“With this piece, we have the cutting edge on every level, right here in Winnipeg,” said Winnipeg New Music Festival Artistic Director, Alexander Mickelthwate, as he introduced the feature performance at the festival’s opening concert on Saturday evening.
It was not only an accurate description for the world premiere of Syn-Phonia: Migration Patterns by Christos Hatzis, but also a perfect kick off to a festival that’s been pushing the limits on new music for more than two and a half decades.
The opening concert of the 26th Winnipeg New Music Festival was no exception. Three amazing works were presented, all premieres: the North American premiere of L’infini de l’instant by Farangis Nurulla-Khoja; the Canadian premiere of Meredith Monk’s Weave for two voices, chorus and orchestra; and the world premiere of Hatzis’ Syn-Phonia: Migration Patterns.
Surrounding the performances, there was a pre-concert panel on The State of Arts in Canada at 150, a pre-concert by River East Collegiate Wind Ensemble, and a post-concert event – The Hub Opening Night After-Party, featuring local fashion, art and music hosted by Culture Card Inc.
If the vibe on this first evening is any indication, the week long, world renowned WNMF is certain to engage and delight enthusiastic audiences, like the one that filled Centennial Concert Hall last night.
In addition to the event being unique in Canada, North America and the world, one of the best aspects of WNMF is getting to see Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra perform stunning pieces of new music.
The opening work, L’infini de l’instant is a beautiful, whirlwind composition by Tajik-Canadian composer Farangis Nurulla-Khoja, that was delivered with vigour, skill and precision by the orchestra under the direction of Conductor, Alexander Mickelthwate.
The second piece performed — Meredith Monk’s Weave — was spectacular, with WSO accompanied by singers Jeffrey Gavett and Katie Geissinger along with the 36-member Horizon choir.
The composition uses the human voice, notably the woman’s voice, to not only lead the music but to structure it as well.
Monk’s deeply felt work, part of a classical genre that is the first to be dominated by women, comes at a time when the female voice is expressing female ideas the world over.
The feature work, Syn-Phonia: Migration Patterns, was introduced by composer, Christos Hatzis, who set the context for his masterful piece that focuses on the dire threat of climate change, the wars it creates, and the migration crisis that ensues.
“The Aegean Sea is one of the biggest mass graves on the planet,” Hatzsis said in describing the movement of a thousand migrants a day from Turkey to his homeland of Greece. “We see despicable acts of resentment to compassionate acts of kindness.”
Syn-Phonia: Migration Patterns featured two vocalists – Egyptian born Canadian singer, Mayem Hassan-Tollar and Inuit throat singer Tiffany Ayalik, providing a picture of climate change impacts from the fertile crescent of the Middle East to the northern regions of the Arctic.
Hatzis acknowledged the brilliant singers who he said gave him the opportunity to “develop a conversation between the singers and the orchestra,” in particular for Ayalik, one of the few throat singers who reads music.
Along with Hassan-Tollar and Ayalik who accompanied the WSO in this multi-layered, multi-media composition, visual artist Robert Pasternak, situated stage right and equipped with virtual goggles and controllers in either hand, e-painted 3-D virtual art in real time projected on a screen above the orchestra throughout the performance.
This spectacle, along with stereo surround sound effects, and other production elements, provided for a moving and immersive concert experience, all of it convened by Creative Director, Khaled Shariff.
WNMF continues all this week, with an impressive line up of performances and events curated by Matthew Patton, with Festival Artistic Director, Alexander Mickelthwate and Composer-in-Residence, Harry Stafylakis.
Upcoming shows include:
The World of Meredith Monk Sunday night at the Concert Hall featuring 14 of Monk’s works, three of them Canadian premieres.
Songs of Ascension with Meredith Monk, Camerata Nova, Polycoro Chamber Choir and Allison Sniffin at Westminster United Church is on Monday, featuring a dozen works, half of them Canadian premieres.
On Tuesday at the Concert Hall is New Music Tomorrow in Canada featuring three world premieres – the Canadian Music Centre Emerging Composer Competition’s Winning Work by Claude Vivier called Orion, Harry Stafylakis’ Never the Same River, and Eliot Britton’s Heirloom Bison Culture, along with Ayner Dorman’s Mandolin Concerto, and the Tabla Concerto by Dinuk Wijeratne.
Wednesday at the Concert Hall, the incredible electronics composer and artist William Basinski accompanies the WSO for an evening entitled The End and the Beginning of Music, whose mournful soundscapes deteriorate as they’re being created (known to use sounds from old analog tapes during performances). Two works – The Deluge by Willaim Basinski and No. 7 “Angel of Light” by Einojuhani Rautavaara – will have their Canadian premieres.
The abandoned Hudson Bay building downtown is the site of Thursday’s concert, Ghosts of the Hudson’s Bay Building, with six works, three of them world premieres, performed by Winnipeg Chamber Music Society, Cecilia String Quartet, Matthew Patton, Jessica Moss, Lubomyr Melnyk, Miles Macdonell Vocal Ensemble and WNMF String Quartet.
Friday’s New World is back at the Concert Hall with two North American premieres – Cassandra Miller’s Duet for Cello and Orchestra and Fazil Say’s Mesopotamia Symphony Op. 38 – and the world premiere of Find Light in the Beautiful Sea by Fjola Evans.
The WNMF wraps up in fine-to-form fashion with 12-Hour Drone: Experiments in Sounds of Winter from midnight to noon on Saturday at the Duncan Sportsplex across from the Concert Hall. Get ready to embrace Winnipeg’s winter hibernation and come together in slow breathing and heart rate. Bring a sleeping bag.
Indeed, Winnipeg New Music Festival is extremely unique, enormously engaging and super fun; a world class event, brilliantly curated and expertly performed, right here in our backyard.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer