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First Play: Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, The Shaman, Arctic Symphony

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Robert Rowat

Centrediscs turns its attention to composer Vincent Ho for its latest release.

The Shaman, Arctic Symphony, streaming in the player to your left until its release on Oct. 13, features the world premiere of two major orchestral works by Ho, performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Alexander Mickelthwate.

Both works were written during Ho's tenure as composer in residence with the WSO, from 2007 to 2014.

The first is The Shaman, a three-movement concerto for percussion and orchestra dating from 2011. The soloist is Evelyn Glennie. "She has the uncanny ability to draw the audience into a magical world and take them through wondrous journeys that are beyond material existence," writes Ho in the liner notes. "To me, Dame Evelyn is like a modern-day shaman."

John Corigliano, who attended the world premiere of The Shaman, has high praise for Ho's gifts as a melodist. In the album's foreword, he singles out the vibraphone's theme in the second movement as a highlight. "It is so rare to find a composer [with] the ability to write a simple melody. ... Vincent has written a heavenly theme with almost no accompaniment by the orchestra," he writes. "It goes to the heart, and is simple without ever being simple-minded."

Artist onboard

Ho was inspired to write his Arctic Symphony in 2010, following his participation as an "artist onboard" for a tour of Canada's Arctic on the CCGS Amundsen. This was an initiative of scientist David Barber, who invited artists from various disciplines to visit the region.

"We visited many Indigenous communities to learn about their culture and how the current state of the environment had impacted their way of life," writes Ho.

His five-movement Arctic Symphony is a distillation of that experience, from the sounds of the Amundsen's motor to the gusting Arctic wind, to the strains of "Qauma," an Igloolik song celebrating the arrival of spring. (The Nunavut Sivuniksavut Performers join the ensemble to sing the latter.)

The Shaman, Arctic Symphony will be released on Oct. 13. Pre-order it here.

On Oct. 13 and 14, Rune Bergmann and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the fifth movement from Ho's Arctic Symphony (accompanied by a video by photographer Doug Barber) as part of its True North Festival. Details here.

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