WNMF 4: Dialogues

Wednesday, February 1, 2023 , 7:30 pm


SHHH!! Ensemble,  Edana Higham, piano & Zac Pulak, percussion
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra


Kelly-Marie Murphy:  Machines, Mannequins, and Monsters – World Premiere
Kalevi Aho:  Double Concerto for Two Bassoons and Orchestra – North American Premiere
Kati Agócs:  Transluminescence – Concerto for Piano – World Premiere
Kinan Azmeh:  Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra

Centennial Concert Hall: 

Returning to our familiar concert hall, music director Daniel Raiskin leads the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in a series of works featuring a stunning array of acclaimed guest soloists from around the world. This unique program places a spotlight on the relationship between soloist, conductor, orchestra, and composer – and the dialogue, synergy, and conflict that arise from their interactions.

Distinguished guest composer Kalevi Aho returns with his uniquely infectious concerto that features Dutch virtuoso bassoonist Bram van Sambeek and WSO principal bassoonist Kathryne Brooks.

Two major Canadian orchestral composers are also featured this evening. First, the energetic young piano-percussion duo SHHH!! Ensemble have their WSO debut, giving the world premiere of Kelly Marie-Murphy’s enigmatic Machines, Mannequins, and Monsters. Honens Prize-winning pianist Nicolas Namoradze then joins the WSO to present Kati Agócs’s sweeping new piano concerto.

Finally, virtuoso clarinetist Kinan Azmeh returns to the stage, joined by CityBand percussionist John Hadfield, to explore the spectrum of musical expression with the WSO in an unforgettable and (by definition) singular rendition of Azmeh’s Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra.


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Kelly-Marie Murphy Machines, Mannequins, and Monsters (2021) – World Premiere

  1. Study for Man and Machine, 1921
  2. Articulating Mannequin, 1931
  3. Humanly Impossible, 1932

Machines, Mannequins, and Monsters is a double concerto for piano and percussion, and was written for Edana Higham and Zac Pulak.  It is in three attacca movements.  The title comes from an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which explores how artists interpreted the fast-paced technological changes in the first few decades of the 20th century through the three motifs in the title.  It was a juxtaposition of good and bad, real and surreal.

The first movement opens quietly and tentatively balancing low rumbles with metallic sounds.  It explores colour and gesture.  The movement ends with a very mechanical, clock-like section, with fragments of melody overlapped.  The second movement is a cadenza for the soloists.  It is eerie and unsettling.  In it, the percussionist is asked to create sounds and resonance inside the piano.  The last movement is loud, fast, rhythmic, and powerful.  It expends all its energy and ends quietly yet unsettled, returning in a way to the mood of the first movement.

Kalevi Aho Double Concerto for Two Bassoons and Orchestra(2016) – North American Premiere

  1. (without title)
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro

The Double Concerto for Two Bassoons was composed in 2016 on the initiative of bassoon virtuoso Bram van Sambeek. Bram had previously performed and recorded my Bassoon Concerto (2004) and performed much of my bassoon chamber music as well. In Bram’s opinion, the big problem for bassoonists has been that the instrument is only quite rarely qualified as a soloist in orchestral concerts, and if this happens, then usually the orchestra’s own solo bassoonist is asked to play Mozart’s bassoon concerto, which not even belongs to Mozart’s most significant concerto production.

Bram suggested that if I compose a double concerto for two bassoons, then he, or some other bassoonist, could perform it with the orchestra’s solo bassoonist. It would also be the first-ever double concerto for two bassoons and a normal-sized symphony orchestra – the few previous double bassoon concertos are old music, short in duration and written for a small orchestra.

The work has three movements, and both solo bassoons are quite equal in it, one is not more dominant than the other. I have tried to compose the concerto so that it would bring out the best of the bassoon and also show the virtuoso potential of the instrument.

The work was commissioned jointly by three orchestras, by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra Sinfonica de Galicia and the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra. The premiere took place in Warsaw on 18 January 2019, with Bram van Sambeek and Leszek Wachnik as soloists, and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Niklas Willén.

Kati Agócs Transluminescence – Concerto for Piano (2022) – World Premiere

  1. With great space
  2. Intimate; pellucid
  3. Elegant and energetic (perpetual motion)

My piano concerto was written in memory of one of my oldest friends, Bruce McKinnon. The word Transluminescence means “that which allows light to shine through.” The concerto is structured in three movements that flow together without pause, creating an immersive form about twenty minutes in duration. Cyclic in nature, the opening chord progression is picked up and varied throughout all three movements:  The first movement is ceremonial, with a dialogue between soloist and orchestra that intensifies as it unfolds; the second movement is meditative, reaching into pellucid and fragile areas of both vulnerability and strength; and the third movement is a perpetual motion refrain which builds to an apotheosis.  The piece ends with the pianist playing a transfigured version of the opening chords, with the soloist deciding when (and how) the piece should end.

Transluminescence was commissioned by the Esther Honens Piano Competition for the 2018 Honens Prize Laureate, Nicolas Namoradze.

Kinan Azmeh Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra (2007)

  1. Love on 139th Street in D
  2. November 22nd
  3. Wedding

I have always loved to compose, always loved to play as soloist with orchestra and I have always loved to improvise, so I decided to write a piece that would allow me to do it all at once!

The three movements: Love on 139th Street in D, November 22nd and Wedding were originally written in 2005 for my project, Hewar, an ensemble made of clarinet, oud and voice, and what began simply as three lead-sheets ended up becoming a full orchestral work and my most performed work. The suite tries to blur the lines between the composed and the improvised, which comes from my belief that some of the best written music is one that sounds spontaneous and improvised, and some of the best improvisations are the ones that sound structured as if composed. This work is meant to both turn an orchestra into a band and to give a great room for the soloist to become a composer on the spot and to play freely within the larger structure of the work.

Love on 139th Street in D is inspired by New York City’s neighborhood of Harlem where I lived for few years, a simple homage to its cultural mix and a dedication to my downstairs neighbor who blasted reggaetone all day long!

November 22nd is a meditative work that tries to depict that ambiguous feeling one encounters by feeling at home somewhere far from one’s original home. I wrote this piece in the US inspired by the sonic memory of a marketplace that used to exist behind my parents’ apartment back in Damascus, it seemed to have a slow and steady pulse to it similar to the rhythm of life which keeps moving regardless of our emotions about it.

Wedding is made of two contrasting sections, a relatively calm one followed by a fast and energetic dance. It tries to capture the general mood found in a Syrian village wedding party usually held in the public square for everyone to attend. These parties are always exciting and never predictable.

—Kinan Azmeh