Cello Concerto

UNDER THE BATON OF ANNE MANSON, the MCO and Ariel Barnes perform Cello Concerto, Michael Oesterle’s “extraordinary” (Macleans) musical statement about the effects of industrialization on humanity. Together these artists achieve practically everything audiences desire of new art music: technical brilliance, passion, beauty, social relevancy, accessibility. As Fanfare Magazine writes, the album is “deft, imaginative and brilliantly orchestrated …  Who would have thought a cello concerto about the Industrial Revolution could be so much fun?” Get your copy of Cello Concerto here or at the MCO’s concerts.





Manitoba Chamber Orchestra price: $15 (inc GST); shipping and handling is $2.50; you may also arrange to pick up product at the MCO office or at a concert (please call 204-783-7377 to make arrangements after ordering).


The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and cellist Ariel Barnes proudly release recording of Michael Oesterle’s ‘Cello Concerto’ 1 June 2019

SPRING 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.

For further info and copies of Cello Concerto, please contact Conrad Sweatman, MCO Marketing & Communications Manager, at 204-783-7377 or csweatman@themco.ca.

Who would have thought a cello concerto about the Industrial Revolution could be so much fun?

Fanfare Magazine

OESTERLE Cello Concerto • Ariel Barnes (vc); Anne Manson, cond; Manitoba CO • MCO 019003 (21:06)

This EP is the third release on the Canadian MCO label, the label of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. It is beautifully produced, with informative notes and full listing of orchestra personnel. Outside of its own label, the MCO’s highest profile release is probably that of Glass’s Symphony No. 3 and The Hours on Orange Mountain Music.

There is only one other work on the Fanfare Archive by Michael Oesterle (b. 1968), his Dialogue sur d’intimes souvenirs, on an Atma release reviewed positively by Raymond Tuttle in Fanfare 33:6. The young Canadian cellist Ariel Barnes is the soloist here with Anne Manson, who has been Music Director of the Manitoba CO since 2008, at the helm.

Written in 2005 and rescored in 2017 for pairs of oboes and horns, strings, and cello soloist, Oesterle’s concerto is inspired by the Industrial Revolution. Lest that imply a certain heaviness, let us acknowledge first and foremost that there is a captivating lightness to the scoring, even when, as in the third and fourth movements, it seems that the very sound of machinery itself is being invoked. Deft, imaginative and brilliantly orchestrated, there is an addictive aspect to this piece; one is impelled to play it again immediately after hearing it. Cellist Ariel Barnes plays with virtuosity and with panache. The score requires both. Conductor Anne Manson realizes the orchestral contribution beautifully, with a brilliant ear for detail and a fine sense of rhythm.

The five movements, “To dream of burning coals”; “Abraham Darby”; “The Bloomery Method”; “The Crucible Technique”; “Ned Ludd,” present a progression of industrial benchmarks. Initially, some of the material was to be influenced by the Scottish fiddle reel The Iron Man; instead, it was the title of that tune that became the catalyst for Oesterle’s imagination.

The early optimism of the Revolution is captured perfectly in the playful “To dream of burning coals” wherein Barnes’s light delivery and telepathic link with the orchestra portray the prevailing confidence. The liner notes imply there is an “appropriately British flavour”; I actually only hear that in passing, as a sort of hybrid Anglo-American harmonic feint. That is not a criticism (Oesterle’s harmonic language is winningly consistent), but rather more of a reaction by a Brit. The second movement, “Abraham Darby,” is a reference to a triumvirate of men vital for the development of ironworking processes. A movement of contrasts, with the fragmentary, ruminatory section being particularly effective (listen to the careful balancing of chords from the orchestra, and Barnes’s wonderfully throw-away manner with her responding gestures), it leads to “The Bloomery Method” (a pre-industrial ironworking technique), its shifting patterns and repetitions indicative of machinery at work. The liner notes point to the next movement, “The Crucible Technique,” as having “overtones of a medieval organ grinder,” a rather lovely image that adds color to the mix as one experiences the music itself. The lower pitch plateau of this movement complements the generally higher one for “The Bloomery Method,” with a more animated section later on foregrounding Barnes’s virtuosity. Finally, “Ned Ludd,” its title taken from the mythical leader of the anti-industrial Luddite movement, offers a different take, that of melancholy lyricism presented in 13/8 time.

Who would have thought a cello concerto about the Industrial Revolution could be so much fun? There is a fine concept underpinning this work, and it is phenomenally realized. On a personal level, I for one would very much like to hear more of Oesterle’s music.

Colin Clarke

This article originally appeared in Issue 43:2 (Nov/Dec 2019) of Fanfare Magazine.

For inquiries regarding interviews, obtaining review copies of Cello Concerto, and distribution, please contact Conrad Sweatman, MCO Marketing and Communications Manager.

Cover artwork: Doug Smith, Arena I, 2013, 100" x 100"; graphite,acrylic on paper.

Project is funded in part by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Winnipeg Arts Council, the Richardson Foundation, and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra Endowment Fund.