Dust off your dress

Get fancy with the WSO

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) music director/conductor Alexander Mickelthwate is pretty jazzed about kicking off symphony season in Winnipeg.

Tying in many of the programs this season with the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights proved a fun challenge for the conductor.

Sept. 26 finds the first program of the year, Dvorák: New World, hosting a collection of all American works from Copland, Gershwin and Dvorák. While the composers all have drastically different backgrounds, Mickelthwate explains there is a method to the madness.

“We thought we’d start with something that has some feel to human rights,” he says. “Copland’s Canticle of Freedom, which was written in the ‘50s, is a beautiful and energetic way of freedom and it’s our first nod to the opening of the Human Rights Museum. With Gershwin, he was one of the two richest composers who ever lived, who made the most money through composing, and who was mostly known for broadway shows, so this is a fantastic, fun, American concerto performed by (Russian-born/American-raised pianist) Natasha Paremski.”

Mickelthwate states that the American theme runs deep, with Copland having focused heavily on being for the “everyperson” in the 1940s and ‘50s, during a time when classical radio was becoming huge, noting that November will see a performance of Copland’s Symphony No. 3, which the conductor calls “the ultimate human rights piece.”

As for what completes the Sept. 26 and 27 program, the Dvorák: New World Symphony is a classic that was commissioned by New York’s Carnegie Hall upon its opening.

“(Dvorák) traveled extensively in the states, went to Iowa and fell in love with the prairies,” Mickelthwate says of the Czech composer. “So there’s actually a real connection to Winnipeg and our landscape and that famous piece of Dvorák’s ninth symphony, because he was inspired by this exact landscape.”

Aside from the concert itself, he’s also excited about getting new fans into the seats of the Centennial Concert Hall.

The WSO’s Shoundcheck Program helps full-time students/anyone age 30 and under afford a night out at the symphony, with the first night of the season hosting something nice and exclusive for the 2000-plus members of the free program in the “Dust off the Dress” cocktail event.

“People dress up and bring out their old gowns and jackets and ties, old prom dresses that you usually are never able to wear again,” Mickelthwate explains. “We have pop-up beauty bars where you can, before the concert or the reception, touch up your make-up or get your hair done in a fun way.”

In addition to providing a nice night out in something fun/fancy (Mickelthwate informs us with a laugh that he won’t be dusting anything off, but wearing what he wears on stage) the conductor notes that it’s all about getting people to experience something new and emotional.

“Everything from completely meditative and soul healing (feelings) to really rousing emotions come from classical music,” he says. “It’s more that I feel like people don’t know, and if they would come and experience it, it would just be very satisfying. It’s an experience that can transform your life.”

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra kicks off its season on Sept. 26 with Dvorák: New World. Visit wso.ca for ticket information.

Published in Volume 69, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 17, 2014)

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