The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra closes out their Saturday Classic series with a program of French and French-inspired music. 

Conducted by maestro Daniel Raiskin, the acclaimed American pianist Claire Huangci makes her belated WSO debut. Originally scheduled for a performance in 2021, the award-winning pianist introduces herself to the Winnipeg audience with two 20th Century piano concerti: one by Maurice Ravel and the other by George Gershwin. 

Penned in 1931, the Ravel Concerto is a "real stunner," according to WSO Artistic Advisor James Manishen -- who joined Simeon Rusnak on Classic from the Concert Hall. 

"The central movement is just beautiful," he says. "It just builds and builds and the orchestra emerges and establishes its presence." 

Written 6 years earlier, Gershwin's singular sound was admired by both Ravel and renowned Parisian pedagogue Nadia Boulanger alike, the latter having taught Copland, Bernstein and many others. Like Ravel, Boulanger turned down the opportunity to provide Gershwin any lessons when he arrived in Paris. 

"She recognized that individuality was such an important part of composing," says Manishen. 

Music of Nadia's sister, Lili, who died at the age of 24, appears on the program. This is the first time the WSO is performing any of her music, according to Manishen. 

"If Lili had lived longer, she would have fallen into the great, great realm of Fauré and Debussy and Ravel." 

Rounding out the concert are two other orchestra treats from the pair of top billing composers. Ravel's iconic earworm Bolero and Gershwin's vivid and lively American in Paris. 

For newly appointed Principal Timpanist of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Justin Gingrich, the program is an exciting capstone to his first season. 

"This is one of the top performances of the year," he says. 

Having spent the past few years playing in Pittsburgh, the player joined the WSO midway though the 2023/24 concert year. 

What makes the program so exciting is, in part, its accessibility. 

"A lot of this music is very welcoming to both people who are long-term orchestral fans and first time, off the street wanting to hear the orchestra play," he says. 

Strong rhythms and beautiful melodies are hallmarks of both composers, adding to the overall allure. 

Saturday Classics' Gershwin & Ravel takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall. 

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