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Northern Exposure E very year as winds howl during the frozen Canadian winter, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra ushers in its New Music Festival. For seven consecutive nights each January, thousands of patrons living in the geographically isolated Manitoba city brave temperatures plummeting to 40 below to hear the latest in cutting-edge contemporary music. Fondly known as “Winterpeg,” this heartland city with a population of 750,000 just over 200 miles north of Fargo, North Dakota might seem an unlikely place for any arts organization to survive—and thrive. Yet the Winnipeg Symphony has been doing just that for the last 66 years, by forging strong bonds with the 56 province’s diverse cultural communities, and maintaining close connections to sister organizations: the Manitoba Opera, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, all of which prominently feature Winnipeg Symphony players. The New Music Festival, co-founded in 1992 by former music director/conductor laureate Bramwell Tovey (now with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) and former composer-in-residence Glenn Buhr, has become one of the jewels in the orchestra’s musical crown. Its commitment to the festival is measured by the fact that it has survived economic crises, hobbling sponsorship cuts, a high degree of staff turnover, and other vagaries of shifting tastes and times. Embedded within the orchestra’s regular Masterworks series, by Holly Harris the New Music Festival boasts a legacy of distinguished guest composers, including John Corigliano, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Kaija Saariaho, and Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. More recently, Iceland’s celebrated composers Daníel Bjarnason, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Kjartan Sveinsson (formerly of the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós), and Atli Heimir Sveinsson have been added to the creative mix, reflecting both the province’s relatively large Nordic community and the Winnipeg Symphony’s burgeoning relationship with the isolated country, launched during its 2012 NMF, Icelandia. WSO Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate, who co-curates the festival with Composer-in-Residence Vincent Ho, is now in his seventh season with the orchessymphony winter 2014

Symphony Online: Winter 2014

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