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Michael Oesterle's Cello Concerto

Michael Oesterle's Cello Concerto

By Manitoba Chamber Orchestra

Saturday, June 1, 2019

As they say, good things come in threes. In the recent past, the JUNO-nominated MCO has recorded with such international stars as Dame Evelyn Glennie and Isabel Bayrakdarian. This time around, with its 1 June 2019 release of the Cello Concerto EP, two Canadian luminaries join the MCO: cellist Ariel Barnes and composer Michael Oesterle. This is MCO Records’ third release.

We’re proud to collaborate with fellow Canadian musicians of this calibre, especially on work of such international, even universal resonance. A full range of human emotion is expressed in this CBC-commissioned concerto (originally entitled The Iron Man) — divided into five tracks and exquisitely rendered by the MCO and our brilliant guest soloist — about the contradictions of the modern world.

A player of dazzling virtuosity and magnetic expressivity, Barnes is, in the words of Maestro Bramwell Tovey, “the outstanding Canadian cellist of his generation.” Canadians — and the world — are noticing. His recordings have garnered two Western Canadian Music Awards and a JUNO nomination, and are met with praise by the international music press (BBC, The Strad, Lahrer Zeitung.) This is not the first time he has worked with Oesterle, the MCO, or its Music Director Anne Manson. Barnes’ undeniable swagger on Cello Concerto shows this familiarity. Hear, for instance, his devil-may-care attack of the concerto’s many speedy sections with which the orchestra effortlessly keeps pace. After touring Cello Concerto together in British Columbia, where they received rave reviews, the MCO and Mr. Barnes combobulate like a well-oiled machine.

Speaking of which, there’s also Cello Concerto’s imaginative, technological story to fascinate and challenge audiences. The piece depicts the industrial revolution, but also brings to mind today’s consumerist mania fuelling climate change and the often-brutal industrialization of the Global South. As Oesterle writes in his programme note, Cello Concerto takes aim at “our inability to shrug off the values of the Iron Age — values that have become as instinctual, as ritualistic, and as hard to disregard as the impulses of our reptilian brain.” Yet there is wonder, even optimism, in Oesterle’s score: “courage, strength, honour, and endurance” are all qualities he attributes to the Iron Age, and they are glowing qualities of the music as well.

Barnes is conducted by Anne Manson and joined by MCO Concertmaster Karl Stobbe, whose accomplishments could both occupy another couple of pages. In short: on top of her work with the MCO, where she has been Music Director since 2008, Manson has guest conducted the LA Philharmonic, the London Phil, the BBC Proms, and many others. She is recognized in particular for her renowned direction of opera in houses around the globe. London’s Sunday Times captures something of Stobbe’s gifts when they describe the MCO Concertmaster as “a master soloist, recalling the golden age of violin playing — producing a breathtaking range of tone colours.”

Joined by the rest of the MCO’s impeccable musicians, these artists achieve practically everything audiences desire of new art music: technical brilliance, but also passion, beauty, relevancy, accessibility. While this point may be more of an afterthought for listeners immersed in the immediacy of Oesterle’s wonderful music, the MCO’s latest recording once again furthers aims close to its heart: providing a platform for the significant Canadian and international art music of our time.

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