WSO’s new music competition breaks out of holding sample – Winnipeg Free Press

The Winnipeg New Music Festival will aim for the skies in 2023 after two years of mostly being stuck on the tarmac.

The signature event for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra includes a partnership with the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, which will host two of the six concerts during the festival, Jan. 26-Feb. 3, 2023.

The museum’s new home near the Richardson International Airport opened in May, and it wasn’t long afterward before the WSO sought out a boarding pass for the new music festival.


Harabalos Stafylakis (left), Co-curator of the Winnipeg New Music Festival and WSO Composer-In-Residence, and Daniel Raiskin (right), Artistic Director of the Winnipeg New Music Festival and WSO Music Director, at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada where a couple of the festival’s concerts will be presented.

“When I saw the place, I immediately saw this is where we need to do this. It has a lot of ambience, it’s very meaningful and creates a lot of curiosity,” says Daniel Raiskin, the orchestra’s music director, who estimates he spends 50 to 60 per cent of his life in airports and planes coming to Winnipeg or flying to other concert appearances in Europe and Asia.

“Aviation on a physical level connects people and elevates them to the skies. Music connects people and lifts their spirits into the skies… in times when people are at their lowest.”

The performances begin Jan. 26 at the Centennial Concert Hall with Launchpad, a presentation of works by nine composers who are part of the WNMF Composers Institute. Raiskin and Julian Pellicano, the WSO’s associate conductor, will conduct the symphony, as well as RBC guest conductors Jaelem Bhate and Dmitri Zrajevski.

The festival hits the afterburners Jan. 28 at the concert hall with Ancestral Tales, which includes a new work by Finland’s Kalevi Aho, the festival’s distinguished guest composer, and Adizokan Suite by Sandra Laronde and Eliot Britton, which will include dancers from Red Sky Performance and throat-boxer Nelson Tagoona, who combines throat-singing from Inuit culture with contemporary beatbox and hip-hop vocals.

The evening will also provide the long-awaited debut of Mythos, a new piano concerto from Haralabos (Harry) Stafylakis, the WSO’s composer-in residence. The work, which focuses on his Greek heritage and the country’s storytelling tradition, was ready in 2020 for the WSO and New York pianist Jenny Lin to perform it, but its première was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m actually thrilled and relieved we can finally bring this to life,” Stafylakis says. “To Daniel’s chagrin, I’ve taken the opportunity of two years’ worth of delays to make a few little fine adjustments.”

The WSO will also pay tribute that evening to Bramwell Tovey, who died in July, by performing one of compositions, Sky Dance. Tovey was the orchestra’s music director from 1989 to 2001 and co-founded the festival.

“I was lucky to have met him in person at the 2019 festival,” Raiskin says of Tovey. “The music community is greatly indebted to Bramwell, how he inspired new music around the world.”


Dutch bassoonist Bram van Sambeek will perform Brian Eno’s Music for Airports on Jan. 29.

The festival moves to the aviation museum for its next two shows, with a performance of Brian Eno’s ambient composition Music for Airports, which includes maverick Dutch bassoonist Bram van Sambeek, highlighting a Jan. 29 concert, and New York-based Kinan Azmeh’s Cityband — a quartet led by Azmeh, a clarinet soloist and composer — presenting a fusion of classical, jazz and Syrian folk music.

The final two shows of the festival return to the concert hall Feb. 1 and 3, with both focusing on Aho, whom Raiskin says was delighted to learn the festival would showcase his works.

“He responded immediately, ‘There is such a thing as a new music festival, 10 days of only new music and I can be part of it and you are really going to play my music, not just one piece but four?’ ” Raiskin remembers Aho saying.

”One of the privileges of performing contemporary music with living composers is the possibility of working with them live,” Raiskin says. “Having them in the concert hall during rehearsals and performances of the music they’ve created adds a completely different dimension to the process.

“I can’t ask Bach, Beethoven, Mahler whether they like what I’m doing.”

It took a bit of cajoling from Raiskin, as well as about $7,500 of his own money to pay for publishing costs, to commission a new fanfare from Aho that will launch the Jan. 28 program and be part of the WSO’s 75th anniversary.

”He’s written to me a long letter that it’s not possible, but (he’ll) do it,” Raiskin says.

Raiskin can’t wait for the festival, one of the events that lured him to the WSO and Winnipeg. While COVID-19’s presence remains, and the WSO will offer livestreaming opportunities to fans in Manitoba and around the world to enjoy the concerts from home, he believes recent symphony performances prove the musicians and their fans are ready for the in-person festival experience.


Finnish composer Kalevi Aho is the Winnipeg New Music Festival’s distinguished guest composer.

“I would insist in this case, if all good things are three, all bad things are two, so (a cancellation) is not going to happen for a third time,” he says. “We are very much looking forward to start anew, with a bang, with a lot of hope, with an ability to react to what it meant for all of us to go through this last two years.

“It needs to happen. We need to have it done, and I think it will.”

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Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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