Classically accessible

Chamber-music organizations usher in budgetfriendly experiences

The classical-music quartet Ensemble Made in Canada performs as part of last year’s Virtuosi Concerts Inc. season

Supplied photo

Is classical music accessible? Historically speaking, no. The genre has an exclusive reputation, likely due to high ticket prices for operas and other concerts. Until the construction of buildings that are barrier-free, access to these venues is limited. Some people may also find classical music out of date and, quite frankly, not relevant to most modern audiences.

Several chamber-music, opera and orchestra organizations across Winnipeg are trying to change that. Virtuosi Concerts Inc. (VCI), in particular, offers student discounts and a pay-it-forward program, where season ticket holders can offer up their seats to others.

Jennifer Thiessen, a violinist and VCI’s artistic director, understands that classical-music concerts aren’t always accessible. While VCI offers $10 student tickets at the door and $30 tickets for attendees under 30, other full-price single tickets are $48, “which is not possible for everyone and not for a lot of people,” she says. “It’s something I relate to. I’m a working musician.”

While the pay it forward program is not advertised or marketed on their website, Thiessen expanded on a phone call that the organization strives to prioritize more inclusive opportunities for the general community.

The upcoming VCI season will not take place on the University of Winnipeg campus, as it had in previous years, but the organization has opted for alternate venues, like St. Andrew’s River Heights United Church.

Their season-opener event, Voice of the Cello, on Oct. 13 features Stéphane Tétreault on cello and Sandra Murray playing piano. The venue has a cement ramp at its entrance and is just a few metres away from a public street.

However, classical performances aren’t confined to traditional venues and concert halls.

The Manitoba Museum is locally renowned for the Nonsuch, a replica ship built in 1968 and retired in 1974 from its seafaring days. From Sept. 20 to 23, it will transform into a stage for a Manitoba Underground Opera (MUO) production of composer Giuseppi Verdi’s The Corsair.

The show features queer historical pirates, and remaining tickets start at $22 for students, seniors and arts workers.

Janice Marple, administrative director of the MUO, admits that opera traditionally “does have a bit of a reputation for being a little bit stuffy.”

However, “one of our big mandates is updating these classic works so that they are relevant for people today and just showing people that ... opera is just storytelling, which is probably the oldest, most universal art form that we have.”

Other classical music is accessible just about anywhere at any time. Listeners can tune in to Classic 107.1 FM to hear the genre for 20 hours each day (and jazz for the other four). Station hosts often share facts about original composers and modern performers, including Manitoba locals like violinist James Ehnes.

The station also runs giveaways for free tickets to classical-music performances. Listeners can visit the Ticket Window at for a chance to win a pair of MCO season passes.

Concert-goers can purchase $10 student tickets for VC shows at the door. Other tickets are available at Visit the MUO website at to buy advance tickets for The Corsair.

Published in Volume 78, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 7, 2023)

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