WNMF 5: Symphonic Motion

Friday, February 3, 2023 , 7:30 pm


Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra


Zhou Long:  The Rhyme of Taigu
Giya Kancheli:  Nu.Mu.Zu. – Canadian Premiere
Victoria Vita Poleva:  Nova – Canadian Premiere
Kalevi Aho:  Symphonic Dances – Canadian Premiere

Centennial Concert Hall: 

WNMF 2023 wraps in style with a striking slate of massive works from around the globe, putting a spotlight on the extreme and thrilling musical contrasts that the symphony orchestra is uniquely capable of.

Zhou Long opens the program with a bang as his Rhyme of Taigu brings the sounds of ceremonial Chinese drumming to the symphonic hall. In tribute to the great Giya Kancheli, we then turn our gaze inward for his mysterious and contemplative Nu.Mu.Zu. (I don’t know).

Victoria Poleva’s explosive fanfare Nova unleashes a full-throated cry of anguish and proud solidarity with the Ukrainian people in a time marked by unspeakable strife and tragedy.

And finally, capping off this program and the festival, Maestro Raiskin and the WSO give the Canadian premiere of distinguished guest composer Kalevi Aho‘s Symphonic Dances, a multi-movement work that channels the primordial elements and primal dance across epic orchestral soundscapes.


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This concert will be livestreamed on MyWSO.tv the day of the concert and be available for 30 days after.


Zhou Long The Rhyme of Taigu (2003)

The Rhyme of Taigu is a lively and powerful work for full orchestra. The piece explores the energy and spirit behind Japanese Taiko, or “fat drum” (Taigu in Chinese). As a result, the percussion plays a key role, providing an aggressive drive throughout the whole work and often in competition with the brass, particularly in the thrilling climax.


Giya Kancheli Nu.Mu.Zu. (2015) – Canadian Premiere

Kancheli includes a bass guitar in the orchestra and gives prominent roles to harp and, especially, piano. The first of many allusions to the musical past occurs at the outset of the piece. Here the piano plays the theme of Bach Fugue in E minor in Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier, only slowly and blurred, as though heard in a dream. The orchestra answers with a harmonically distant minor chord and a four-note motif from the oboe, echoed by English horn. Following some consideration of these ideas, the tempo accelerates and we hear another musical anachronism: a merry, dance-like melodic fragment that we might identify as a Beethoven rondo.

Soon the piano introduces a figure in skipping rhythms; this, too, will prove a recurring motif. We also encounter hints of medieval harmonies, a waltz-like melody and other references to the history of Western music. But as the piece progresses, contrasting material intrudes: grinding dissonances that repeatedly crescendo to thundering exclamations, then give way to ethereal quiet. This gesture — passages of power and momentum juxtaposed against others of delicacy and stillness — is a signature characteristic of Kancheli’s music. The last of them produces a huge explosion of sound and a moment of tense silence. Then, quietly and in exquisitely slow motion, we hear a remembrance of the Bach fugue theme that opened the work.


Victoria Vita Poleva Nova (2022) – Canadian Premiere

This work is directly related to the terrible war in Ukraine.

I think Nova is martial music; not military, not militant, but  martial…  That huge spiritual impulse that we all feel now has changed us.  There are no more good hard-working Ukrainians, there is a new powerful whole, a new spiritual body of Ukraine, which is all of us.  And our Nenka-Ukraine is like this today, with the heroic calls of trembita, the howling of air raids and the drumming of machine-guns.

Why does the English theme appear in the middle?  So my auditory intuition worked, but not only.  If we recall the story of King George the Sixth, who supported the spirit of the British during the Second World War, then here we can draw a parallel with the actions of the Ukrainian president, who became the true leader of his country during the war.  It is about a person who overcomes his uncertainty and transforms into the spiritual leader of an entire nation.  And, of course, Jeremiah Clarke “Trumpet Voluntary” is the ideal image of a royal victory, regardless of nationality.

—Victoria Poleva


Kalevi Aho Symphonic Dances (2001) – Canadian Premiere

  1. Prelude
  2. Return of the Flames and Dance
  3. Grotesque Dance
  4. Dance of the Winds and Fires

Of all the works by Aho, this has won most international acclaim. The recording of it has received a number of press awards and it has been praised as one of Aho’s most magnificent scores. The idea for it came from the Finnish National Opera, which commissioned Aho to complete Uuno Klami’s ballet Whirls by adding a third act. Although it does retain some of Klami’s motives, it is for the most part entirely Aho’s own composition. It is a highly enjoyable proof of his talent in painting lush, lavish, late-Romantic colours.

The Prelude is distinguished by its numerous quotations from the first two acts. The Return of the Flames and Dance proceeds with breathtaking energy and culminates in a wild dance. Central to the third act is the smith Ilmarinen, a character from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. In Grotesque Dance he enters a magical forest, amidst an awakening of different forest animals and spirits. In the Dance of the Winds and Fires, he builds a fire that creates the Sampo (a mythical object from the Kalevala). The four winds stoke the fire and lead to the brilliant build-up of the north wind. The character of the music changes abruptly in the coda, where Aho represents the idea of the Sampo as a symbol of youth and love with a heavenly, slow chorale-like passage for the violas and cellos.

The Symphonic Dances were commissioned by the Finnish National Opera and premiered on 6 December 2001 by Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. (BIS-CD-1336)

Simply phenomenal

The Symphonic Dances are absolute masterpieces… a sample card of Aho’s great genius… Evocative and magnificent. Svenska Dagbladet, 2 April 2004

…The Symphonic Dances are simply phenomenal. …The work has four movements, glitteringly scored for large orchestra, and it culminates in an “all stops out” Dance of the Winds and Fires that goes far toward establishing Aho’s claim to be considered one of the greatest currently active writers for orchestra. If you like big, colorful, late-Romantic music with real rhythm and drive, then you will find this disc totally thrilling… If there’s any justice in the universe, this work will be performed everywhere. Classics Today, March 2004

…An extraordinary achievement. A magical fusion of Klami’s own language, coloured and refracted through Aho’s compositional mind. …Aho is a born colourist and orchestral painter who also happens to write with astonishing facility. MusicWeb, August 2004