bookcoverPraise for

Tuning the Forks: A Celebration of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

“It is an incredible achievement. So much detail, so much research, so beautifully written – what an amazing story, but how superbly told! Tuning the Forks is a serious work of art in itself…It’s the whole book, the players, the conductors, the halls, the touring, the NMF…From the get-go you describe it as a record of achievement but it is so much more than that. It is archive, it is an inspiration, it is a salutary wake-up call to all and sundry about what can be achieved in a place like Winnipeg. It is chronicle about 60 years of dedication to the art of music in a city that took ownership of its orchestra. Your book, like Boswell to Dr Johnson, is more worthy and inspirational than the subject itself could have ever hoped for… is the best book on music-making in Canada (and for that matter, much wider afield) that I’ve ever read…”

– Bramwell Tovey, Music Director, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl

“Excellent – full of interesting information, clearly laid out and altogether a most valuable addition to any library.”

– Tony Palmer, award-winning British film maker and author

“Just amazing, an absolutely perfect job.”

– Andrey Boreyko, former WSO Music Director

“An important contribution to the artistic history of our country.”

– Victor Feldbrill, former WSO Music Director

“I recommend this book to all of you who have loved the WSO for any part of its history, and those of you who are interested in the history of Canadian orchestras. The chapter on the memorable performance by the WSO in Carnegie Hall is worth the book alone.”

– Eric Friesen, Studio Sparks, CBC Radio

Excerpt from Chapter 14: On the Road

The WSO’s toured northern Manitoba in September 1998, under the baton of artistic director Bramwell Tovey. In a column published in the Winnipeg Free Press on October 13, Tovey wrote,

Unless you’ve been to Flin Flon you cannot begin to imagine how a town could ever exist literally upon rock. Unless you’ve been to Thompson you’ve never seen ravens the size of large dogs, nor waterfalls like Pisew, twice as beautiful as Niagara yet one tenth the size.

Unless you’ve been to Gillam you can never truly appreciate how the human race has managed to harness nature to our advantage to provide hydro electric power for millions from the desolate wilderness. And if you’ve never been to Churchill then you haven’t really lived at all.

The tour is now a memory of snatched breakfasts and quick cups of coffee with newly-made lifelong friends, but it took many months of careful planning. Teresa Yeo, Karen Conway, Bill Burbank and Jo-Anne St. Godard each worked very closely with the WSO’s Annemarie Petrov to ensure the smoothest-running tour imaginable.

On a CBC radio documentary about the tour, Petrov said, “This has been in the works for a good two years. When Bramwell began as artistic director, this was at the top of his list of things he wanted to accomplish in his tenure. We started doing more run-outs about three years ago, which got us into the swing of doing performances in other communities. We found that it was so incredibly rewarding, not only for the communities but also for the orchestra, that we had to do more.”

Tovey’s Winnipeg Free Press article continued,

What music should we take with us? That was almost the easiest decision to make. It would be Beethoven – the most direct and meaningful of the “greats” to the inexperienced listener. We took the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, Three Métis Songs from Saskatchewan by Malcolm Forsyth with the brilliant young Canadian singer Susan Platts as our mezzo-soprano soloist, as well as Bizet’s Carmen Suite and Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. We added a potpourri of encores including Percy Grainger’s arrangement of Danny Boy, which has become the WSO’s signature tune for signing off our concerts around the province.

In Flin Flon the WSO concert became a “hot ticket,” and 700 people ended up attending it. The CBC’s Sandra Thacker, who produced and hosted the radio documentary, said, “It was more than sold out: high school band students were lined up at the door, and the youngest audience member was seven weeks old. Even with that many people, you could still hear a pin drop.” A community choir joined the WSO for the occasion, singing music by Handel.

Tovey wrote,

In Flin Flon we had the added excitement of joining with the Flin Flon Community Choir, a truly excellent body of singers superbly led by former Winnipegers Crystal and Mark Kolt and consisting of 100 very well-drilled voices.

Flying to Flin Flon and coach to Thompson sounds easy enough (even though the coach journey was almost 400 kilometres), but what then? Actually it was another coach journey, but with a major difference. As we left Thompson, an orchestral wag pointed to a dirt track and said, “Oh, that must be our route.” The mirth turned sour when the coach veered down the track and we saw the sign, “No gas for 294 kilometres.” And what a road it was. I will never forget the sight of Troy Lake, the desolation of the trees burned in a recent forest fire, nor the absurd excitement at the rare sight of another vehicle approaching us. There were no houses on this road, no shops, no gas stations, no doughnut shops, no washrooms, no traffic lights nor any of the other burdens of alleged civilization. Not until we reached the majestic hydroelectric dams outside Gillam did the road become tarmac again.

After the concert in the curling rink, we flew from Gillam airport’s gravel runway direct to Churchill. We had a hilarious ride with one of Canadian Airlines’ most witty air stewards and after a bus trip in what could be classified as an antique coach in any other place, we arrived in Churchill. Like gauche tourists, we tip-toed about for fear of confronting polar bears in a nocturnal downtown stroll. All was dark. The streets were deserted. We felt as though we were at the edge of the world. Had the bears eaten everyone? Was anyone in the place alive, let alone awake? A light was on in the Legion club. Perhaps we could get a cup of coffee? I gingerly stepped inside, accompanied by numerous WSO die-hards. I was eyed very suspiciously at the door by the attendant on duty. He took my card and disappeared. Suddenly we were inside and it seemed as if all the warmth, humanity, joy and fun in the world were unleashed upon us. We were in Churchill and that meant hospitality galore. The next day our personnel manager asked me if I had been disturbed by the rowdy revellers leaving the Legion club in the small hours. I had to tell him I was the last one out.

In Churchill, Annemarie Petrov told CBC radio, “The complications of touring with a group this size, especially in communities this size, are major. I’ve toured across the country, coast to coast, when I worked with another orchestra, but we played mostly in major centres. In places like that you had a choice of seven hotels, but here we’ve filled up four motels on our own and we need to realize that if something goes wrong there might not be room for everyone.”

The concert in Churchill was such a unique treat that one restaurateur closed up for the night – on a busy Saturday – so he could attend. A couple who journeyed with the WSO from Gillam to Churchill changed their travel plans so they could take in the show. The concert began with Rossini’s William Tell Overture. The audience responded with a standing ovation – a good omen for the evening as whole.

Tovey’s Winnipeg Free Press column continued,

Just before the final concert in Churchill, a dinner was held in which the WSO was officially welcomed by the mayor and various other dignitaries. I can only describe this welcome as ecstatic. As I stood to speak I found myself, for once, quite overwhelmed. Here we were at the very top of the world, about to give the first orchestral concert in a town founded nearly 150 years before Beethoven was born. What could I possibly say that could truly reflect the significance of this event? Fortunately the right words arrived. I told them the honest truth, that I could not wish to be anywhere else in the world that night, other than in their beautiful community with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. As usual, we played Danny Boy for the final encore of the evening. The audience seemed to be singing along as we played: “But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow, Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow, For we’ll all be here in sunshine or in shadow.” Thank you northern Manitoba for one of the greatest weeks in our lives. I promise you, we will be back.

After the performance, one audience member commented, “It blew me away, it was just excellent. I enjoyed everything about it. I can’t even describe it. The feeling inside was just so awesome. I listen to heavy metal. That classical stuff, I just can’t stand it. Tonight I enjoyed myself – it just lifted me, it expanded my horizons.” Another said, “I loved the concert. It was so beautiful. It joined everyone in the crowd, it gave them purpose, it gave them one feeling, that was shared.”

Elsewhere in Tovey’s Winnipeg Free Press column, he said,

In addition to the concerts (sponsored by Manitoba Hydro), we decided to try and visit schools in each community. In Flin Flon, the WSO brass quintet and I performed for an audience of 500 at Hapnot Collegiate. Afterwards I directed their high school band rehearsal and was hugely impressed with the desire to learn and their rehearsal discipline. In Thompson, various WSO musicians conducted workshops for band members at. R.D. Parker Collegiate. I took a rehearsal with the excellent senior high band, whose care and attention to detail was exemplary. In Gillam the WSO brass and I gave two concerts for the students under principal Karen Crozier’s special care and in Churchill, on a Saturday afternoon, kids turned up voluntarily (with their parents) for a similar presentation. The dedication and skill of music educators Lisa Aune, David Skime, Bob Miller, Tina Pelley and Joanne Stover deserves special tribute.

Karen Crozier told CBC radio, “It’s just been an absolutely incredible day here at Gillam, starting with this afternoon when WSO conductor-in-residence Rosemary Thomson came over to do a workshop with our band students, from Bramwell coming in and performing and speaking with all the students, from nursery through to senior four, and then the brass quintet coming in. It’s indescribable to say what it has meant to our children. They’ve just been thrilled all day long. There were so many little ones here in attendance tonight at the public concert, who were just as much in awe as the adults. For the appreciation of music alone, as well as for the exposure to an event like this, which has never been in Gillam before – it’s absolutely indescribable. Hopefully this will have long term effects, and perhaps, you never know, maybe one of the Gillam School band members may be a future WSO member in years to come.”