Chamber music at the University of Winnipeg

Virtuosi Concert Series a staple in the Winnipeg classical music community

The Virtuosi Concert Series brings diverse classical music to the University of Winnipeg (U of W) every month. Established in 1991, and originally co-produced by the U of W and CBC, Virtuosi has been presenting renowned music for 27 years.

Madeline Hildebrand, a board member for Virtuosi, says the series is now produced solely by the U of W and Virtuosi Concerts Inc, and that Harry Strub, the founder of the series, is still the artistic director.

“It really started because of Harry’s enthusiasm and how connected he was and still is with an impressive international community of classical chamber musicians,” Hildebrand says.

Hildebrand is a freelance classical pianist whose passion for classical music sparked and grew in Winnipeg. She is also the co-ordinator for the Young Artists Program, for which young musicians, usually aged 16 to 25, audition to be one of the nine ‘Young Artists.’

“This means at the beginning of each concert, one of the Young Artists opens the show with a five-minute performance,” Hildebrand explains. “They get an honorarium, complimentary tickets to the show, and a very cool perk is that they get to share the green room with the artist whom they’re opening for.”

Hildebrand says the Young Artist Program was a welcome advancement for Virtuosi, as it produced a more diverse audience base and has provided young musicians with great opportunities. However, she feels that the series still has some artistic evolving to do.

“To say it cheekily, the series started with high-calibre musicians playing (the) music of dead white men who lived 100 years ago or more and remains the same today,” she says. Hildebrand says that the current age has more to offer audience in terms of diversity.

“All classical music series will always have room for the repertoire of the great composers of the past centuries. They’re not going anywhere, but I think we have so much more diversity in classical music, and therefore so much more to say.”

Hildebrand is, however, intrigued by the upcoming concert on Jan. 12, featuring the Donald Sinta Quartet (DSQ), a saxophone group that plays string chamber music.

Dan Graser, the soprano saxophonist for the group, says that it will be DSQ’s Canadian debut. Chamber saxophone is a fairly new and rare concept, Graser says, but the group tries to remain flexible with their sound.

“We play a great array of repertoire, and one sound is not appropriate for every time period or genre of music,” he says. “When playing newer music, we try to tailor our sound to the style and influences the composer has brought to bear in the piece.”

Graser says the group tries to perform a diverse array of music to showcase the “chameleon-like nature” of the saxophone and of the ensemble itself.

“We are very active in commissioning new repertoire, over five dozen premieres to date, and are always looking for more,” Graser says. “This music comes from a huge range of styles and backgrounds, and we are open to it all.”

Graser says the group is looking forward to their Canadian debut and will continue rolling in 2019 with the release of their forthcoming album Collider in the summer.

The Donald Sinta Quartet will perform on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall at the University of Winnipeg. Order tickets from the Virtuosi box office at 204-786-9000.

Published in Volume 73, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 10, 2019)

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