Saturday, 29 June 2013

Best of Winnipeg Arts 2012-13 Season: Part One - Classical Music

This is the first half of a look back at the best of Winnipeg’s 2012-13 arts season, focusing on classical music concerts in the city. The second half will list the most outstanding plays and individual performances at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

This was an exceptional year for classical music in Winnipeg, with a blend of internationally-acclaimed artists and homegrown talent that, in my opinion, very few places in Canada can offer. Winnipeg is such a culturally-rich city that it’s impossible to see everything, but I still managed to attend quite a few concerts, the best of which are listed below.

Best Solo & Duo Concerts

4. Brian Yoon, cello (Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg, Nov. 25th 2012)
Yoon – one of Canada’s most promising young cellists – came to Winnipeg as winner of the 35th Eckhardt-Grammat√© National Music Competition, and presented a collection of contemporary pieces performed with remarkable maturity and sensitivity. Of particular note was his mesmeric performance of Stigmata, a work by Vincent Ho, Composer-in-Residence to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, who was present at the concert. See my review here.

3. Chris Donnelly and Kornel Wolak, piano and clarinet (Women’s Musical Club, April 7th 2013)
One of the most enjoyable concerts I went to this year. The overall tone was buoyant and a little bit sly, but grounded in impeccable musicianship: take, for instance, the duo’s rendition of Allegro assai from Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C major with Wolak on clarinet and Donnelly on spoons. I also liked Donnelly’s solo piece Henry’s Song and Dance, about a real-life jazz club owner who booked Donnelly for a gig, went bankrupt and then disappeared.

2. Sonia Chan, piano (Virtuosi Concerts, March 2nd 2013)
I always look forward to solo piano concerts, but Chan’s performance was extraordinary, perhaps even near-transcendent at times. She took pieces already charged with emotion, such as Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 and Schubert’s Sonata in G major, and made them her own with passionate interpretations that spellbound all in attendance. See my review here.
1. Suzie LeBlanc and Daniel Taylor, soprano and countertenor (Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, May 14th 2013)
LeBlanc and Taylor are two of the most in-demand Canadian vocalists here and abroad, and the duo’s performances of arias, both alone and together, were stunning from the concert’s start. However, it was Taylor’s riveting interpretation of Barbaro traditor (Barbaric traitor), sung by the titular hero of Vivaldi’s Il Tamerlano, which brought the evening to an entirely new level. From then on, each performance raised the bar a little higher. LeBlanc gave a lovely rendition of the bright Qual candido fiore (What white flower) from Vivaldi’s Farnace, and was perfect as the despairing Padmina in Handel’s Magic Flute; Taylor showcased his versatility with the peaceful Ombra mai fu (A shade there never was) from Handel’s Serse. The two singers’ final piece was the tender love duet Se il cor ti perde (If my heart should lose you) from Handel’s Tolomeo, but after a fifteen-minute standing ovation, Taylor and LeBlanc sang a continuation of Handel’s aria, complete with a farewell kiss and tossing their bouquets to the audience. A truly magical evening.

Head below the break for the Best Trio, Quartet, Choral Ensemble and Orchestra Concerts.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Recent Book Review & Miscellany

Anyone who's stumbled across my blog over the past few weeks can see that I haven't been posting new content for a while now - my last post was over a month ago, and consisted of a March 24th concert review I had forgotten to put on here.

I've been writing a book review and working on a Best of Winnipeg Arts 2012-13 Season series of posts; the latter project has become particularly demanding. Not to mention that, after six months of winter, warm 20-degrees-Celsius-plus weather has finally arrived, and most days it's often far more appealing to spend time outdoors, especially when a torrential rainstorm could be right around the corner.

So, here are some things I wanted to get up on the blog, but haven't had the time:

I reviewed The Restoration Artist by Canadian writer and painter Lewis DeSoto for the Winnipeg Free Press. It's a novel with a compelling plot and is set in a very picturesque location - an island off the coast of Normandy. McNally Robinson Grant Park has almost an entire shelf of their New Fiction section dedicated to this book, so I'd say it's worth giving a look if you're interested in art, loss and memory. You can read my review online here. 


Online pop culture magazine PopMatters has begun a series of essays examining Liz Phair's landmark 1993 album Exile in Guyville, song-by-song, in commemoration of the record's 20th anniversary. The essays are being written by Joe Vallese, who was a primary contributors to PopMatters' superb Performer Spotlight on Tori Amos last year, and I'm extremely impressed by what he's written so far. Even if you're unfamiliar with Phair's music (or not a fan), these essays are worth reading for their intelligence and insight into the creative process. The first article in the series is here.

Also on PopMatters is a piece by Zach Schoenfeld that talks about Eleanor Friedberger's brilliant, heartbreaking song "Other Boys," off her fantastic new album Personal Record. Both the album and "Other Boys" are serious contenders for my best-music-of-2013 lists. You can read the article here.


Finally, jazz/world music collective Pink Martini has put the first teaser trailer for their upcoming album Get Happy, due to be released on Sept. 24th, online. I'm looking forward to the record - it seems as though it may be a return to form for the band, whose 2007 album Hey Eugene! was one of my best albums of the 2000s.