• eat
  • shop
  • see
  • go
  • stay
  • daytrip
  • map
  • calendar
  • transport
  • weather
  • currency
  • tofrom

symphony

Hitting The High Notes

70 years after its inception, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra continues to be the heart and soul of the city’s arts community.

Music is embedded in Winnipeg’s DNA. Our prairie town has always marched to a different drum, and we have plenty to show for it: the birthplace of musicians like Neil Young and Burton Cummings, Winnipeg also boasts world famous festivals, a lively music scene, some of the oldest and most esteemed arts institutions in the country.

Among these institutions: the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Celebrating its 70th season, the symphony is integral to the city’s cultural life, delighting more than 100,000 audience members each year with almost 300 concerts.

The WSO first opened its curtain in December 1948 to an audience of 3,000, and within six seasons had become one of the top four orchestras in Canada. It regularly tours throughout the country and has participated in hundreds of radio broadcasts, released numerous recordings, launched and nurtured an internationally renowned New Music Festival, and played twice at Carnegie Hall. The WSO also provides the music for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Manitoba Opera Association.

“Not many orchestras are able to switch so seamlessly between the classics, pop, Broadway, and playing with young local indie bands such as Royal Canoe, not to mention the amount of new music they play during the New Music Festival,” says music director Alexander Mickelthwate. “It’s astonishing really.”

With a nucleus of 67 musicians, the organization has attracted professionals from around the world who have established significant careers here and a have made Winnipeg their home (currently, a husband, wife, and daughter all play in the string section).

Cellist Arlene Dahl, who has been with the symphony for almost four decades, continues to feel the anticipation and excitement of a live performance. One of her most memorable nights, they played for one thousand recent immigrants to the province. Music transcended language and spoke to the power of the human family, creating a transformational moment not only for the audience, but for the musicians as well.

Equally moving was the 2014 performance at Carnegie Hall. The WSO was chosen from more than 30 orchestras across the continent, and wowed the audience with their all-Canadian program. “What enhanced our experience was not just playing in that hallowed hall or playing with Dame Evelyn Glennie or playing R. Murray Schafer’s Symphony No. 1,” Dahl says. “When we walked out and saw almost 1000 Manitobans waving their patriotic red scarves and sharing our victory, that brought the tears.”

The transformative power of music reaches beyond the Concert Hall and into the community. As part of its outreach programs, Musicians in Healthcare offers performances at various care facilities in Winnipeg, uplifting patients, visitors and staff. The WSO also presents educational programs for more than 40,000 students annually, including Sistema, a daily, intensive after-school music program in Winnipeg’s inner city that is offered at no cost to the students. The impact is substantial, including improved classroom attendance and grades, greater parent involvement in the schools, and a growing self esteem in the students.

The orchestra is among Canada’s most innovative. Now in its 25th year, the New Music Festival explores new and rarely heard works by composers from around the world. The Festival was founded by music director Bramwell Tovey and the WSO’s first composer in residence, Glenn Buhr. The festival continues to flourish and draw international attention under the leadership of Alexander Mickelthwate.

Mickelthwate has been the force driving the symphony for the past twelve seasons, a fearless promoter of the value of music in people’s lives. Under his direction, the WSO has bridged education and entertainment, gaining a reputation for being both accessible and compelling. The Symphony’s 70th anniversary season coincides with the final year of Alexander Mickelthwate as music director.

“We try to be part of the fabric of the community in every kind of positive way,” says Tracy Schroeder, the WSO’s Executive Director. “I watch our audience members come in frazzled and then leave glowing from the experience. One patron said to me, ‘just being here tonight, I was so glad to be alive!’ The WSO is not just relevant but indispensable,” she says. “It’s why we do it.”

For a whole host of Winnipeggers — kids taking in their first symphony experience during the Kids Concert Series, local music fans watching their favourite bands partner with an orchestra, new music enthusiasts encountering boundary-pushing works, and season ticket holders delighting in new interpretations of the classics — Schroeder’s words ring true. This world class outfit with local pride is music to our ears.

A Halifax Holiday

Jeremy Webb's A Christmas Carol

Jeremy Webb returns as Scrooge in a Christmas Carol.

With its rich history and diverse population, Halifax has many beloved traditions and events to mark the Christmas season. The unofficial kickoff to Halifax’s holidays comes on November 17 with the Holiday Parade of Lights. This popular annual parade will draw some 100,000 spectators, so stake out a good vantage point early. The parade begins on Barrington Street, wending its way through the downtown, west on Spring Garden Road. There will be music, entertainment, floats galore and a visit from Santa Claus.

The action returns downtown on November 24, as Grand Parade square in front of City Hall hosts the city’s Christmas Tree Lighting. Once again, there will be family-friendly entertainment and a visit from St. Nick. If you miss that, you get a do-over on December 1. Drop by Sullivan’s Pond for the Dartmouth Christmas Tree Lighting . The agenda includes a concert by Razzmatazz, fireworks and free rides on the Santa Claus Express Train.

As you’d expect, there are holiday concerts aplenty as well. On November 28, Cape Breton songstress Rita MacNeil performs her annual Christmas show at the Dalhousie Arts Centre on University Avenue. Joined by pianist Frank Mills, she presents traditional holiday tunes.

And it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the return of two wildly popular annual productions by Symphony Nova Scotia. Running from December 7 to 13 is an elaborate production of The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s heartwarming story of a
little girl whisked into a fairytale land features performers from Halifax Dance and elaborate puppetry by Mermaid Theatre. Up next at the Dalhousie Arts Centre on University Avenue is the Symphony’s annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. Guest soloists and the 80-voice Symphony Chorus give full impact to the Baroque masterpiece.

If you’re not in the holiday spirit by December 23, return to the Dalhousie Arts Centre for the annual Barra MacNeils Christmas concert. Another annual holiday favourite, this one pays homage to the province’s Celtic roots, as the Cape Breton group shares old-time music.

November and December are jammed with holiday plays and stage shows, too. The holiday show at Neptune Theatre on Argyle Street this year is Elf: The Musical. Based on the popular Will Ferrell comedy, it’s the fairytale story of Buddy. Raised as one of Santa’s elves, he discovers he’s human and heads to New York to track down his father.

On December 10, celebrations take a hilarious twist with Tis the Season. Cape Breton comedians Bette MacDonald and Maynard Morrison team up for a sidesplitting look at the holidays. If it never quite feels like Christmas until you see Scrooge, so drop by the Cunard Centre on December 13 for Jeremy Webb’s one-man performance of A Christmas Carol. After performing the show for several Christmases, Webb is an expert at bringing Scrooge’s uplifting tale to life.

Finally, say good-bye to 2012 and welcome 2013 on December 31 with the annual New Year’s Eve celebrations in Grand Parade square on Barrington Street. Beginning at 9:30 p.m., local TV personalities host a rollicking all-ages celebration, with live music and a spectacular fireworks display at midnight.

The Culture Club: Halifax’s Cultural Institutions Return

Raoul Bhaneja plays all 17 parts in the Neptune Theatre two-hour solo production of Hamlet.

With Shakespeare, Vivaldi and the hottest young musical innovators, October sees a trio of cultural institutions return to Halifax.

With old favourites and new acts you have yet to hear about, Halifax has plenty to offer music and theatre fans this month. Neptune Theatre on Argyle Street, Atlantic Canada’s largest (and one of its oldest) professional theatres, kicked of its season last month with the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. A smash hit in London, the Victorian musical—by turns comic and macabre—is the tale of a wronged man, returning to London for an imaginative revenge on the judge who stole his wife and family. It runs until October 7.

Up next in Neptune’s Studio Series is a remarkable production of Hamlet. Canadian Raoul Bhaneja plays all 17 parts in the two-hour solo show, bringing Shakespeare’s tragedy to life in an energetic and technically flawless performance. Hamlet runs from October 9 to 21.
Back on Neptune’s mainstage, the month concludes with the latest work from acclaimed Nova Scotian playwright Daniel MacIvor. In Bingo, a group of adults return to their Cape Breton roots for their 30th high-school reunion. It’s a funny, thought-provoking story of friendship and growing up—and the nice guy finally getting the girl. See it from October 16 to November 4.

Music fans are also in for a great month in Halifax. After teasing audiences with small free shows during Symphony Week last month, Symphony Nova Scotia launches its new season with Haydn’s Creation at the Dalhousie Arts Centre on University Avenue. For the first time in more than a decade, the Symphony and the Symphony Nova Scotia Chorus are tackling Haydn’s soaring, triumphant, ambitious composition. See it on October 6, with an encore on October 7.
The Symphony offers more for classical purists on October 14 with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Guest violinist David Stewart, former concertmaster of the Bergen Philharmonic, leads the orchestra through the baroque masterpiece. This show is at Saint Andrew’s United Church on Coburg Road.

Don’t think Symphony Nova Scotia is stuck in the past, though. This month it lends its considerable talents to the Halifax Pop Explosion, an annual festival of alt/indie music, showcasing emerging talents from around the world. On October 19, as part of the festival, West Coast folk-rocker Dan Mangan joins the Symphony for a unique
musical collaboration.

And with 150 bands playing at 18 different venues around the city, the Halifax Pop Explosion has much more to offer music lovers. Other highlights include Gianna Lauren and Al Tuck at The Carleton on October 16, Wintersleep at Olympic Hall on Hunter Street on October 18, and Mardeen at the Seahorse Tavern on Argyle Street October 20.

Triple threat tete-a-tete

Winnipeg is renowned as an arts and culture mecca, and a good portion of that reputation is attributable to well established and prolific music, dance and theatre companies. Where Winnipeg sat down with the tours de force behind the big three to learn what drives them to create and entertain. 

By Erin Bend

In a competitive modern entertainment market with an instant gratification YouTube mentality arts pillars Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Manitoba Theatre Centre and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet offer a modern nostalgic escape rooted in tradition. Settle in as the house lights dim and surrender your consciousness to the relentless imaginations of these three men.

Leading the WSO with passion

When selecting music for a WSO season, Alexander Mickelthwate considers classic factors such as country of origin (a healthy mix of American and Germanic is optimal) and a good blend of soloist performances for various instruments.

WSO Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate

During his tenure, the spirited leader has continued to honour the classics while simultaneously broadening the orchestra’s contemporary choices far past stagnant offerings of swing and Sinatra. Fresh collaborations with local bands such as The Lytics and The Waking Eyes, contemporary works enhanced by visuals,  and an Indigenous Music Festival have been titillating die hard orchestra fans and seducing new patrons.

A relative newcomer, Mickelthwate has fallen in love with Winnipeg and raves about its sophisticated arts audience. He hypothesizes its healthy arts appetite is an outcome of epic winters and Continental European ancestry.

His impassioned outlook has yielded outside acknowledgment—the WSO has been invited to play New York City’s renowned Carnegie Hall in two years.

Mickelthwate’s successes flow from the connection he’s able to create with audiences, “I think that music is pure emotion, if you really get into it. If you listen to a radio song it is really short, but if you go into a Tchaikovsky symphony, the music flows right to your emotional centre.”

Making theatre thrive on the prairies

“Planning seasons is really the only thing I do that I don’t delegate. I’ll consult, and I am forever doodling seasons,” Steven Schipper humbly admits. The MTC Artistic Director aims to challenge artists and enthrall audiences each year, within budget of course. Fully aware that not all folks equally savour Shakespeare, Schipper’s goal is to offer everyone’s favourite type of play at least once per season.

MTC Artistic Director Steven Schipper

He’s called upon to imagine the world’s zeitgeist two years in advance. The perfectionist recalls triumphing at this task only once, when a joyful playbill themed to buoy spirits coincided with an economic downturn.

Schipper shoulders the responsibility of being all things theatrical to the people of Manitoba, assessing this small market as a challenge he’s proud to rise to.

“It’s thanks to our forefathers and mothers who created institutions like MTC, RWB and WSO, and said ‘we are not going to be a stop on the road, we are going to create our own indigenous arts institutions’, and now generations later we are all thriving.”

One can see a direct link back to people who began these, the community that gave it life.

Assembling ballet’s parts

André Lewis take his creative cues from his surroundings: “I’ve always felt that Winnipeg has a romantic outlook on life.” He cites our open skies, great prairie lakes and medley of classic and modern architecture as elements that influence audience psyche. Also a level of tradition that remains from city founders’ European roots.

He designs the RWB’s seasons to achieve a cohesive balance among expressions of classic, contemporary, and broad-based appealing works, such as Dracula and Moulin Rouge. Accessible, big name ballets attract the broader audiences, which the RWB desires to transform into dance devotees.

Lewis fuels his artistic fire with the energy of other creatives—observing dancers and choreographers. “I’m not a creator myself,” he explains, “I don’t make ballets, but I sure know how to assemble people to do that. I’ve done it for 18 years.”

RWB Artistic Director Andre Lewis

The longevity of his passion mirrors the timeless form of ballet dance. Parameters define ballet as a style, and dancers try to improve within them, while other forms of dance like hip hop and modern are more idiosyncratic. This is why Lewis knows ballet is immortal, “Ballet is the lingua franca of dance in a way because each generation has been able to add to it.”

Winnipeg has been redefining music, theatre and art for generations and with the likes of these three artistic powerhouses driving the community we will be revelling in the magic of the arts for generations to come.

A monster season

Two of the city’s biggest cultural institutions launch exciting new seasons.

Neptune Theatre is the biggest professional theatre in Atlantic Canada, so the launch of a new season is always a big deal. This year, the new season begins on September 13 with Frankenstein. Continuing through October 9, it’s a bold and ambitious retelling of the Mary Shelley classic.

For a theatre company that spent last season highlighting Shakespeare, it may seem a bit of a left turn, but artistic director George Pothitos is constantly working to challenge audiences. “At Neptune, we strive to inspire our audiences with great stories,” he says. “The plays we’ve chosen this year reflect this.”

Other highlights this season include the classic The Jungle Book (November 22 to January 8), the world premiere of Norm Foster’s Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out and the fabulously glitzy La Cage aux Folles (April 10 to May 27).

“They are a blend of intelligent, engaging, funny, challenging and whimsical theatrical experiences,” Pothitos says. “The struggles and triumphs of these characters from around the world—India, France, Switzerland, Newfoundland, Calgary and New York—illuminate our own lives, our struggles and our triumphs.”

In addition to the main-stage shows, Neptune boasts an intimate Studio Stage where it offers even more for fans. The season there begins with the poignant tale of aging, Another Home Invasion (October 11 to 23). “Our quest for excellence and innovation is present in everything we do,” Pothitos says. “The plays and musicals we program, the directors we choose, and the designers, actors and creative staff we thoughtfully assemble. They all come together to create a unique theatrical event.”

Meanwhile, music fans are anxiously awaiting the start of Symphony Nova Scotia’s new season. They’ll have to be patient until September 20, when Symphony Week features a variety of free concerts at venues around the city, previewing the new season.

The first full concert of the season is on September 30 at the Dalhousie Arts Centre on University Avenue in Halifax. And it’s also one of the orchestra’s most exciting shows of the season. Juno-award winning singer/songwriter Hawksley Workman takes the stage for his first orchestral show. Workman is one of the most innovative musicians in rock today, so this is sure to be an unforgettable show. There’s an encore performance on October 1.

Under Maestro Bernhard Gueller, Symphony Nova Scotia has become known for its ability to embrace new styles and artists. “Symphony Nova Scotia is the most versatile orchestra in Canada,” says legendary conductor Howard Cable. Still active at age 91, Cable joins the Symphony to conduct The Big Band Era on October 4.

After the Hawksley Workman show, the Symphony races into a busy season. Other highlights include the Christmas classics The Nutcracker and Handel’s Messiah in December, The Music of Pink Floyd in February and the French Festival from April 18 to 22.

Hot Dates: Classical Connections

• March 11: The Dartmouth Community Concert Series hosts a unique evening of music at Woodlawn Church as percussionist Anne-Julie Caron (marimba) and pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone join forces

• March 20: Symphony Nova Scotia moves to the cozy confines of Saint Andrew’s United Church on Coburg Road as Jeanne Lamon visits for a celebration of English baroque music.

• March 24: The Symphony returns to its regular digs at the Dalhousie Arts Centre for this performance of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony. Pianist Avan Yu also performs Schumann’s Piano Concerto to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Hot Dates: Bigger is Better

Meaghan Smith

It’s a hot winter for Symphony Nova Scotia, with a schedule jammed with concerts. January’s highlights include Orchestral Currents, innovative contemporary symphonic music, on January 6 and a collaboration with singer-songwriters Erin Costelo and Meaghan Smith on January 21. In February, the Symphony celebrates poet Elizabeth Bishop on February 10, before partnering with The Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra on February 20 to perform Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.