On Friday, September 26, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and conductor Alexander Mickelthwate returned for a brand new season with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
The evening started off in measured fashion with introductions but, even then, the promise of a new season full of new things lingered in the air. The first movement, inspired by “Fate,” slowly unfurled through thoughts of reality, with a palpable happiness. The string section, especially the violins, seemed to seize control of the symphony. The players played with such intensity and power! Perhaps the highlight of the opening movement, though, was the moving violin solo given by first chair player Gwen Hoebig. It one of those solos that could convince people to just close their eyes and relax.
The second movement explored intense and passionate themes such as madness, peace, sadness and beauty. Violin soloist Cho-Liang Lin was given an ample spotlight here, playing various solos, each of which reduced most of the audience to awe-filled silence. Accordingly, Lin’s face conveyed a suitable intensity, and his violin ran the gamut of emotions; when there were moments of sadness, it sounded like the violin was crying.
The third and final movement was the big finish, loud and booming. The percussion section sounded like a storm. The symbol crashes stopped hearts, like a mix of lightning and thunder. The trumpets echoed throughout the concert hall, often sounding like they would go on forever. The ending was crazy fast, building manically to a final explosion.
Mickelthwate is an incredible person to watch. When he conducts he is so into the music it is as if he isn’t even the conductor, he is simply dancing to the music. The evening ended with the audience giving the symphony a standing ovation, where Mickelthwate acknowledged not just the orchestra but also each of the soloists. Tchaikovsky felt Symphony No. 4 was his greatest achievement, as it expressed his romantic outpourings following a failed marriage. In all, the WSO’s interpretation of this was a complete triumph and is a harbinger of many great performances to come this season.
After the performance I had the opportunity to speak with Trudy Schroeder, the executive director of the WSO, who said “The symphony is changing this year; we are going to be introducing new acts, such as aerial dancers. It is going to be a season of riveting entertainment. Also we want to get many university students involved this year, and maybe do some volunteering.”