what is con­tem­po­rary mu­sic and break out into new gen­res,” says WSO mu­sic di­rec­tor Alexan­der Mick­elth­wate, now in his sev­enth sea­son with the orches­tra. “We are delv­ing into new spir­i­tual, emo­tional, psy­cho­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal depths of mu­sic.” Now in its 23rd year, the 2014 fes­ti­val, ti­tled Be­yond, kicks off Satur­day night and runs through Fri­day, Jan. 31. The ge­n­e­sis for this year’s fes­ti­val is the un­likely re­la­tion­ship be­tween mu­sic’s own odd cou­ple: French tra­di­tion­al­ist com­poser/con­duc­tor Pierre Boulez and Amer­i­can mav­er­ick Frank Zappa, who broke down cre­ative walls with his genre-de­fy­ing mu­sic un­til his death in 1993. Boulez once con­ducted three tracks on Zappa’s 1984 al­bum The Per­fect Stranger — the in­spi­ra­tion that sparked this year’s bound­ary­push­ing, mind-bend­ing feast of mu­sic and ideas. The seven nightly pro­grams fea­ture com­posers Glenn Branca, My­chael Danna, Edv­ing Kang and Vene­tian Snares, among oth­ers, and prom­ise many “a-ha mo­ments,” says Matthew Pat­ton, the fes­ti­val’s artis­tic as­so­ci­ate and, with Mick­elth­wate, its co-cu­ra­tor. “Th­ese are im­por­tant artists who have changed how art and mu­sic is per­ceived,” the Winnipeg-based com­poser says. “And in the larger pic­ture th­ese artists have con­trib­uted greatly to what is a very im­por­tant par­a­digm shift in the cul­ture as a whole. Not only has mu­sic changed, but ev­ery bit as im­por­tantly, the au­di­ence it­self has changed.” Die-hard New Mu­sic Fes­ti­val fans ex­pect to hear all kinds of cut­tingedge mu­sic. This year proves no dif­fer­ent with three Cana­dian pre­mières, one North Amer­i­can pre­mière and three world pre­mières on the bill. What’s new in 2014 is a dizzy­ing ar­ray of add-ons: con­tem­po­rary art and photography ex­hi­bi­tions, eight avant-garde film shorts and even mod­ernistic fur­ni­ture dis­plays to aug­ment the af­ter-show par­ties held most nights at the Cen­ten­nial Con­cert Hall’s Pi­ano No­bile, re­dubbed the Plug In ICA Lounge. The fes­ti­val also li­aises with Canada’s SPUR fes­ti­val of “pol­i­tics, arts and ideas,” which pig­gy­backs onto the week’s ac­tiv­i­ties with four panel dis­cus­sions (Jan 26-31) deal­ing with ev­ery­thing from Winnipeg’s mytho­log­i­cal sta­tus as a ma­jor arts cen­tre to spooky para­nor­mal oc­cur­rences.

“I felt it im­por­tant that there be all kinds of events be­sides mu­sic,” ex­plains Pat­ton. “For me, mu­sic is never just about mu­sic; it’s about peo­ple’s ac­tual emo­tional lives.” Pop Nuit, the gritty satel­lite se­ries launched last year, is back with two late-night pro­grams geared to­wards younger ears (Jan 25 and 31). Head­lin­ers this year in­clude home­town se­cret Vene­tian Snares (a.k.a. Aaron Funk), famed for his manic clus­ters of sam­ples, beats and syn­the­siz­ers, and Po­laris Prize short­listed cir­cu­lar­breath­ing sax­o­phon­ist Colin Stet­son. The two loud ’n’ proud shows in­clude city elec­tronic band Ma­hogany Frog and Van­cou­ver vi­olin­ist Han­nah Ep­per­son, who is known for craft­ing evoca­tive sound loops. One high­light — or two — will be the farewell ap­pear­ance of the world-renowned Hil­liard En­sem­ble, which re­tires af­ter 40 years at the end of 2014. The crit­i­cally ac­claimed Bri­tish male vo­cal quar­tet per­forms Es­to­nian com­poser Arvo Pärt’s sear­ing Litany as part of Hil­liard: Zappa to Arvo Pärt (Jan. 25), which also in­cludes Zappa’s G-Spot Tor­nado and Boulez’s Le Soleil des eaux (The Sun of the Waters). The fol­low­ing night, the en­sem­ble pre­mières Tesla in New York, a fan­tas­ti­cal opera by New York City-based au­teur Jim Jar­musch and com­poser Phil Kline, based on the life of in­ven­tor Nikola Tesla. Another must-see is For­got­ten Winnipeg (Jan. 28), which show­cases Winnipeg-born and raised com­posers mak­ing in­ter­na­tional in­roads. One of the city’s most fa­mous ex­pats is film com­poser My­chael Danna, widely hailed as a pi­o­neer in com­bin­ing non­West­ern sound sources with orches­tra in film; he won a 2012 Os­car for Best Orig­i­nal Score of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. Danna’s The Ice Storm, based on his score for Lee’s 1997 film of the same name, also fea­tures Cree com­poser/ mu­si­cian An­thony Ni­ganii on na­tive Amer­i­can flute. “It’s a piece that I’m very proud of,” Danna says in an in­ter­view from his Los An­ge­les home. “It’s a not-ter­ri­bly­known lit­tle master­piece. It’s one of Ang’s finest films and I think the score is pretty spe­cial and unique. I’m thrilled it’s be­ing per­formed in my home­town.” The Winnipeg-born, Burling­ton, Ont.-raised Danna also sings praises for the fes­ti­val he hopes to at­tend some­day when­ever his re­lent­less film­scor­ing sched­ule per­mits.

“It’s a real tes­ta­ment to the city, and to the or­ga­ni­za­tion how they’ve been able to bring th­ese fab­u­lous artists to­gether,” he says. “You could put this fes­ti­val on in any city of the world, and it couldn’t be bet­ter than what it is.” The NMF reg­u­larly fea­tures an evening of winds, brass and per­cus­sion band mu­sic. This year’s in­stal­ment, Rit­ual Mass (Jan. 27), fea­tures Cana­dian com­poser Henry Brant’s an­tiphonal Mass for 21 flutes. Un­holy Noise (Jan. 29) in­cludes the world pre­mière of Val­geir Sig­urðs­son’s Eigh­teen Hun­dred and Sev­enty Five, which com­mem­o­rates the 125th an­niver­sary of Manitoba’s Ice­landic Fes­ti­val. There’s also Iso­la­tion (Jan. 30) with Pat­ton’s The Pathol­ogy Comes From Within and What the Sys­tem is Not, with live elec­tron­ics gen­er­ated by the com­poser. The fes­ti­val wraps up with Richter and Sil­ve­strov: Be­yond (Jan. 31), which in­cludes Max Richter’s Four Sea­sons Re­com­posed fea­tur­ing WSO con­cert­mas­ter Gwen Hoe­big, and Valentin Sil­ve­strov’s deeply mov­ing Re­quiem for Larissa, com­posed for his late wife. Like play­ing host at a grand ban­quet, Mick­elth­wate ea­gerly looks for­ward to the in­ten­sive week that lies ahead, ready to wel­come au­di­ences to this year’s rich mu­si­cal feast. “I am so ex­cited for all the pieces,” he says. “They all have a real emo­tional con­nec­tion with the lis­tener. “Each work has its own soul where one gets hooked.”


Left, Winnipeg’s Vene­tian Snares; above, vo­cal quar­tet the Hil­liard En­sem­ble.

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