A long-awaited percussion concerto premieres tonight! Soloist Victoria Sparks was on Morning Light! 

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra Spring and Summer Festival continues online. The fourth concert, which premieres tonight, June 5, features not one but two phenomenally talented musicians. The virtuosic Canadian horn player James Sommerville connects with the MCO remotely. Plus the long-awaited premiere of a percussion concerto commissioned by the MCO featuring Victoria Sparks. 

A regular collaborator with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Sparks is in demand as a soloist, chamber and orchestral player. In fact, this is the second concerto commissioned by the MCO to showcase her outstanding skill as a musician. 

“It’s really exciting the relationship that I have with the MCO,” says Sparks. “They have chosen to invest in that relationship and build with me and work with me to premiere these big pieces for percussion which is just such an honour.”

In 2016, Sparks premiered the percussion concerto of Winnipeg-based composer Sid Robinovitch to a packed Westminster United Church audience and rave review. “That was an amazing night,” reflects Sparks. “To get to play to a full house and the applause and my family was there… that was a big time for me personally.”  

Of course, all of that was missing this time round. 

Rehearsed and recorded all in one day, Sparks joined the MCO and guest conductor Naomi Woo to premiere Waking the Lion — a percussion concerto by JUNO-award winning Canadian composer Alexina Louie. 

Originally slated for a March 2020 premiere, the much anticipated performance was postponed due to the pandemic. 

“It was one of the first cancellations for me in the early days of the pandemic,” says Sparks. “To have a chance to come back to the piece and get to know it again over the course of the winter and spring this year was really exciting.” 

A composer admired for her singular sound, exotic palette and adventurous writing, this latest premiere of Alexina Louie promises to showcase exactly that, with Sparks noting some “magical” moments. 

“There’s quite a lot of freedom in the part,” explains Sparks. “There’s some large sections of the piece where I’m playing a lot of random, crazy things and the orchestra is driving through in a lot of steady time.” As one might imagine, putting it all together in a single day was an “adventure” but also a treat. She describes it as “a real fun juxtaposition of sounds to hear the strings moving steadily through and then the drums flourishing all over the place on top.” 

When asked about how many instruments are called for in the score, Sparks notes that there are many. “I was feeling badly for the person who had to help me move all of it,” she jokes, noting that it took two vehicles to move everything. 

Learn more about the instruments used, the programmatic elements in Waking the Lion, and how Sparks plans on taking in the premiere—not to mention what it’s like to see yourself on screen!—in the full interview below.

The concert streams online Thursday, June 10 and is available to view until June 24. Household streaming tickets are just $20. Visit: https://www.themco.ca/ to purchase.