James Ehnes



IT’s BEEN JOKED THAT ALL THE MARKETING a James Ehnes concert needs is to whisper his name to a random Winnipegger and let word-of-mouth take care of the rest. He’s Canada’s violinist.

The Brandon native’s career took off like a shot in his teens when he performed as a soloist with several major orchestras — including the MCO. By his early 30s he’d been elected to the Royal Society of Canada, appointed to the Order of Canada, earned an honorary doctorate, and won a GRAMMY for one of over 40 CDs he’s recorded. You get the picture.

• Please note that these concerts are in-person only
• Buy 7.30pm May 16th in-person ticket | $36 Adult | $34 Senior | $15 Under-30
• Buy 7.30pm May 17th in-person ticket | $36 Adult | $34 Senior | $15 Under-30

Today, the 2X GRAMMY-winning violinist easily ranks among the top 10 living violinists in the world — a lofty reputation that doesn’t stop him from being a fantastic entertainer and crowd-pleaser. For this concert Ehnes, likely playing his famous Stradivarius, performs Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5. Not known for his modest technical demands on soloists, Mozart pulled out all the stops on No. 5. So, it will be a perfect medium for Ehnes’ seemingly unlimited virtuosity.

This concert also features music by Shostakovich, as well as a premiere of Larry Strachan’s J'Ouvert Morning, a classical work which, in the enticing words of the composer, “is also infused with calypso swagger and pays homage to [his] parents' Carnival experience in Grenada.”

It seems fair to say this will be one of spring’s best Winnipeg concerts.

The concerts begin at 7.30pm on Tuesday, May 16th and on Wednesday, May 17th, in Crescent Arts Centre / Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, 525 Wardlaw Avenue. There will be no intermission for this concert. Casual tickets will be available 10 August 2022 here and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.

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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Crescent Arts Centre / Crescent Fort Rouge United Church
7.30pm, Tuesday & Wednesday, 16 & 17 May 2023

Anne Manson, conductor
James Ehnes, violin

Larry Strachan
Jouvert Morning

Commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts; world premiere performance.

Dmitri Shostakovich
Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a
— arr. Rudolf Barshai

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K 219, ‘Turkish’

James Ehnes, violin

Season sponsor / CN
May 16th Music Director sponsor / Stellas Café & Bakery
May 17th Music Director sponsor / In memoriam, Edd Groening
May 17th Guest artist sponsor / Frank Plett
Concertmaster sponsor / Robert Giesbrecht
Volunteer sponsor / MB Liquor Mart
Media sponsors / Classic 107, Golden West Radio & Winnipeg Free Press

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James Ehnes

James Ehnes has established himself as one of the most sought-after violinists on the international stage. Gifted with a rare combination of stunning virtuosity, serene lyricism and an unfaltering musicality, Ehnes is a favourite guest of many of the world’s most respected conductors including Ashkenazy, Alsop, Sir Andrew Davis, Denève, Elder, Ivan Fischer, Gardner, Paavo Järvi, Mena, Noseda, Robertson and Runnicles. Ehnes’s long list of orchestras includes, amongst others, the Boston, Chicago, London, NHK and Vienna Symphony Orchestras, the Los Angeles, New York, Munich and Czech Philharmonic Orchestras, and the Cleveland, Philadelphia, Philharmonia and DSO Berlin orchestras.

Recent orchestral highlights include the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall with Noseda, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig with Shelley, San Francisco Symphony with Janowski, Frankfurt Radio Symphony with Orozco-Estrada, London Symphony with Harding, and Munich Philharmonic with van Zweden, as well as his debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Lincoln Center in spring 2019. In 19/20, Ehnes was Artist in Residence with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which included performances of the Elgar Concerto with Luisi, a play/direct programme leg by Ehnes, and a chamber music programme. In 2017, Ehnes premiered the Aaron-Jay Kernis Violin Concerto with the Toronto, Seattle and Dallas Symphony Orchestras, and gave further performances of the piece with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Alongside his concerto work, James Ehnes maintains a busy recital schedule. He performs regularly at the Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Symphony Center Chicago, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Ravinia, Montreux, Chaise-Dieu, the White Nights Festival in St Petersburg, Verbier Festival, Festival de Pâques in Aix, and in 2018 he undertook a recital tour to the Far East, including performances in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. As part of the Beethoven celebrations, Ehnes was invited to perform the complete cycle of Beethoven Sonatas at the Wigmore Hall throughout 2019/20. Elsewhere Ehnes performs the Beethoven Sonatas at Dresden Music Festival, Prague Spring Festival, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, at Aspen Music Festival (as part of a multi-year residency) and at Bravo Vail Festival during his residency week also including the Violin Concerto and Triple Concerto with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Runnicles. In 2016, Ehnes undertook a cross-Canada recital tour, performing in each of the country’s provinces and territories, to celebrate his 40th birthday.

As a chamber musician, he has collaborated with leading artists such as Andsnes, Capucon, Lortie, Lugansky, Yo-Yo Ma, Tamestit, Vogler and Yuja Wang. In 2010, he formally established the Ehnes Quartet, with whom he has performed in Europe at venues including the Wigmore Hall, Auditorium du Louvre in Paris and Théâtre du Jeu de Paume in Aix, amongst others. Ehnes is the Artistic Director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society.

Ehnes has an extensive discography and has won many awards for his recordings, including a Grammy Award (2019) for his live recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot, and a Gramophone Award for his live recording of the Elgar Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis. His recording of the Korngold, Barber and Walton violin concertos won a Grammy Award for ‘Best Instrumental Soloist Performance’ and a JUNO award for ‘Best Classical Album of the Year’. His recording of the Paganini Caprices earned him universal praise, with Diapason writing of the disc, “Ehnes confirms the predictions of Erick Friedman, eminent student of Heifetz: ‘there is only one like him born every hundred years’.” Recent releases include sonatas by Beethoven, Debussy, Elgar and Respighi, and concertos by Walton, Britten, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Strauss, as well as the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Manze, which was released in October 2017.

Ehnes began violin studies at the age of five, became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin aged nine, and made his orchestra debut with L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal aged 13. He continued his studies with Sally Thomas at the Meadowmount School of Music and The Juilliard School, winning the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music upon his graduation in 1997. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2010 was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada. Ehnes was awarded the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Award in the Instrumentalist category.

James Ehnes plays the ‘Marsick’ Stradivarius of 1715.

Jouvert Morning
Larry Strachan

The composer’s biography is included here in the March 22nd concert pages. Mr. Strachan has provided the following note:

This work pays homage to my parents’ Carnival experience growing up in Grenada and makes reference to certain aspects of the Jouvert Morning experience. It begins with the frenzy of daybreak. Eventually the pace slows; the opening strains of Hail Grenada! (Grenada’s national anthem) ushers in a peaceful meditation on the beauty of the island itself. The song “Good morning Mr. Walker,” a calypso ‘road march,’ leads to the rambunctious ‘jab-jabs’ running amok in the streets as the party atmosphere returns. Originally, Grenada’s Carnival began on the Monday before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. In the 1970s, it was moved in order to take advantage of the tourist season and so as not to coincide with the more prominent event in nearby Trinidad. Today the event is labelled ‘SpiceMas.’ Last year, it ran from August 1st to 9th with Jouvert on the 8th, maintaining the Monday morning tradition. This work is dedicated to my parents, Jerome and Margaret Strachan.

Larry has requested that the program also include the following note from his mother, Margaret Strachan:

Jouvert (or ‘Daybreak’) is the ushering in of the two-day Carnival celebration’s first stage. Everyone on the island converged on the capital of St. George’s where the festivities began. At around 4 am, the guns at the Police Fort went off, signalling the ugly-dressed masqueraders to parade the streets in the morning’s darkness. There is no particular order to the madness. Some were ‘jab jabs,’ who were barely clad, apart from a black greasy substance, long metal claws on their fingers, and heavy chains around their bodies. Others were dressed in old or torn-up clothes depicting the mocking of individuals, businesses, or even government officials. They used old tins or pieces of iron as their instruments. Others were shouting at the top of their voices, or chanting repeated words or sentences with some rhyming. One or two steel drum bands would play silly songs that were made up for the occasion. There was no order to the music for Jouvert—lots of clattering, banging, singing, high-pitched shouting, blowing of whistles, ringing of bells, etc. Added to this is the continued laughter and shouting of the onlookers, as different masqueraders pass by. It was two hours of real fun and madness as darkness turned to light. Afterwards, everyone hurried off to work (if they were able!) or to prepare for the rest of the Carnival celebration.

Chamber Symphony in C Minor, Op. 110a
Dmitri Shostakovich—transcribed by Rudolf Barshai for string orchestra from String Quartet No. 8

Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets are every bit as vital to an appreciation of his music as the 15 symphonies. He poured into them many of his most intimate thoughts, especially during those periods when it was dangerous, if not lethal, for a Soviet artist to make public display of personal emotions.

The powerful expressive directness of No. 8 has made it the most frequently performed of his quartets. He composed it from 12 July to 14 July, 1960, and it was premiered by the Beethoven Quartet in Leningrad on October 2. He wrote it during a visit to Dresden, Germany and publicly dedicated it “To the memory of the victims of fascism and war.” This provided Soviet authorities with a politically correct inspiration, but he gave it a personal spin by, at least inwardly, including himself among the victims. In a letter to a friend, Isaak Glikman, he revealed additional intentions: “I was thinking about the fact that if I die sometime or other, it’s pretty unlikely that someone will write a work in my memory. So I decided to write such a piece myself. The basic theme of the Quartet is DSCH (the German names for the notes d, e-flat, c, b) i.e. my initials. It also makes use of themes from my works and the revolutionary song Tormented by Grievous Bondage.”

Another friend, Lev Lebedinsky, wrote that Shostakovich was contemplating suicide at that time, due to his recently giving in to long-standing pressure to join the Communist party. Lebedinsky stated that Shostakovich considered the Quartet not only an autobiography but also his last will and testament. Lebedinsky convinced him not to take his own life. Fifteen years later, the Quartet was performed at Shostakovich’s funeral.

Several transcriptions of Quartet No. 8 have appeared. Shostakovich gave his blessing to this highly effective version for string orchestra by Rudolf Barshai, who prepared it and renamed it Chamber Symphony shortly after the premiere of the original quartet version. He later created transcriptions of several additional Shostakovich quartets, and developed an intimate knowledge of Shostakovich’s music, first as viola player in the Borodin Quartet, then as conductor. In 1969, he conducted the first performance of Symphony No. 14, which Shostakovich dedicated to Benjamin Britten.

The five movements of the Chamber Symphony are performed without breaks. The first is drenched in slow, desolate anguish. Next comes a tour-de-force of stark, driving power, then a bitingly satiric scherzo/waltz. The fourth movement, quoting the revolutionary song, alternates sharp dramatic outbursts with troubled meditations. The fugal finale exceeds the first movement in the depths of its ashen, dehumanized desolation.

Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, ‘Turkish,’ K. 219
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart, the greatest of all child prodigies in music, received from his father Leopold a thorough education in composition and performance. The latter included instruction in piano, harpsichord and violin. As an adult, Wolfgang concentrated his performing skills on the piano. In his early years, he appeared most often as a soloist on the violin, beginning with the concert tours his family made during the 1760s. His father once wrote to him that “You yourself do not know how well you play the violin … when you play with energy and with your whole heart and soul, yes indeed, it’s just as though you were the finest violinist in all of Europe.” This was no small compliment, coming from a renowned authority on the instrument. He published his widely used violin method in the year of Wolfgang’s birth.

In 1769, Wolfgang was awarded the post of Honorary Concertmaster in the Salzburg Court Orchestra. His duties included leading it from the first desk of violins (this being before the rise of the conductor, as we know the role), playing solos, and writing new music for it to perform. Three years would pass before he began receiving a salary for these considerable responsibilities.

Between June and December 1775, he composed all but the first of the five violin concertos that can be unquestionably attributed to him. He completed No. 5 on December 20, 1775. It is not only the most accomplished of the series but also the most unusual. The first movement has the tempo marking Allegro aperto, for example, meaning literally ‘quick and open.’ He appears to be the only composer to use this adjective. He applied it to just eight other works, the vocal numbers of which are either, in the words of author Jean-Pierre Marty, “hymns to hope, to joy, to love, and to nature and to happiness,” or liturgical songs of praise. This concerto movement evokes a similar mood.

The soloist’s first entry is another example of the concerto’s uniqueness. It is remarkable for being quite different in tempo and mood—quiet and dreamy—from the preceding, almost martial orchestral introduction. It’s as if the violinist were saying to the orchestra, “catch your breath while I introduce myself.” And once the quicker tempo resumes, the soloist introduces a completely new theme.

The second movement is a true Adagio, slow and heartfelt, in contrast to the easy, flowing Andante that was typically of the era. Its lyrical intensity borders on the operatic. The finale, a rondo in the style of a minuet, is the source of the concerto’s nickname. It begins in appropriately courtly fashion. In the delightfully startling minor key episode mid-way through, Mozart instructs the cellos and basses to strike their strings with the wood of the bow, and asks the soloist for virtuoso pyrotechnics. These practices recall the Turkish military music that was all the rage in Austria at the time—but they evoke the folk music of Hungary to equal degree. At that time, the term ‘Turkish’ was a catch-all term that might be applied to any music that evoked the colourful, exotic folk tunes of people living east of Austria.