So many people I know think they don’t like opera. They have little experience of it and perhaps are intimidated by the foreign languages, the length of the performances, and the use of music for all the dialogue. Whatever the reason, they avoid anything which smacks of opera.
The 2020 New Year’s Eve Gala concert from the Metropolitan Opera of New York on Thursday should be an exception. Filmed in Augsburg, Germany, live from the neo-Baroque Parktheater (“a marvel of glass and cast-iron” which opened in 1886), it is a delightful concert appealing to opera experts and novices alike. It premiered on New Year’s Eve and is available to view by streaming until January 13th.
The setting is stunning. When most other opera houses around the world are shuttered, this performance comes from an opera house which is small, intimate, and with what appear to be windows which let in natural light. Lighting for the concert used the windows to wonderful effect. All the seats on the floor of the hall were removed, replaced by a small round stage where the performers sang, accompanied by a pianist for some songs and a small string ensemble for others. The production was conducted according to German COVID-19 requirements, shot with numerous cameras, linked to the control room in New York, and directed by Gary Halvorson, the director of the Met’s Live in HD theatre transmissions.
The Gala program includes arias, duets, and ensembles from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment, Puccini’s La Boheme and La Rondine, Verdi’s Il Trovatore and La Traviata, and others, as well as operetta excerpts and Neapolitan songs. These are some of the most popular pieces in classical music and will be familiar to many who think they know nothing about opera. Excerpts from the concert are available on YouTube.
The performers are sopranos Angel Blue and Pretty Yende and tenors Javier Camarena and Matthew Polenzani. Blue starred as Bess in the Met’s production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which opened the 2019–20 season. She is founder of the non-profit Sylvia’s Kids Foundation, which offers scholarships to high school graduates. Yende comes from South Africa, made her debut in Latvia and has sung with most major opera companies around the world. Mexican tenor Camarena is “one of opera’s most celebrated bel canto singers.” He made his Met debut in 2011 as Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. American tenor Polenzani made his debut at the Met in 1997 as Boyar Khrushchov in Boris Godunov and has sung nearly 400 performances of 40 roles at the Met since.
The women wear lavish dresses, the men tuxedos. Needless to say, their singing is superb. It was wonderful to see them perform live in such a setting, and to know that people were watching together from all over the world.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased on the Met’s website at metopera.org. Once you have a ticket, you can watch the concert as often as you wish. The concert can be seen on a computer, mobile device, or a home entertainment system (via Chromecast or AirPlay).
The Gala Concert has been marketed as part of the Met’s fundraising campaign “to support the company and protect its future.”
To put it into context, you may be interested to know that the New Year’s Eve Gala has contributed to labour conflicts at the Met. The newsletter, Ludwig Van Toronto, on January 1, 2021, published an article by Anya Wassenberg entitled “THE SCOOP | Frictions Grow Between Met Opera, Met Orchestra And Staff After New Year’s Gala.”
The Met is the largest classical music organization in the US with about 1000 employees including musicians, stagehands, and members of the chorus. It is said that the Met has lost $154 million in revenues since the pandemic began. On Thursday, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians complained that the Gala continued the Met strategy of outsourcing its musicians which was “artistic malpractice and unacceptable.” In December, the stagehands were locked out. The unions are concerned that employees of the Met have not been paid or supported during the pandemic, and that future contract negotiations will be affected. I had assumed that the “fundraising campaign,” which was the purpose of the MetStars series and the Gala, would have supported as many Met employees as possible. Apparently, it did not extend to the musicians, stagehands, and chorus.
Comments about the New Year’s Gala reflect the situation. Most agree that it was a splendid concert with great music and fabulous production values. Some chose to boycott the concert because of the labour issues. I have no informed opinion about the situation. The only thing I will say is that the Metropolitan Opera has led the world in making opera accessible to the masses. If making opera more popular is one of the objectives of the MetStars series, including the Gala, then it will contribute to the future of the art. That is a good thing.
As for the concert, it is absolutely exhilarating. The choice of music is diverse, demanding, delightful, and upbeat. The words reflect common operatic themes, the vagaries of human experience, and are translated in the subtitles. The performers are super-energetic and totally engaging. That they touch each other, hold hands, and hug is novel and good to see after ten months of rigid physical distancing. By the time they end the concert, singing Auld Lang Syne, they clearly are having great fun. It’s a concert which will leave you smiling as you enter the new year.
(By the way, Ludwig Van Toronto, and Ludwig Van Montreal, are websites dedicated to lovers of classical music. Their email newsletter notes that while the mainstream media is cutting back on classical music coverage, Ludwig Van is investing in it. Its motto is “If You Think Classical Music is Dead, You’re Dead Wrong!” You can choose to receive the email newsletter daily, weekly, or monthly. I had no idea that it existed and am delighted to plug into what it has to offer. Check out their website.)
Christmas 2020 has been the most wonderful opportunity to access music. It’s as if multiple choral groups and musicians decided to share their talent and creativity with the world in a common desire to rise above COVID-19 and give a gift of hope. The result has been memorable in the best possible way.
The most sublime of the music emerging this season has been Messiah/Complex from Against the Grain Theatre. Billed as “A daring reimagining of Handel’s classic featuring voices from across Canada,” it is a breath-taking rendition of the classic music in Arabic, Dene, English, French, Inuktitut, and Southern Tutchone.
Produced in cooperation with the Toronto Symphony and the Banff Centre for the Arts, the production was co-directed by Joel Ivany of Against the Grain and Reneltta Arluk, Director of Indigenous Arts at the Banff Centre. The twelve soloists and four choirs come from every province and territory. They sing in their own languages and with visuals of the entire country… amidst northern snows, by ocean waters, in the woods, on the prairies, in the heart of our largest urban cities, at work or school, beside campfires. The language has been updated and the photography is contemporary. All of the artists contributed from apart, on video. But they worked together to give Canadians and the world a seasonal gift that would lift spirits and provide hope in this difficult time. The production is a musical and visual tour de force which shows the talent, creativity, and diversity of Canadian people and the breathtaking beauty of our country.
It is a profoundly moving experience. In the few weeks since it launched, there have been 55,000 views. Viewers are wild with praise: “so beautiful and so terribly long overdue,” from New York, another writes, I am “sobbing thru the beauty of this Messiah… and saluting CANADA for leading and showing the rest of us what true Diversity and shared Joy and Beauty and Hope look and sound like and unite us across all different races, religions, cultures into what makes us most extraordinarily HUMAN.” From Nashville: “absolutely extraordinary! Leave it to Canada to bring us a performance of such unusual brilliance at the tail end of such a miserable year.” “Life-enhancing,” “transformative… I will never hear Messiah the same way again,” “not enough superlatives.” “Possibly the most uplifting thing I have seen during this whole wretched COVID time.” “Astonishingly good musically and challenging, eye opening and… beautiful.” “Like no other Messiah I’ve ever heard or seen. Stunning visuals, beautiful voices, and whole new meaning for some of the words.” You get the idea. Whatever your normal response to the usual Messiah, this is a truly memorable experience which you should not miss.
This production went public on December 13th. Streaming has now been extended to January 31st. The history of how the production came about and profiles of the soloists are readily available on YouTube. Accessing the production itself seemed slightly more difficult. The performance is free of charge and can be streamed as often as you wish. To access the performance, you register on the ticket portal of Against the Grain’s website. Select a ticket beginning ASAP; only one ticket is necessary. Once done, you can access the ticket in your account. When you open your account window, you will see the name of the production, Messiah/Complex, in red. Click that and another window will open, with the words “view livestream.” That opens the YouTube stream of the live performance. It took me a while to figure it out, but it is well worth it.
I now see that Margaret Atwood posted a Tweet with a direct link to the video on You Tube. If she can do that, I can too.
Enjoy and Happy New Year.
Feeling constrained? Without inspiration? As if the pandemic is going to go on forever? To help lift any malaise, check out the “Met Stars Live in Concert” series from the New York Metropolitan Opera. It will feature twelve live concerts performed by Met stars from around the world, singing in striking venues close to where they live. If the first concert is any indication, this series will live up its promise of “the intimacy of an at home concert with the production values of the Met’s HD video series.”
The first concert was last Saturday with tenor Jonas Kaufmann from the Polling Abbey near Munich in Bavaria. Accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch, he sang twelve of what are said to be the most difficult and significant tenor arias from the Italian and French opera repertoire. Selections included “Nessun dorma” from Turandot, “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca, “Ah! lève-toi, soleil” from Roméo et Juliette, and “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Carmen, and others.
Critics have called the concert “splendid,” “mesmerizing,” “a jewel of a program” with “high production values,” “video as good as a movie theatre, sound… probably better.” Between sets, the concert featured video excerpts of his operatic roles with the Met over several years and also with the Salzburg Easter Festival.
A concert ticket at $20.00 buys digital access to the original concert and access to the video of the concert to stream at leisure for twelve days thereafter. I loved the concert and seeing the abbey, and have enjoyed re-listening to the concert this week.
The concerts are scheduled every second week from July 18th to December l9th. Stars will appear from Vienna, Malta, Switzerland, France, Berlin, Wales, Oslo, Barcelona, and the United States. You can find the schedule of stars in recital at Met Stars Live in Concert, where tickets are available for purchase. Once you have your ticket, you will be sent a link to the original concert which you can then use for repeat streaming.
The next concert on August 1st is American soprano Renée Fleming singing from the music salon at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. Her program will include: “Endless pleasure, endless love” from Handel’s Semele, “Baïlèro” by Joseph Canteloube, “Ah! Je ris de me voir” from Gounod’s Faust, “Da geht er hin” from R. Stauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and other arias by Korngold, Cilea, Puccini and Harold Arlen. She has appeared with leading opera companies and orchestras around the world, and is the recipient of numerous national and international honours. Since winning the l988 Met’s National Council Audition, she has given more than 250 performances in 22 roles with the company. She made her Broadway debut in 2015 and, in 2018, was nominated for a Tony Award for her role of Nettie Fowler in Carousel. Her concert promises to be sublime.
Don’t forget that the Metropolitan Opera is still streaming their repertoire of HD opera videos, free of charge, every day. The list of operas released each week is published on their webpage the previous Friday. Each opera video is released at 7:30 p.m. EDT and available for viewing until 6:30 EDT the next day. Last weekend was Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Puccini’s La Bohème.
In the past, I have written about Tafelmusik’s Sing-along Messiah. Last Saturday, I shared a sing-along experience with a great choir which was totally different, but equally uplifting. On Sunday, February 23rd, the Bach Choir will perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in concert at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. This weekend, they invited other choirs and the public at large to join their rehearsal in a sing-along run-through. It was an utterly delightful experience.
German composer Carl Orff wrote Carmina Burana in 1935-36. It is a cantata based on 24 poems from a medieval collection which covered a range of topics described in Wikipedia as “the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.” Written in secular Latin, Middle High German, and Old French, it is one of the favourites of the classical music repertoire. You can hear it on YouTube. Normally sung with full orchestration, for the sing-along, Stephen Smith, rehearsal accompanist for the choir, played the piano.
Cathrie Yuen, Assistant Conductor of the choir, led the singing. She started with a series of exercises, to get the body in shape and the voice ready for the demanding music which followed. Then down to the serious business of singing “Oh Fortuna” and the twenty-four other movements that make up the cantata. After most major movements, Cathrie had suggestions for improvements and the group repeated the singing as she wanted it done. Needless to say, most people knew the music well.
My friend and I chose to sing alto and had never seen the score before. Of course, we had never sung it before. We felt good if we were able to find in the score where the rest were actually singing. It was great fun. And, sitting in the choir, the music was wonderful.
The Vancouver Bach Choir is in its 89th season and is one of the largest symphonic choirs in Canada. Under the direction of Leslie Dala, it performs traditional and new choral works, for a local, national and international audience. Since 1984, it has also built a multi-tiered children’s program that provides choral training to over 350 singers from kindergarten to post-secondary school. More recently, the Sarabande Chamber Choir has emerged for graduates of the youth program, current Vancouver Bach Youth Choir members, and outside applicants.
Donations from the Singable Saturday event were given to the Vancouver Adapted Music Society. Sam Sullivan and Dave Symington, two Vancouver musicians who became disabled as a result of sports injuries, co-founded that organization in 1988. The Society has specialized adaptive equipment which allows people of all levels of disability to learn to play the guitar, bass, keyboards, and to study singing. It also has a fully-accessible studio, which enables disabled musicians to learn studio techniques, record their music, and perform at Vancouver-area gigs. A worthy recipient of a most inspiring event.
The headline of John Terauds’ rave review of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s recent “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” concert in the Toronto Star on Tuesday said it all: “Downsized TSO upsizes the pleasure.” Led by violinist and TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow, the strings were augmented by a harpsichord, flute, oboe, bassoon and, in earlier parts of the program, a horn and a piano. Terauds gave the performance four stars, reflecting the repeated standing ovations from the nearly full house at Roy Thomson Hall.
I was so enthused by the review that I immediately phoned the RTH box office and secured a single ticket for Thursday night’s performance, the last of four. I could not have imagined a more splendid evening.
The theme was bringing nature into the theatre, particularly inviting on a dark and rainy November night. First up was the chamber orchestra version of Carmen Braden’s “Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars.” Thirty-four-year-old Braden was born in Whitehorse, Yukon and is now based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her “Songs” was originally composed as a septet for flute, oboe, horn, two violins, viola, and cello and premiered with the TSO Chamber Soloists in the 2017 Toronto Summer Music Festival. The version last night was expanded to evoke even more graphically the colours, textures, and sounds of her sub-arctic northern home. Her five-movement imaginative exploration of what the stars do when they disappear from the northern skies in the summer was “magical,” to quote my neighbour, and “one of the finest pieces of new music I have heard in a long time,” to quote Terauds. The RTH audience agreed. Imagine how thrilled this young Canadian composer must have been to have her distinctively northern suite played by the professional musicians of the TSO over four nights in Toronto, the last night in the presence of the Foundation donors who had commissioned her work.
American composer Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” ballet suite followed with a 13-member ensemble of double string quartet, double bass, piano, flute, clarinet, and bassoon. Composed for new Martha Graham ballets in 1944 and referred to as “Ballet for Martha,” Copland wrote “that it had to do with the American pioneer spirit, with youth and spring, optimism and hope.” When the score picked up the tune of “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’Tis the gift to be free, ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,” their rendition of the familiar Shaker hymn only highlighted the energy, simplicity, and purity of the entire performance. An utter delight.
The entire second half was a brilliant performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8” published in 1725. As familiar as parts of this music are to everyone, this performance was outstanding. I have heard the music before played on historic Baroque instruments. It was the first time I had heard it played on modern instruments. It was a different sound and it sparkled. Another addition was the reading of four Petrarchan sonnets, one at the beginning of each season, introducing the scenes which the music went on to so aptly describe. The delicacy and virtuosity of Crowe’s performance, and that of the rest of the group, were mesmerizing. The emotional impact was such that, on its conclusion, there was total silence in the house before the crowd jumped up in sustained applause.
Jonathan Crow, a native of Prince George British Columbia, got his Bachelor of Music in Honours Performance at McGill in 1998, joined the Montreal Symphony and became “the youngest concertmaster of any major North American orchestra” in 2002-2006. He joined the TSO as concertmaster in 2011 and teaches as an associate professor of violin at the University of Toronto. In 2016, he became Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music for three seasons. He is a founding member of the New Orford Strong Quartet which promotes the Canadian string repertoire throughout North America. I was so proud to hear so talented and passionate a musician and to learn that he came from British Columbia. Like many, I left the Hall with a smile on my face feeling warm and cozy. No wonder.
Are music festivals on the wane? That the 50th anniversary concert celebrating the Woodstock Music Festival may not happen has led some commentators to conclude that summer music festivals may be no more. Music festivals epitomized the energy and buoyancy of the ’60s and have long returned across the country each summer, drawing enthusiasts for musical experiences in the open air. Some have come and gone. Others continue with no apparent loss of enthusiasm.
One such festival is the Dawson City Music Festival, this year in its 41st annual incarnation. Over the years, almost all the young members of my family have attended the Dawson City Music Festival, using it as an excuse to visit the Yukon and perhaps to canoe the Yukon River. My sister volunteers her beautiful log house on Eighth Avenue as the venue for the Music Festival after-party where the artists, techies, and volunteers gather for an all-night celebration. The Dawson City Music Festival was on my bucket list. This year, we decided to take it in.
The Main Stage of the Music Festival was in Minto Park where a massive tent shared space with a beer garden and Emerging Artists stage, a children’s playground and numerous food carts offering a surprising array of ethnic food. Other venues were the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (Long Time Ago House) the home of the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, St. Paul’s Anglican Church constructed originally in 1902, and the Palace Grand Theatre which has been providing entertainments since 1899.
Old and as uninformed about modern music as we are, we knew none of the musicians. At the Main Stage concerts and at a couple of workshops, we heard only some of them. We particularly liked The Jerry Cans from Iqaluit who use Inuit throat singing and the Indigenous language of Inuktitut in their folk-rock repertoire, Ryan McNally and The MessaRounders (from Whitehorse) who are known for their blues, jazz and old-time music, and Major Funk and the Employment who use their horns and big vocals to play very danceable music.
I also particularly liked the Orkestar Kriminal, a group of five women and five men, who come from Montreal. They play unique instruments (among others, the sousaphone, trombone, saxophone, bouzouki, baglama, piccolo, accordion, and flute) and sing in Yiddish, Russian, Greek, Spanish, and Pashto. Their songs focus on international experiences of crime and prison. In addition to their Main Stage show, they played a concert at the historic Commissioner’s Mansion as part of the very popular Music Crawl which started at the Robert Service cabin, moved to the Commissioner’s Residence, then to the banks of the river, and then to the S.S. Keno.
We could not attend more than a little of the entire festival. What impressed us was the extent to which the best of the musicians got the audience involved. Both on Saturday and Sunday nights, we were amazed to see the floor of the Main Stage tent fill with hundreds of dancers of all ages; children, young people, old people, singletons, apparent drifters. It seemed that everyone there was dancing. And they went on and on. It was a great party.
On Sunday night, the after-party continued in my sister’s house and backyard. There, it was great fun to meet the musicians and the volunteers and to listen to Ryan McNally sing and play in her greenhouse. Altogether a most memorable event.
No theatre experience is more engaging than when it takes place during the summer in the open air at Stanley Park in Vancouver. Malkin Bowl, near the Stanley Park Pavilion and the rose garden, has been the site of musicals presented since l940 by the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS). Apart from the quality of the theatre, the fading daylight, singing birds, the scent of the evergreens and the sound of the nine o’clock gun render the site sublime
A community theatre, TUTS is dependent on volunteers, staffed with only a few paid professionals. It provides invaluable experience for the young performers who are part of the cast. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. This is particularly so in their production of Disney’s Newsies which we attended on Sunday night and which is currently alternating with Mama Mia.
Based on the 1992 musical film Newsies, redone as a musical which debuted on Broadway in 2012, Newsies tells Disney’s version of the real-life story of the strike by newsboys who sold newspapers in New York City in l899. The strike was prompted by the decision of Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, to raise the price of the “papes” he charges to the newsies who sell his papers.
It is a delightful musical with a compelling story that illustrates the evolution of labour-management issues, and with believable characters who draw us into the complexity of their responses. The range of music is appealing and the choreography utterly fantastic. Director and Choreographer, Toronto-based Julie Tomaino, and Music Director, Christopher King, have produced a delight which I highly recommend.
All the cast members were strong. Adam Charles plays the charismatic leader of the strike, Jack Kelly; Cole Smuland, his friend Crutchie with a disabled leg; Julia Ullrich, the reporter Katherine; Daniel Curalli, the “brains” of the strike; and Jordyn Bennett, his younger brother. The two latter characters are the only Newsies with parents. Equally impressive was the ensemble of dancers.
On Sunday’s performance, we sat beside the mother of one of the ensemble, Haley Allen. The young actor comes from Smithers and is a recent graduate of the Musical Theatre Program at Capilano University. She is like many of the cast who have come through that program. Haley’s mother told us how excited her daughter is by the opportunity to perform every second night for six weeks, and to bond with the cast who have become her friends. As I had learned a little about her, I watched Haley with particular interest as she sang, danced, and performed mind-blowing gymnastic tumbles and jumps. Her talent is evident, as is that of all those who shared the stage with her. Clearly, their personal bonding is reflected in the strength of the collective.
Jerry Wasserman of the Vancouver Sun, in his review headlined “Fabulous Dancing, with Politics by Disney” (The Vancouver Sun, July 13, 2019) wrote that “this production… feels at first like Les Mis, then Les Mis crossed with Annie for the Disney Channel… a stirring story with a feeble ending that lets the nasty capitalists off the hook.” He concludes that “Director Julie Tomaino’s muscular, athletic choreography… reveal(s) as much about the spunk of these downtrodden orphan kids as their political resistance does.” He notes also that “the elaborate fights” directed by Michael Kovac and Ryan McNell Bolton, “that mesh nicely with Tomaino’s energetic choreography… drive the show.” Andrea Warner in The Georgia Straight (July 25-August 1, 2019) writes that “Newsies charms with heart” and “some of the most epic and impressive dance numbers in the company’s history.” It’s an amazing show which left us feeling warm and wonderful. Musical theatre at its best.
***** TUTS has just announced an extension of the 2019 season to August 24th.
Giverny is near the Seine River, a drive of an hour and a half northwest of Paris, close to Vernon. In 1883, impressionist painter Claude Monet moved there to live as a tenant with his children and the family of Alice Hoschedé whom he later married. There he began to plant the first of the two gardens which came to inspire his painting. A decade later, he bought the property and began construction of the lily pond which became the subject of thousands of paintings including the eight massive Water Lilies (Les Nymphéas) painted at Giverny and, after his death in 1926, installed in L’Orangerie in Paris. The paintings evoke changes in nature during the day and throughout the year and are considered a significant contribution to the evolution of modern abstract art.
His son Michel Monet bequeathed his family home and gardens at Giverny to the Académie des Beaux-Arts on his death in l966. Restoration of the home and gardens began in 1977 under the direction of Gerald van der Kemp who had previous experience renewing Versailles. In l980, they were opened to the public and the Fondation Claude Monet was established. Given the impact of the Water Lilies paintings, it is little wonder that the house and gardens at Giverny have become a very popular tourist destination, attracting over 600,000 visitors every year.
We were warned that Giverny would be crowded. It was, but friends had discovered a self-guided tour offered by Paris City Vision that would take us there and back by bus and, most important, ensure that we had a “group entrance” to the house and gardens. The “group entrance” meant we avoided the long line of individual visitors waiting to enter. We were able to enjoy the gardens and the house for as long as we wanted, at our own speed. As our time was our own, we spent the rest of the day indulging in a delectable meal at a very friendly and accommodating restaurant. On our return to Paris, the bus drove along the right bank of the Seine and gave us final views of the river and many of its attractions.
As someone who plays with gardening and enjoys photography, I found our visit to Giverny positively exhilarating. The present-day gardens have been planted “in the spirit of Monet,” an idealized version based, among other things, on records of seed orders found in the archives and on Monet’s many paintings of the gardens. Numerous planting schemes create a palette of bright colours which change with the seasons. In the summer, the roses, nasturtiums, lavender, lilies, irises, clematis, tulips, a range of perennials and annuals, take the breath away. By contrast, the greens and accent colours of the lily ponds, the Japanese bridge, the groves of bamboo, the weeping willows, and the reflections in the water induce a serenity which invites rest and contemplation. I would gladly return to the gardens again and in other seasons.
As for the house, I loved the Japanese prints and the other artworks on the walls (most, copies of originals hanging elsewhere), his bright yellow dining room, and the kitchen with its blue and white tiles, fireplace, copper pots, and massive stove. Claude Monet was a very successful artist who lived a long life, had influential friends, and was able to enjoy the fruits of his talents. The restoration of his family bequests will ensure that Giverny attracts visitors in perpetuity. Theirs is a gift to cherish.
Reading the Sunday Star this weekend brought small signs of hope for better times ahead. It’s nice to read some good news for a change.
* The White House released the Annual Report of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, his own appointees, which clearly shows that Trump’s trade figures on NAFTA are out to lunch. They make the point that the US had a trade surplus with Canada when services are included in the calculations. Now that his own advisors have formally stated what Canada has said all along, will it make any difference in the NAFTA negotiations to Trump? to his lackeys in Congress?
* School children and youth in Florida are leading a campaign for gun control. Where their parents have failed, maybe the younger generations will succeed. I love the slogan in one photograph at a recent demonstration: “How dare you push legislation protecting us before we are born and not after the fact!” This may be the beginning of something good, particularly as they are calling for consumer boycotts against the NRA and against states with lax gun laws. David Hogg, a survivor of the recent shooting, is calling on tourists not to take their spring break in Florida.
* Is the National Rifle Association beginning to lose its lustre? American companies are said to be responding. Delta, United Airlines, Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, the Best Western hotel chain, Wyndham Hotels, and global insurance company MetLife have apparently all ditched the discounts they previously made available to NRA members. Other major companies are cutting their ties with the NRA: the First National Bank of Omaha, one of the largest private banks in America, cut its “Official Credit Card of the NRA,” Symantec is leading the boycott movement into the software industry, and Chubb Ltd announced it will no longer underwrite its “NRA Carry Guard,” popularly known as its “murder insurance.” #BoycottNRA is the new rallying cry. Can social media give this plea the same power that #Metoo has gained? Let’s hope so. In Canada, members of MEC are now calling for the co-op to boycott purchases from a company with a division which makes high-powered rifles. So they should.
Economic sanctions led to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Maybe economic sanctions by each of us, and by the companies we patronize, can be the answer to the carnage caused by American gun laws.
* The donnybrook of the current Ontario PC leadership race has highlighted the questionable capacity of the party to govern the province. Their current interim leader has admitted “the rot” in the party and is trying to clean it up. Until Patrick Brown withdrew on Monday, to the audible relief of his competitors and the rest of the party, he seemed hell-bent on discrediting the four candidates who are seeking to replace him as the future Premier of Ontario.
The first leadership debate made it painfully obvious that none of the newcomers has any grasp of policy issues facing the government of the province, and none favours a carbon tax. Patrick Brown at least approved of the party platform which was generally conceded to have been cribbed from the Liberals and he, at least, recognizes that a carbon tax is coming, like it or not. This upcoming election campaign is going to be very interesting. Have the Liberals been so bad that we need to trade them in for this bunch?
* Last but not least, Jean Terauds wrote a marvellous review entitled “Handel’s Alexander’s Feast a marvellous musical meal in Tafelmusik’s hands.” I heard the concert at Koerner Hall on Sunday and was thrilled. This was the first time the Tafelmusik Baroque orchestra and Chamber Choir have performed this oratorio. Secular, taken from John Dryden’s 1697 ode, “Alexander’s Feast or The Power of Music,” it included a concerto for the harp played by harpist Julia Seager-Scott using a triple-strung harp, a concerto for the organ played by Neil Cockburn from Calgary, wonderful arias, stirring recitatives, invigorating choruses, and many highlights by different instruments in the orchestra. The soloists, American soprano Amanda Forsythe, British tenor Thomas Hobbs, and British-Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson, were splendid. Under the deft direction of Ivars Taurins, it was an utterly marvellous performance, wildly received by the audience. And, according to Tafelmusik’s new musical director, Elisa Citterio, next season will feature three full performances by the Choir. That’s just what I need to hear to put joy in my heart and a spring in my step.
Last Friday, I spent the entire day exploring the Circle Craft Christmas Market at the Vancouver Convention Centre. When the doors opened at 10:00 a.m., already there was a lineup of shoppers like me, eager to see the wares without the crowds. Circle Craft is a self-sustaining cooperative of BC artists, formed in 1972, to promote “direct from the artist” quality crafts at the Market and at their gallery on Granville Island. Circle Craft is more intimate than the gigantic One of a Kind show, which runs in Toronto at the end of November but, with three hundred exhibitors, this offering is no less engaging.
One of the delights of these shows is the chance to speak with the artisans who produce such creative treasures. The X-tails couple from Prince George with their colourful line of children’s books started out by accident and are now in great demand for stories in schools. The Out of Ruins couple from Ottawa offered to come to my home in Toronto and propose a glass insert for my foyer window fashioned from their recycled glass. The Abeego Designs folks from Victoria promise that their beeswax paper will lengthen the freshness of left-over food. The Lemon Square bakers from Vancouver offer samples to die for. The 4 Paws Pure people from Prince George have an array of dried treats for animals too exotic for my cats but which the dog-lovers in the crowd were buying up with gusto. Don Pell of Wingnut Enterprises, Bellevue, Saskatchewan, told me that the brightly coloured whirligigs that I admired were for outdoor use and would withstand even the coldest prairie winter. The young man at Gift-a-Green had a range of inventive greeting cards that grow. An intriguing idea worth a try, I thought. The bamboo sleepwear on display at This is J, was colourful and soft, but I was in no mood to try on clothing, so took their Fall/Winter 2017 catalogue and may well buy online.
And so it goes. Back and forth along the rows, with too many wonderful treasures to explore. In the interests of expediency, I skipped the jewellery shops, and generally avoided the pottery, ceramics and wood. I declined the free samples offered by various distilleries, wineries and breweries; drinking so early in the day would undoubtedly deter me from the serious power shopping ahead.
For anything too heavy or cumbersome to carry back to Toronto, I decided to rely on webpages. Almost all the artisans seem to have an internet presence, and collecting cards for future reference online is useful. They also have those new-fangled little gadgets for taking credit cards and issuing receipts by email at the same time. Finding my email address already embedded in some machines was somewhat disconcerting; my email address preceded my attendance at the Market! I later thought that perhaps this occurred because I made purchases at the Harmony Festival in West Vancouver before, although not from these particular artisans. Even more shocking was to return home and find so many receipts clogging up my email. Did I really buy all that?
As at the One of a Kind, I made good use of the Parcel Check to store my purchases as I went along. The only downside of the practice is that I forgot how much I’d acquired until it was time to go home. Then I had to arrange all the bags on my arms and in my backpack, and then pack all the parcels myself up the escalator, across the foyer, and down the escalator again to get outside. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand long until a cab came and whisked me over the bridge just as the setting sun lit up all of North Vancouver.
In the vast expanse of the One of a Kind in Toronto, I typically meet no one I know. At the Circle Craft Market, by contrast, shortly before noon I heard my name called, turned, and found my cousin Diane standing right behind me. Over a lemonade together, we caught up on all our news. Later, the same thing happened again; this time with the two new friends who had met me and my DOH companion at the airport last week. I may be in Vancouver for only a short time, but such encounters make me feel at home.
On October 24th, I joined the masses gathered on Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, to honour Gord Downie by singing his songs. Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman (aka “DaBu”), the founders in 2011 of the weekly drop-in singing group, Choir! Choir! Choir! in Toronto, organized and led what was a communal hootenanny. Most everyone knew the music and lyrics by heart; the rest of us sang along using words we’d downloaded from the internet. It was a very stirring event.
I went because I knew so little about the man and the band which has become a national phenomenon. I needed to fill the gap. The Tragically Hip is a familiar name. When they played the Dawson City Music Festival years ago, I knew that my sister had hosted the band in her home at the after party. Gord Downie’s actions, since his diagnosis with a brain tumour in December 2015, quite properly made him a national hero. I admired the Secret Path graphic book and also the album designed to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic escape from an Indian Residential School, and promoted on the Hip’s last national tour. All proceeds from the Gord Downie/Chanie Wenjack Foundation go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
For all that, I knew very little about Downie’s music over time; neither the tunes which made him and the band popular nor the lyrics which often read like poetry. I’m not alone. I’ve since learned that many of my cohort are equally oblivious to the impact he had on younger people, especially on those now in their late thirties or forties. People like the Prime Minister.
I now appreciate why his work has been so appealing. “I am a stranger… on a secret path,” the lead poem/song on his Secret Path album, released in tandem with the graphic book, is haunting and emotional. “Bobcaygeon,” where he “saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time,” resonates among those who know the north. “Ahead by a Century” speaks to who he was and what he stood for. “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Wheat Kings” speak of that which is familiar in ordinary life: “Bourbon blues on the street,” “hands in the river,” “Sundown in the Paris of the prairies,” “wheat kings and pretty things wait and see what tomorrow brings. “Late breaking story on the CBC.” “You can’t be fond of living in the past, Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last.” “Courage” sings of the human condition: “No simple… explanation for anything important… . Any of us do and yeah the human… Tragedy consists in… the necessity Of living with… The consequences Under pressure. Courage… it didn’t come… it couldn’t come at a worse time.”
Mike Downie spoke to the crowd about the Downie Chanie Fund. In Gord’s honour, Don Kerr adapted “Fiddler’s Green for Gord.” The lyrics can be downloaded online. Beautiful.
I invite you to join our early morning photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the Vancouver harbour last week, and see how photographer Rick Hulbert works. Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a free online program which shows the quality of light at particular places and times of day (including sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moon set), Rick knew exactly when morning light would be best at the Plaza. When I arrived at 6:10 a.m., he was already there, with his tripod set up at the extreme architectural point of the plaza. He’d already begun shooting material for use in future photography classes.
Last week, he sent me two images which he had ‘recorded’ (notice the lingo) during a five-minute period early that morning. Using the Ephemeris, he was able to find the exact angle of the sunlight and the best place to stand. He explained in an email that his intention was “to portray Harbour Green Neighbourhood in colour. It is early morning first light, and because the sun is shining through the greatest amount of the earth’s atmosphere, the quality of the light is soft and warm. I employed a wide-angle lens and kept my camera level and on a tripod to support a horizontal horizon along with ‘vertical verticals.’
“The image of the downtown core of Vancouver surrounding Jack Poole Plaza is conveyed in black and white. B&W images portray pure luminance which has the potential of conveying an enhanced sense of depth. By stopping down my Tilt/Shift lens to f/22, I was able to achieve a starburst effect with the sun bouncing off one of the building windows in the distance.
“The challenge in both images was to display the enormous dynamic range of light in a single capture. I did this by reducing the original tone curve to a ‘linear curve,’ which also reduces the contrast, allowing me to have more flexibility in ‘re-visualizing’ the image in software. While it could be said that simplicity of subject is a noble goal, I chose to attempt to embrace a complexity of edges in an ordered composition.” He wanted “the images to read as large as possible with no cropping. The subject of each image is the entire field of view… edge to edge of each photo.”
Learning by doing means getting up early in the morning to experience in our bones the quality of the light at that hour of the day. While the master produced his prototypes for future use in class, the rest of us were free to see all the splendid scene had to offer.
My photos have not yet been re-visualized in Lightroom. They were shot as RAW files in Aperture mode. Rick did say that I could have moved the chairs. I never thought of that at the time. My focus on the greenery visible through the iconic Olympic Cauldron led to a discussion of how green pops out in any setting. In the last photo, I tried to highlight the Lions Gate Bridge in the background on my Apple Photos edit program but was not particularly successful. Next purchase? A download of Lightroom.
***** Thank you to Rick Hulbert for sharing his photos and his comments.
It is a striking story rich in imagery and drama. In the summer of 1701, over 1300 Native delegates paddled the northern rivers in their canoes headed for the colonial town of Montreal. They came from around the Great Lakes, from across the French colony, and from as far as Acadia, from 39 indigenous nations in all, to attend a peace conference called to put an end to decades of strife between them. In the middle of the conference, one of the leading organizers, Kandiaronk, a highly respected Wendat from Wendake (Huronia), fell ill and died. After funeral rites in both the Native and the French traditions, condolence ceremonies, and a funeral procession led by French troops, Huron warriors, clergy, the Native leaders and French officials, he was buried in Notre Dame Church in Montreal. Historians have said that his death brought everyone together and encouraged the signing of the peace treaty which was followed by feasting, dancing, singing and the exchange of goods.
The Toronto Consort, the nine-person ensemble of singers and instrumentalists led by David Fallis and known for their early music, turned the story of this “Great Peace of Montreal” into a haunting “choral documentary” which stunned the audience present for two sold-out Toronto performances on the weekend. Wendat scholar, poet and song-writer Georges Sioui brought the gravitas of his language, the wisdom of his poetry and the lyricism of his traditional music. Native singers and drummers, Ojibway Marilyn George and Wahta Mohawk Shirley Hay added their distinctive voices and drums. Wolastoq (Maliseet) composer and vocalist Jeremy Dutcher extrapolated from the oldest known recordings of songs by his Indigenous peoples along the St. John River basin, to produce a unique classical and operatic sound that brought the house down. He is now producing a CD, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, described as “part composition, part musical ethnography, part linguistic reclamation” that will be worth watching for.
The second half of the concert was a performance of “Wendake/Huronia,” another choral documentary, composed by Canadian composer and educator John Beckwith to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first encounter between Samuel de Champlain and the First Nations people in the province of Ontario, at Wendake (present-day Huronia). Commissioned by John French and the Midland-based Brookside Music Association, it had its première in the 2015 Festival of the Bays. Joining the Consort for this performance were the 40-plus member Toronto Chamber Choir and several singers who sang in the première.
“Wendake/Huronia” is written for choir, alto soloist, narrator, early-period instruments with indigenous drums, and sung in French and Wendat. Surtitles help with the translation. Beckwith first compiled a text from historical sources to summarize the Wendat experience before, during and after contact with the Europeans. His music simulates the use of snowshoes and canoes, both modes of transportation which fascinated the French. It evokes the appeal to the Europeans of exploring over the seas. There is “a musical depiction” of the traditional “Feast of the Dead” which so intrigued all who encountered it. “Lamentation, 1642” reflects on the epidemics and warfare which decimated the population. It ends with a French version of a poem by George Sioui which expresses hope for peace and reconciliation. The music is a melange of modern and First Nation traditional; the story is our history which is well worth knowing. The effect of the performance on the audience was mesmerizing. John Beckwith, who celebrates his 90th birthday in March, was present to share in the acclaim.
This very ambitious and successful triumph blew away whatever elusive expectations I had for the evening. Congratulations to the Toronto Consort.
Reviewing the daily newspapers is a ritual in our household. When a single edition of the paper hits many issues all at once, with depth and insight, it is particularly gratifying. Such was the case in Saturday’s edition of the Globe and Mail.
So why was I so excited? Let me list the highlights and, if you missed them, let me encourage you to look them up on the internet. In addition to what is listed below, there were three legal reports of great interest which I will summarize in my next post. Watch for “An Update on Current Legal Issues.”
1) Ian Brown on Gord Downie’s Secret Path
Ian Brown has written a multi-level two-page Folio story entitled “Gord Downie: A Story of What Happens Next” about Gord Downie’s legacy project, his Secret Path songs, graphic novel and animated movie about Chanie Wenjack, the twelve-year old Ojibwa boy who ran away from a residential school fifty years ago and died from exposure. The Secret Path had its debut at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa last Tuesday to enthusiastic applause. Brown’s review is a fascinating account of how Downie is dealing with his medical condition, and how he, his brother and their associates learned of Chanie’s story, and what they have done to make the story known to the broader Canadian public. Addressing the issue of cultural appropriation, Brown describes how Downie and his team went to Ogoki Post in Northern Ontario, met Chanie’s sister Pearl Wenjack and learned about their community and culture. They have now established the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund “dedicated to cross-cultural education to support healing and recovery.” It’s a moving story that will bring you up to speed on this very interesting and potentially important cross-cultural endeavour.
2) Judy Stoffman on aboriginal painter Daphne Odjig
An upbeat companion piece to the Folio story is Judy Stoffman’s wonderful obituary to “Aboriginal modernist painter Daphne Odjig,” who recently died in Kelowna B.C. at 97 years of age. I am chagrined to admit that I knew nothing about her, although she is clearly a very prominent painter who has won great recognition. With great élan, Stoffman tells of Odjig’s early life on Manitoulin Island, family losses and rejection by her relatives, her migration to Toronto and her self-education in art, her multiple moves to western Canada, her evolving artistic styles, her leadership in the indigenous art community, and her continuing energy well into old age. This article offers a rich narrative of how Odjig came to appreciate her native heritage and how she became a professional artist. She is an inspiration to me, and to other women, as much as for her own community. If it takes an obituary to introduce us to the stars in our midst, better late than never. Do read her story.
3) The Focus section on Fraud in the American election, including Marcus Gee on Gerrymandering
The five-page Focus section on “rigging the American election” is fascinating. American election officials assure the public that intimidation and corruption at election time are not real dangers.
Marcus Gee, who normally writes about Toronto city matters, has written an in-depth article entitled “Divide, Then Rule.” It describes how both parties historically have drawn state electoral boundaries to make sure their own candidates are elected. Called “gerrymandering,” the practice is open, legal and well-established. Apparently, state officials use the results of the national census every ten years to “redistrict” electoral boundaries so that districts have roughly equal numbers of potential voters. They now use modern data-collection techniques to pinpoint pockets of support and either draw them into the district or to divide up areas of strength for the opposition party.
To illustrate the process, Gee describes how the Republicans used gerrymandering to great success in the North Carolina City of Asheville after the 2010 Census. Gee refers to journalist David Daley’s new book, Ratf**ked:The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. It describes how the GOP conducted a systemic campaign to seize control of state governments. Why? So that they got the power to gerrymander districts for congressional elections. The success of the Republicans has now prompted the Democrats to copy their strategy.
In Canada, a judge heads an independent commission in every province to define changes to constituencies. In the United States, a few states, including California and Idaho, have independent commissions to set boundaries, but most do not. According to the website, End Gerrymandering, “The United States is the only advanced democracy in the world where politicians directly participate in the districting process.”
Peter Sellers grew up in Leaside and has lived in Toronto all his life. He went to the University of Toronto School and then York University’s Glendon College where he studied English. He worked in advertising, for an agency and then freelance. In November 2011, he opened his bookstore. Having a bookstore, even a small 650 square foot outlet, was the change he had craved.
Ever since high school, he has collected books, all kinds of books, which reflect his personal passions over time: modern literature, crime fiction, biography, military history, otherworldly books, poetry, plays. His own collection of books made up his first shop inventory. Now he does special orders for customers, and buys other books which fill out his collections.
Apart from the content, he likes books as objects, likes to be surrounded by books, and to talk about books and authors with his customers. Twice a year, he travels to London to buy the fine books and older editions that he really likes to sell. He prides himself on selling different books which people may not find anywhere else. To “cull his herd,” he sells discounted books on the street, a loss leader which makes his customers happy.
Peter promotes Sellers & Newel on the internet: “By day, Toronto’s smallest bookstore. By night, a unique and intimate live music venue.” Last year, jazz trumpet player Tim Hamel suggested to Peter that his tiny space would give fine resonance for playing music. Peter seized on the idea and began his S & N Speakeasy. From September to May, Peter opens his bookstore twice a month, usually Thursday nights, for musical performances by local singers and songwriters, and for poetry readings. The bookcases in the middle of his store move to the side, and 35 or so young people (and the occasional older person like me) gather for an intimate evening of music, poetry and camaraderie.
In May, I attended the Speakeasy for a concert given by singer-songwriter Jack Connolly, playing his guitar with fellow guitarist Ian Koiter joining in on the harmony. A delightful, low-key evening, the singing went on and on, each song drawing an even more enthusiastic response. Have the ’60s returned? It certainly feels like it. The next show will be Andrew Mah on Thursday, September 29th at 672 College Street. See the upcoming schedule on the shop’s website.