Absence made the musical heart grow fonder

Now that the arts season is officially winding down for another year – and we’re in that delightful lull before the summer gigs and festivals ramp up – it’s time to reflect on the many memorable performances we’ve had on privilege to hear this year during these “New Normal Times”. Notably, the 2021-22 season also welcomed many artists and organizations sidelined over the past two years to the stage, as well as “finally” concerts that had lain fallow pending the easing of public health restrictions.

10 outstanding performances (listed in chronological order):

1. WSO (A)bsolute Classics: Stewart Goodyear and Grieg (Oct. 2)

A full cohort of 60 musicians triumphantly returned to the stage for the first time since the First Wave lockdown in March 2020 with the evening described by its clearly emotional maestro Daniel Raiskin as “a very special and meaningful moment for us”. Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear captivated listeners with Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16marking his first WSO appearance in 13 years.

2. WSO Pops: Don Amero (October 22-24)


Conductor Julian Pellicano (center) conducts with Don Amero (left) and the WSO at Centennial Concert Hall in October 2021.

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Conductor Julian Pellicano (center) conducts with Don Amero (left) and the WSO at Centennial Concert Hall October 2021.

This Pops show — featuring three-time Juno nominee Don Amero of Cree and Métis descent from Winnipeg’s North End and directed by Julian Pellicano — quickly became a personal highlight. Also regarded for his advocacy work within Indigenous communities and beyond, the country crooner sings straight from his heart — and his guts. Powerful Amero Performance Isabelle’s song (Go House)written as an imaginary love letter from a “stepfather” who died suddenly while out on an errand without saying goodbye to his wife, can be seen as a hymn for the undertow of farewells never spoken to loved ones locked down during the pandemic.

3. Manitoba Opera: The voice human (Nov. 5)

<p>Lara Ciekiewicz plays Elle in Manitoba Opera’s production of La Voix Humaine.</p>
<p>” width=”683″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/400*400/2+Manitoba+Opera+Lara+Ciekiewicz.jpg 400w,https://media.winnipegfreepress .com/images/600*600/2+Manitoba+Opera+Lara+Ciekiewicz.jpg 600w,https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/700*700/2+Manitoba+Opera+Lara+Ciekiewicz.jpg 700w “/><figcaption>
<p>Lara Ciekiewicz plays Elle in Manitoba Opera’s production of La Voix Humaine.</p>
<p>Opera singers and choristers around the world have suffered a severe blow during the pandemic, due to the crackdown on public and especially group singing.  MO celebrated his return to the stage with a live audience for Poulenc’s lyrical tragedy <em>The voice </em><em>human </em>(<em>The</em><em>    Human </em><em>Voice</em>) featuring Winnipeg soprano Lara Ciekiewicz as Elle.  Her heartbreaking emotional trajectory as she bid farewell to her lover over the phone on the eve of her wedding to another became a masterclass in subtle characterization.  The 1958 show also talked about our two years largely lived through screens and wires.  The double bill also included Menotti’s opera buffa <em>The phone</em> with Winnipeg soprano Lida Szkwarek as and Toronto baritone Johnathon Kirby.			</p>
<h4><strong>4. Winnipeg Baroque Festival (April 8-15)</strong></h4>
<p>A trio of vocal ensembles: Dead of Winter (formerly known as Camerata Nova), Canzona and Polycoro have joined forces to present the first Winnipeg Baroque Festival, evoking the spirit of the now defunct Winnipeg Bach Festival (you know remember?).  Sadly, his grand finale co-presentation of Bach <em>Passion according to Saint John</em> — announced for April 15 and which was to include Vancouver’s early <a class=music group Pacific Baroque Orchestra — was postponed due to a late spring blizzard.

5. Manitoba Chamber Orchestra: Jonah (April 12)

MCO presented the long-awaited world premiere of Sid Robinovitch’s modern oratorio Jonah — another concert put on ice for the two-year COVID-19-related void of live choral music. The Pembina Trails Voices ensemble led by Valdine Anderson brought the biblical tale to life for one night only; its second performance scheduled for April 13 was canceled by the same Colorado depression that truncated the Winnipeg Baroque Festival.

6. WMC McClellan Competition for Solo Performance with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (April 20)

<p>Cellist David Liam Roberts won first place in the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg McLellan Competition.</p>
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<p>Cellist David Liam Roberts won first place in the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg McLellan Competition.</p>
<p>One of the best kept secrets of our local <a class=music community has always been the WMC McLellan Competition, presented every two years by the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg. With its April 2020 finals canceled during the first wave lockdown, the Daniel Raiskin-led competition has resurfaced with three stellar finalists vying for generous cash prizes totaling $20,000. This year, the nod went to Winnipeg-born cellist David Liam Roberts, with second prize going to violinist Gregory Lewis and third to mezzo-soprano Geneva Halverson.

7. WSO Special: Manitoba Remembers: A COVID Elegy (April 28)

This hugely moving and cathartic program has become both a healing service and a community showcase of Manitoba’s top musical artists, interspersed with videotaped interviews with those directly impacted by COVID-19. Among the many highlights of the unique Raiskin-led program is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ WSO Gwen Hoebig scorching solo fiddle finale the lark Ascendingkeeping listeners spellbound with her sensitive artistry.

8. Dead of Winter: Captive (May 13)

Another concert “finally” postponed for two years, Dead of Winter also featured the world premiere of “Captive,” by founding artistic director Andrew Balfour, the third installment in a series of the composer’s Truth and Reconciliation series. Subsequently presented at Toronto’s PODIUM Choral Festival and Conference on May 21, the Mel Braun-directed program was designed to “honor the pain, grief and beauty of the experience of Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

9. The Little Opera Company: Three Decembers (May 27-29)

<p>Soprano Lara Ciekiewicz (right) and baritone Sheldon Baxter (left) rehearse The Little Opera Company’s Three Decembers while director Rob Herriot (center) directs.</ p>” width=”1023″ height=”756″ srcset=”https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/400*400/9+three+decembers.jpg 400w,https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images /600*600/9+three+decembers.jpg 600w,https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/700*700/9+three+decembers.jpg 700w,https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images /800*800/9+three+decembers.jpg 800w,https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/900*900/9+three+decembers.jpg 900w,https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images /1000*1000/9+three+decembers.jpg 1000w”/><figcaption>
<p>Soprano comedians Lara Ciekiewicz (right) and baritone Sheldon Baxter (left) rehearse The Little Opera Company’s Three Decembers while director Rob Herriot (center) directs.</p>
<p>The LOC has finally unveiled its Canadian premiere of Jake Heggie’s <em>December third</em> after two previous productions were shut down by the pandemic.  The 90-minute chamber opera chronicling the complex relationships of a dysfunctional family during three decades of AIDS crisis, and directed by Rob Herriot, featured an all-Canadian cast of soprano Lara Ciekiewicz, mezzo -soprano Kimberly Barber and baritone Sheldon Baxter, with a live chamber orchestra conducted by Naomi Woo.			</p>
<h4><strong>10. Agassiz Summer Chamber Music Festival: Where Worlds Converge (June 5-11)</strong></h4>
<p>The annual Agassiz Summer Chamber <a class=Music Festival, led by Ottawa artistic director and cellist Paul Marleyn, also resumed live performances this year after offering all-virtual concerts in 2020 and 2021. The world-renowned Penderecki String Quartet — Jeremy Bell, violin; Jerzy Kaplanek, violin; Christine Vlajk, viola; and Katie Schlaikjer, cello — celebrated the 290th anniversary of Haydn’s birth with her String quartet op. 20, No. 6 part of this last concert entitled Secret signs in the morning Sunamong other works performed throughout the week.

Needless to say, we’ve come a long way since the pandemic first paralyzed the global arts community in March 2020. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re getting there.

Keep supporting live music – and live music – because it has never mattered more than now as our cherished arts organizations continue to rebuild in a (hopefully) post-pandemic world.

Music Matters is now on hiatus until the fall.

Have a good summer everyone and stay safe.

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