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.
For me, Tafelmusik’s Sing-Along Messiah always marks the start of the Christmas week. Ivars Taurins assumes the accent and attire of the composer, George Frideric Handel. Delegated by God to lead his popular oratorio, “Messiah,” for eternity, Handel presides over the Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir, the soloists, and a chorus of 2700 fans who fill Toronto’s historic Massey Hall to the rafters. It is a stirring event.
Sunday was no exception. An hour in advance of the performance, as busker Mr. Chao played familiar Christmas music on his soprano saxophone at the corner, choristers met their friends on the sidewalk outside the front door. They then scurried to find choice seats in the sections of the theatre designated for the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.
Once the orchestra, choir and soloists take their places on the stage, Handel, assisted by his cane, hobbles to the podium, bent over by the weight of the ages. This year, for the first half, he was wearing glorious new duds, splendid crimson breeches and overcoat with “lots of bling” and a golden waistcoat. He carried a sword, which he set aside. When he asked the various sections of singers to identify themselves, he gave a variation of his standard warning to the tenors: “Do you see that sea of soprani? Tenors, be brave. Fear is the path to the dark side. If you give the soprano an inch, they will drive you into the ground.” Then to warm up the mass choir, he directed some “Do fa de mi re do” exercises drawn from the opening theme of Star Wars. Don’t let anyone tell you that a Baroque orchestra cannot be contemporary.
Messiah is familiar, and comfortable, and many think “we hear it too much.” But the airs are delightful, especially when sung by superbly sensitive soloists like those we heard on Sunday. The robust choruses resound around the hall when sung by sections full of choristers familiar with the intricacies of the music. I enjoy singing and once sang in a church choir, but my voice is failing and I never did learn to sing the music property. I read my score, but really rely on my friend, Marylyn Perringer, who has accompanied me to this event for years. She has sung in several choirs, knows the alto line well, and sounds wonderful while I lip sync the hard parts. When so large a mass choir responds with impressive discipline to the skilled (and sharp-tongued) direction of George Handel, the result is thrilling.
Although Messiah tells the Christian story, the glorious music attracts people of all religious faiths and those with none at all. This version is an abbreviation of the entire oratorio. The tradition is to sing the highlights of the original score, and then to conclude with a second singing of the Hallelujah Chorus which does truly “raise the roof.” For this final chorus, Handel picked up his golden sword, and, swinging it toward the audience in exultation, it became a lightsaber he used to direct the singing. Great fun. Long may the force of the Sing-Along Messiah continue.
For a taste of the Sing-Along Messiah, check out Tafelmusik on YouTube and the tweets of Sunday’s concert on Twitter.