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On Wednesday, February 22nd  at the West End Cultural Centre, Winnipeg’s GroundSwell will present the 5th live concert of their 2022-23 Season. Called “Winter City Speaks” this concert will feature the Toninato/Thiessen Duo; which consists of the unusual combination of Viola D’amore and Baritone Saxophone. Using these instruments in combination with sounds of nature and processed effects, the Toninato/Thiessen Duo will create soundscapes that will be sure to draw listeners in and completely engage the audience.

The Duo are made up of Jennifer Thiessen on viola and viola d’amore, and Ida Toninato on baritone saxophone. The duo first met back in 2010 when both were members of a musical  ensemble that performed with the contemporary dance company “La La La Human Steps” based in Montreal. As Toninato explains, “We both realised we had a common interest in contemporary music and improvised music, so we started to get together in different combinations and we decided to keep working together.”

This partnership has produced some wonderful results. In 2019 the Duo was nominated for a Juno for their album “The Space Between Us,” that was recorded and produced by the Duo. “We were really happy with it. We were like ‘let’s think big and submit it to the Junos.’ When we heard that we were nominated, that was really thrilling,” says Thiessen.

The concert on Wednesday will consist of two large parts. Part One will be improvised material based on the moods and soundscapes found on their album “The space between Us.” As Toninato states, “We don’t have any melodies that we fall back on…but we know which sonic place this album inhabits. Think of it as a lake that you dive into. You don’t find the same fish or the same animals every time…but it’s that connection…you know how to go to the lake, and you know how deep it is, and how nice the water feels.”

The Toninato/Thiessen Duo have been improvising together for so long that their ability to play off one another is instinctive. Ambient moods are created and sometimes parameters are made such as tessitura or specific notes, but these parameters are only used as a starting point to create new and wonderful sound worlds. “The piece remains improvised in the sense that anything could happen, “ explains Thiessen.

Part two of the concert is called “Winter City Speaks,” and is inspired by winter and the idea of being dormant and hibernating. The Duo went for walks and recorded sounds of the city of Montreal and sounds of the St. Lawrence River with the idea being that these sounds would be incorporated into the music.

The project evolved as a result of the pandemic, due to the inability of the duo to be in studio together. As Toninato explains, ”We started to email each other sonic postcards once or twice a week. We were doing the work in our own personal studios without getting together. We played with the sounds that we recorded…we used the sonic postcards to share ideas, texts, writings, and effects we were working on. Our only mission was to send clips of what we were doing… that needed to have the idea of being a piece.” From these sonic postcards the Duo settled on ideas and sounds that morphed into “Winter City Speaks.” “Some of the pieces are structured…some of them are more free-flowing. We came up with a really different energy, and really different music that still feels very personal and very much like us,” explains Toninato.

Aside from the analog instruments of viola d’amore and baritone saxophone, the duo will also being making use of various electronic effects, such as looping, filters, recorded sounds played off laptops and voice elements that will be electronically modified. All of these components creating vast and immersive sound worlds for the audience that will keep the listener completely immersed, engaged and fascinated.

This is going to be a show not to missed! The Concert takes place on Wednesday, February 22nd at 7:30pm at the West End Cultural Centre. The cost of the concert is pay-what-you-can how-you-can. For more details visit GroundSwell’s website. Tickets for this amazing concert can be purchased through their Eventbrite page or at the door.

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