Review: Ghosts of The Hudson’s Bay Building @ Hudson’s Bay Basement (Winnipeg New Music Festival/Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra)
I…I don’t think this was the kind of music Hudson’s Bay trappers and fur traders played in 1670…(wink).
Last year, I was on Twitter and pictures started popping up of hundreds of people at the Pan Am pool at night, watching the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I was both intrigued and irritated. What was going on and HOW did I not know about it?
This year, I vowed I would not miss out on whatever unique venue the Winnipeg New Music Festival had up their sleeve.
I arrived at The Bay early and shopped for a bit before the show. I love The Bay, but I don’t shop at the downtown location very often. I find it really depressing.
When I was small, I remember our yearly trips to The Bay (and Eaton’s) around Christmas to see the lights and do a bit of Christmas shopping. I remember the excitement as my tiny eyes, wide as saucers, tried to take in the splendor of it all.
Later in life, I enrolled at The University of Winnipeg and a trip to The Bay became part of my daily commute. I loved the hustle and bustle of The Bay and practically lived on hotdogs and malts at The Malt Shop in the basement.
The Malt Shop is long gone, and so it seems, is the grandeur of The Bay. Cold wire racks like shiny silver skeletons line its hollow walls. No character, no life, the space is a dismal shadow of its former self.
Spaces, however, are malleable and can be brought back to life. Tonight, The Hudson’s Bay Basement on Portage Avenue was full of life and it carried with it, the most interesting vibe.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out my short video of what the Winnipeg New Music Festival did with the vast emptiness of the Hudson’s Bay Basement here: https://www.facebook.com/TicketMOMsters/videos/1594115840613442/
I loved walking into this space. The vibrant red walls at the entrance held the promise of something exciting.
As I descended the staircase, I was engulfed in the most calming, yet inviting blue light. I found a seat in the second row, close to the piano.
Artistic Director, Alexander Mickelthwate welcomed everyone and explained this space was to be treated almost like Folk Fest. There were six composers and performances; once one performance ended, we could travel to another space for the next performance. He said we were part of the performance and that it was going to be “a ritualistic, meditative experience”.
The first piece was called “Falling Through Time” by Alexina Louie. I was sitting so close, I could see the notes on the musician’s stands. But they’re not notes; they’re emotions.
The Winnipeg Chamber Music Society started to play and emotions rose from their instruments and fused with the sweeping blue light, like a quilt covering a vast ocean, each square a different feeling. The ocean immersed us and we rose and fell with the waves.
Goose bumps emerged on my legs as the Chamber played faster and faster and at the end, I knew this evening was going to be special.
The second piece was Emilie LeBel’s “Taxonomy of Paper Wings”, played by the Cecilia String Quartet. It had an eerie/spooky feel to it, perfect for an event with the word “Ghosts” in the title.
After each work, there was subdued confusion over where to drag your chair next. Luckily, there were no issues in finding spots where you could see the performances.
My favourite of the evening was Lubomyr Melnyk’s piece on the piano entitled, “The Dreamers Ever Leave You”. It was fast and somewhat repetitive, but in an uplifting way, like powerful waves, crashing against a rocky shore.
People sat on the floor, some slow danced, others kissed. Many lounged in their chairs with their eyes closed, taking in the environment.
There were an incredible amount of notes and in the end, it sounded like tiny rain drops, gently falling on a sandy beach. The notes stopped and Lubomyr clenched his fists, as anyone would after playing that many notes in a span of 15 minutes. A standing ovation greeted him as he rose from his piano bench. It was fantastic.
At this point, I stood up and slowly walked around. I wanted to hear the acoustics of this huge room and watch the people experience the moment.
The sound of Jessica Moss’ piece “Entire Populations”, carried beautifully in that old basement. I heard it as clearly standing beside her as I did at the back of the cavernous room.
It was an interesting piece; she used a violin, electronics and her own voice to create different sounds. At one point it sounded like wolves howling in the Arctic, their calls skipping across a vast landscape. The middle part was strong and heavy and the basement air felt thick as I walked around and around.
The fifth performance was Nicole Lizee’s “Isabella Blow at Somerset House” by the Cecilia String Quartet. It was really interesting, but my mind kept wandering. The quartet received a standing ovation for their performance as well.
The last performance featured about 30 female students from Miles MacDonell all dressed in black, standing in a large circle around the audience. The audience was standing and sitting around the WNMF String Quartet.
Matthew Patton’s “The Limits of Almost” started with the sound of the 30 singers humming and then oohing the same note. Gradually, the string quartet joined them and played what sounded like variations of similar notes.
Everything was really slow and the sound of the female singers bounced off the walls and filled the entire basement. This was my least favourite piece. It was performed really well, but that one note was not my favourite note. I found it really irritating after the first 10 minutes, like my brain was vibrating at an uncomfortable level, and I was relieved when it was over.
Despite the end, this was an amazing event. I’m a huge fan of listening to music in unique venues. When it’s done right, it enhances the music as well as the venue and tonight, that’s exactly what happened. I can’t wait to see (and hear) where the Winnipeg New Music Festival ends up next year. I’ll be there, guaranteed.
TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here: www.facebook.com/TicketMOMsters