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Pitching Hicksville in New York. Winnipeg Symphony supplies the soundtrack.


The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra headed for a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall with all the hype and hoopla of the Titanic leaving port on its maiden voyage.

Bon voyage!

The WSO was one of six North American orchestras invited to perform at this year's  Spring For Music festival.  Here's how the event pitches itself:

Spring For Music provides an idealized laboratory, free of the normal marketing and financial constraints, for an orchestra to be truly creative with programs that are interesting, provocative and stimulating, and that reflect its beliefs, its standards, and vision. Spring For Music believes that an orchestra’s fundamental obligation is to lead and not follow taste.

Okay. Whatever. We're in.

On Saturday, the Winnipeg Free Press devoted a full page and a bit to recap the WSO's May 8 appearance in The Big Apple.  As we peeled away layer after layer of hometown hooey, we thought can it get any sadder than this?

Reporter Mary Agnes Welch laid on the spin as gently as possible.  But that's like saying the food service on the Titanic was a once-in-a-lifetime experience---which it literally was because the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean right after supper.

Surprise!

This time the ship reached port with horns blaring, banners flying and fireworks lighting up the sky.

* "A night to remember at Carnegie Hall" was the headline in the next-day review in the Winnipeg Free Press  (The unfortunate headline is not ours.)

NEW YORK -- There could be no mistake: The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra took Manhattan by storm one explosive note at a time...

*  "... on their own terms, they may be the best orchestra to appear in the week’s worth of concerts." wrote reviewer George Grella for Classical Review ("Winnipeg Symphony brings surprising and spectacular music from the North" May 9, 2014.)

*  "Call me a fan of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid."  blogged Pittsburgh reviewer Elizabeth Bloom.

So, what's so sad?  This sounds great.

It does until you dig deeper into the Mary Agnes Welch story.

Nearly 1000 Winnipeggers came with the WSO to New York, she said. Great, except that the concert attendance was only 1,800, which means more than half the audience was from Winnipeg or ex-patriot Canadians.

 "...dominated by a hometown crowd."

"...a largely Winnipeg audience, made larger by their exuberance."

So you're showcasing the orchestra to yourselves? And acting like the worst homers in history?  "The crowd gave the musicians a standing ovation before they'd even played a note."  Not cool.

The orchestra was accompanied by Winnipeg pitchmen and promoters who just came across as the biggest rubes in the city.

Gary Doer, former premier and current ambassador to the U.S., recited the checklist: zzzzzzzz new human rights museum (to the city with museums up the yingyang), zzzzzzz history of tolerance and equality (to the city that hosts the United Nations), zzzzzzzz community spirit that helped rescue the WSO during some financial turmoil (you want financial turmoil, go to Wall Street and yell Lehman Brothers). 

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce pitched Manitoba`s cheap hydro (about to double in less than a decade), competitive tax structure (unless you pay income taxes), skilled workforce (negative job creation in the past year), and `commitment to major trade infrastructure (or in layman's terms, we build roads)."

Oh, and tourism hucksters touted 'our arts and culture' (bwahahaha. New York is the Centre of the Universe, like they care what`s happening in Winterpeg), polar bears and belugas (yeah, that`s how to say we`re a modern city, tell them about the wildlife just outside our doors), and, of course, the iconic CMHR (to a city with the Empire State Building, the new World Trade Centre, the Statue of Liberty, need we go on),.

`We`ve built enough assets here in Manitoba that you can stay for a few days and not get bored,`` Gary Doer told tour operators, according to the Free Press.

Really?  That's your best shot? Did we say you couldn't get sadder than this?

But the WSO walks away okay, right?   Uhhh....

The Spring For Music festival wants its participants to be provocative and stimulating.  Winnipeg was that.  It was a geek show straight out of Colonel Parker's back pocket.

The WSO presented pieces highlighting an Inuit throat singer and a deaf percussionist.  Er, that's different.  Different as in who the f--- gives a damn.  That's probably why tickets were only $25 and they still couldn't give them away to New Yorkers.

You want to know how the regular schmo classical music enthusiast reviewed the WSO? A commenter on the Pittsburgh blogger's site:

Bill Gapen
THE WSO Carnegie Hall performance was 'interesting'. . Yes - they are unique - yet I am not sure I will be playing their performance as I drive down the road. 
 
Music - it takes a unique ear to enjoy unique sound. I would not go as far as to call it music.. more sound and creativity. 
 
Orchestra - the strings were in very good shape. The horns section though were sometimes out of pitch and there were a few wrong notes here and there from some. 

Throat singing is very unique - although perhaps for a select audience 
 
Percussion with Dame Evelyn Glennie OUTSTANDING.
Audience - a very large contingent from Winnipeg who flew in for the concert. Base on the number of people waving their red kerchiefs and my discussion with attendees. I would hazard to guess the hall was about 70% composed of Winnipeggers. past or current. 
 
While the spirit is live and thriving - one needs to question whether it was a New York performance or a Winnipeg pep rally using a NY venue. For an orchestra to excel with global recognition - wouldn't one want to say that people from all over the world came to witness and enjoy an orchestra? Perhaps it goes back to that unique sound.. yes certainly unique but does it draw an international appreciation ?

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