Winnipeg New Music Festival returns with more envelope-pushing pieces

Festival headlined by Philip Glass, to feature world premieres of 14 pieces

The Winnipeg New Music Festival (WNMF), presented by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra runs Jan. 27 – Feb. 2, and brings some of the most innovative classical composers from across the world to our humble, hibernating city.

The festival’s headliner this year is composer Philip Glass. WNMF artistic director Alexander Mickelthwate described Glass as “A real legend.”

“I don’t even know if worldwide, there is anybody on that level.”

A massive influence in the contemporary music world, his compositions and influence on pop music will be familiar to many. With three Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe for Best Original Score (for The Truman Show), and influencing artists like Iggy Pop and Paul Simon, his accolades extend beyond the traditional spheres of classical music.

The festival’s lineup is fleshed out with a broad set of work by composers from around the world, including 14 world premieres of never-before-heard pieces. The breadth of style presented over the festival’s week-long run will leave listeners with new favourite pieces and composers, though it will not be without challenges. Pushing the boundaries at WNMF means letting preconceptions of what music is and should be fall to the wayside.

Steve Webb, faculty of music graduate, in rehearsal before the premiere of his piece, Moments. Photo by Asha Nelson.

When asked about his most challenging moments during his tenure at the WNMF, Mickelthwate reminisced about conducting a 40-minute piece composed by Glenn Branca in 2014.

“It sounded like random notes in the orchestra […] and it was very hard physically for the musicians to perform that work and nothing happened, like literally, for 40 minutes, and that’s what I told the audience, ’Don’t expect anything, nothing is going to happen, time will stand still,’” Mickelthwate said.

“It was one of the most powerful experiences in my life, conducting.”

On Jan. 31, head to the atrium of the EITC complex at the U of M for XIE, a free community concert. That evening at the Centennial Concert Hall, Karen Sunabacka will be premiering #DryColdConversations, a piece about experiences of winter in Manitoba, along with a performance by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, a Björk and Sigur Rós collaborator hailing from Iceland, who will be premiering a choir and orchestral piece, 7 Friends.

On Feb. 1, the acclaimed JACK Quartet will be premiering Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 8 at the Centennial Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.. If you haven’t had your fix of Sigur Rós collaborators and Canadian winters, check out Knox United Church on Feb. 3 for a performance of the score for Bill Morrison’s film Dawson City: Frozen Time, composed by Alex Somers, a presented jointly by WNMF and Jazz Winnipeg.