It’s a WIN­NIPEG THING

U.S. critic raves as WSO takes Man­hat­tan, but city trade del­e­ga­tion dis­cov­ers it’s tough to be heard above NYC’s din

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Agnes Welch

NEW YORK — The first critic to re­view the Win­nipeg Sym­phony Orches­tra’s star turn at Carnegie Hall called it the most in­no­va­tive con­cert pro­gram she’d ever heard. “In a world where mu­sic and art are in­creas­ingly ac­ces­si­ble, these dis­tinc­tive ex­pe­ri­ences stick out,” wrote El­iz­a­beth Bloom a few hours af­ter the last, tipsy strag­glers trick­led out of the huge post-con­cert af­ter­party Thurs­day night. “Spring For Mu­sic is meant to cel­e­brate the in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter of or­ches­tras. This one showed its sense of pur­pose and its pro­found rel­e­vance to its com­mu­nity.” That’s warm and gen­uine praise for the WSO’s muchan­tic­i­pated con­cert, a wild and de­light­ful ride that mixed mod­ern, al­most cin­e­matic com­po­si­tion, Inuit throat singing and a mes­mer­iz­ing mess of per­cus­sion in­stru­ments. Trou­ble is, the praise came from Pitts­burgh, not New York. A cov­eted re­view of the show in the New York Times is still ex­pected, and there was chat­ter in the Carnegie Hall lobby that the New Yorker even sent a writer to the show. But, the first praise for the par­tic­u­larly Win­nipeg-y spirit of the WSO’s pro­gram to came from a city much like our own, from the clas­si­cal mu­sic re­viewer from the Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette, a city that also sent an orches­tra to play Carnegie Hall this week. It’s hard to cap­ture New York’s at­ten­tion, even when nearly 1,000 Win­nipeg mu­si­cians, mu­sic lovers, civic lead­ers and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ex­perts de­scend on the city. As one Win­nipeg ex­pat said, New York­ers only re­ally care about New York. Most of what they know about Win­nipeg in­volves ei­ther the Jets or that time we were colder than Mars. Chat to any­one in an el­e­va­tor or in line at the cof­fee cart, and you’ll find yourself say­ing thing like “No, it’s pretty far from Mon­treal,” or “It’s like the Minneapolis of Canada, but smaller.” This, de­spite the mini-re­nais­sance un­der­way in Win­nipeg, and the hip­ster ca­chet that has re­cently at­tached it­self to us, largely thanks to the quiet ef­forts of city’s arts and cul­ture mak­ers. This is the same prob­lem, writ much larger, that Man­i­toba’s mini-trade del­e­ga­tion had in try­ing to drum up busi­ness for the prov­ince, us­ing the WSO’s Carnegie Hall per­for­mance as an ex­cuse to fan out across the city to pro­mote Win­nipeg’s trade op­por­tu­ni­ties. For­mer pre­mier Gary Doer, now Canada’s am­bas­sador to the United States, even used his mo­ments on stage at Carnegie Hall to tout the prov­ince, its new hu­man rights mu­seum, its his­tory of tol­er­ance and equal­ity and the com­mu­nity spirit that helped res­cue the WSO dur­ing some fi­nan­cial tur­moil and decade ago. That com­mu­nity spirit came to­gether to help raise thou­sands of dol­lars to send the WSO’s 70-plus mu­si­cians to New York. And it was on dis­play at the show it­self, which was dom­i­nated by a home­town crowd. Of all the Spring For Mu­sic fes­ti­val con­certs by vis­it­ing or­ches­tras, Win­nipeg’s drew the most lo­cal ticket sales, but Thurs­day’s crowd was still a largely Win­nipeg au­di­ence, made larger by their ex­u­ber­ance. The crowd gave the mu­si­cians a stand­ing ova­tion be­fore they’d even played a note, and waved comem­o­ra­tive red han­kies in the air as they ap­plauded in a way that Man­i­toba Film and Mu­sic’s Louise O’Brien-Mo­ran re­marked later wasn’t gauche or provin­cial, but en­dear­ing and fun. Some mu­si­cians, like prin­ci­pal cel­list Yuri Hooker, said they found that uber-Win­nipeg vibe calm­ing as they walked out on stage. Violinist Su­san McCallum even called the mo­ment “mov­ing.” That this was re­ally about Win­nipeg­gers was also clear at the huge, friendly af­ter-party Thurs­day night at the Rus­sian Tea Room, the first time all four floors of the leg­endary venue was shut down for one event. Hun­dreds of people, ev­ery­one from the mu­si­cians’ proud par­ents to the city’s wealthy elite, sipped cham­pagne, took self­ies with Doer, Selinger and WSO con­duc­tor Alexan­der Mick­elth­wate and of­fered con­grat­u­la­tions to the play­ers. When the lights came on at about mid­night, the crowd booed. Be­fore the party though, folks from the Win­nipeg Cham­ber of Com­merce, Cen­trePort, YES! Win­nipeg and the prov­ince spent the week break­ing bread with a dozen con­sul­tants who help big com­pa­nies choose new ex­pan­sion lo­ca­tions. They de­liv­ered speeches to trade groups and met with bond raters and busi­ness jour­nal­ists. They stressed Man­i­toba’s cheap hy­dro, com­pet­i­tive tax struc­ture, skilled work­force and com­mit­ment to ma­jor trade in­fra­struc­ture. Some­times, though, there were more Win­nipeg­gers than New York­ers to shmooze. At a cock­tail party for the travel in­dus­try just be­fore the WSO’s con­cert, Tourism Man­i­toba un­veiled its new tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials, quite ef­fec­tive ones that tout our arts and cul­ture, the po­lar bears and bel­u­gas in the wild Arc­tic and the soon-to-be-open Cana­dian Mu­seum for Hu­man Rights.

“We’ve built enough as­sets here in Man­i­toba that you can stay for a few days and not get bored,” Pre­mier Greg Selinger told the crowd, which was about one-quar­ter tour oper­a­tors. “We’re not New York, but we’re a close sec­ond,” he joked. But, have New York­ers look­ing for a hol­i­day ever re­ally heard of Man­i­toba? “No, if you want the hon­est truth,” said Dar­ren Perkell, whose Apex Arc­tic Ex­pe­di­tions sends more than 60 ad­ven­ture trav­ellers, pho­tog­ra­phers and wilder­ness buffs to Churchill to see the po­lar bears and swim with the whales ev­ery year. “They’ve heard the name Win­nipeg be­cause of hockey, ob­vi­ously.” Perkell says the po­lar bears, which Win­nipeg­gers take largely for granted, are Man­i­toba’s real draw, rep­re­sent­ing huge tourism po­ten­tial the prov­ince should be pro­mot­ing re­lent­lessly. But, Nor­way of­ten eats Canada’s lunch when it comes to pro­mot­ing the Arc­tic as an ex­otic, un­touched ad­ven­ture des­ti­na­tion. Many Amer­i­cans on the East Coast go over­seas in­stead of the closer and equally eye­pop­ping Cana­dian North. Eric Dahl, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the World Trade Cen­ters As­so­ci­a­tion, had also not re­ally heard of Win­nipeg un­til the city made a pitch to be­come one of the 330-odd cities that make up the World Trade net­work. Dahl met with Selinger and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ex­perts to of­fi­cially wel­come the city into the fold Fri­day morn­ing, say­ing he was im­pressed by how fast Win­nipeg was able to win ac­cred­i­ta­tion and how en­er­getic its key busi­ness boost­ers are. “You have a lot go­ing for you, if you build on your ad­van­tages,” said Dahl.

KEITH LE­VIT PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

KEITH LE­VIT PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

The WSO con­cert Thurs­day night was part of Carnegie Hall’s Spring For Mu­sic fes­ti­val.

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