Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra returns to live performance — with bluegrass program

Centennial Concert Hall. Centennial Concert Hall

If you’ve been lamenting the lack of in-person performances by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this weekend’s pair of shows by the orchestra’s neWSOunds group might be just what you need — but it’ll sound a little different.

Led by a foursome of accomplished classical musicians, the ‘Bluegrass Symphony’ program is 90 minutes of contemporary and traditional bluegrass favourites that will take the symphony and its fans outside of their comfort zones.

“We’re incredibly excited to get in front of a live audience again,” percussionist Mike Kemp told 680 CJOB.

“The absence of fans in the stands — if you want to use the sports analogy — it impacts us as well. It’s kind of a vacuum of energy.

“For a program like this, where it’s some really fun, uplifting, good toe-tappin’ music… to be able to just feel the energy of people excited to be around live music again, we’re all incredibly excited and looking forward to kicking off the season.”

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As a percussionist, Kemp said his instrumentation isn’t what you’d typically see him play in the WSO — everything from a wood box called a cajon that he’ll sit on while playing, to spoons, to a kick drum and a snare played with brushes.

“The washboard and the old jug are the only two things I’m still working on getting into the repertoire.”

Fiddle player Chris Anstey, a violinist in the symphony, said he feels that the WSO does a good job of presenting a wide range of music — from classics to pops to movie scores — each year, and this bluegrass project is just a further extension of that.

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Although he’s playing, essentially, the same instrument as he does for classical music, the looser vibe of the show means he’ll be standing up while playing — an unusual sight for a classical violinist.

“I don’t think I’m going to dance, though, and I won’t apologize for that,” he said.

“Nobody needs to see that.”

The foursome, rounded out by Gregory Hay on banjo and Meredith Johnson on double bass, will also feature a guest star on accordion for a few numbers: WSO conductor Julian Pellicano.

The performances take place at the Centennial Concert Hall on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. More information and ticket details are available at the WSO’s website.

Click to play video: 'Checking in with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra'
Checking in with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

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