Saturday, June 16, 2018

It's time for summer music and fun all around us!

With the start of summer now just days away, a lot of people are already thinking of the myriad of summer music festivals in and around Niagara, or just a short drive away.  There are far too many to list in this space all at once, but occasionally we'll touch on them a few at a time over the summer months and give you some detail of what's to come.

This weekend, three festivals will be highlighted, featuring blues, jazz and lots of classical music to cool you down on these sultry summer days and nights.

The TD Niagara Jazz Festival has grown since its inception just a few short years ago to now encompass two full weekends in July plus numerous events before and after the two core weekends.  This is the first year for a two-weekend event, and Festival Executive Director/Artistic Producer Juliet Dunn along with Co-Creator & Artistic Consultant Peter Shea feel the time is right to expand the event to two weekends now.  The 5th Annual TD Niagara Jazz Festival has all the makings of being the marquee music event of the summer right here in Niagara.

The Flagship opening event on the weekend of July 19th to the 22nd takes place at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines; the second weekend will feature the hugely popular "Jazz in the Park" events in Simcoe Park in Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake July 28th and 29th.

In addition, new this year will be the inaugural World Music on the Beach event hosted by the TD Niagara Jazz Festival in Port Dalhousie.  Four community stages will be filled with music from around the globe, located from Lakeside Beach at the Rotary and Pavilion stages to Hogan's Alley, to the all-new Lock One Stage (Tow Bridge Stage) honouring the historic first Welland Canal.  The best part of all, this is a free community event for the entire family, featuring music, dance, kids play zones, artisan vendors, wine and craft beer stalls as well as local culinary favourites.

Juliet Dunn says its an opportunity to "show how World Music plays such an integral part in the world of jazz", adding bands will be showcased from Jamaica, Japan, Holland and the Ukraine, as well as local, home-grown World music artists from around the province.

One of the nice touches is a secure 'Bike Valet' area, so patrons can ride their bikes to Port and walk around and enjoy the sights and the music without having to worry about their bikes.

The day-long World Music on the Beach event takes place on Sunday, July 22nd during the first weekend of the Festival.

For more information and to order Festival tickets and passes, go to www.niagarajazzfestival.com or call 1-844-548-5299.

Over the border in Lewiston, New York, the Lewiston Council on the Arts has announced their summer schedule, including everything from the ever-popular Summer of '69 concert in the park to the 34th annual Key Bank Chalk Walk Competition.  The summer schedule runs from July 9th to August 20th, with events scattered throughout the fall season as well, ending in November.

One of the more popular events for several years now have been the Blue Mondays concerts in the Gazebo on Centre Street.  In its 24th year now, the Blue Mondays series has been the recipient of Blues Beat Magazine's prestigious "Muddy" award and for many is considered one of the best Blues venues in Western New York.  Best of all, the concerts are all free, so pack a picnic dinner and grab your lawn chair and catch acts such as Marsha McWilson on July 9th all the way to Maria Aurigema on August 20th.

The aforementioned Summer of '69 concert takes place on Friday, July 13th at 6 pm, and again is a free event.  The annual concert reunites Lewiston-area rock musicians who have moved on since their heyday in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Featuring the Lewiston All Stars, Loved Ones, the County Orphanage, the Invaders and special guest, Grammy Award winner Gary Baker.  All the participants gather on stage for a grand jam finale.  The Summer of '69 concert is in the Hennepin Park Gazebo at the corner of 4th and Centre Street.

The 52nd Lewiston Art Festival closes off Centre Street to vehicular traffic and visitors can amble the streets to view works by more than 175 artists and crafters.  The Art Festival takes place the weekend of August 11th and 12th all day, and is also free.

Want more information on events happening this summer with the Lewiston Council on the Arts?  Go to www.artcouncil.org or call 716-754-0166.

Finally, one of my all-time favourite summer music festivals is set to kick off July 13th and run to the 29th in the lovely town of Elora, Ontario.  The 39th season now encompasses three weeks of musical performances of every description and this season will honour the memory of Michael Purves-Smith, the founding Artistic Director of the predecessor to the Elora Festival, the Three Centuries Festival, in 1979.  He passed away back in January of this year.

The Festival features performances by a wide range of artists from Isabel Bayrakdarian to Chantal Kreviazuk, but the heart of the Festival remains the glorious Elora Singers, the choir-in-residence of the Elora Festival.  They present their own Choral Concert Series, of course, including a choral tribute to Leonard Bernstein on July 21st featuring the Chichester Psalms to The Elora Singers Unplugged on July 22nd.  They also perform more sacred music at the Choral Evensong performance on July 26th and as part of the weekly Sunday Service on Sunday mornings at St. John's Church.  This to me presents the Singers in their purest, most radiant form, and I never miss a chance to attend the 11 am service during a weekend visit to the Festival.

The Opening Night Gala concert in the Gambrel Barn on July 13th is in partnership with The Canadian Opera Company and features The Elora Singers along with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Isabel Bayrakdarian, Danika Loren, Andrew Haji and Samuel Chan, followed by a public reception and of course, fireworks to cap the evening off.

Something new this year for the 39th season is a special fundraiser being held at the newly refurbished and restored Elora Mill Hotel and Spa, closed for many years.  The July 18th event features cocktails at 5:30 pm and dinner at 7.  It promises to be the Big Event of the summer season in Elora.

The Elora Singers are certainly Canada's preeminent chamber choir and hearing them on their home turf is for me, a summer must-do each year.  If you are so inclined, and you should be, Elora is a pleasant two-hour drive from Niagara just northwest of Guelph.

For tickets and more information, go to www.elorafestival.ca or call 519-846-0331.

So there you go - a trio of summer events designed to get you out of the house and out of your rut, and enjoy some great summer music and culture not that far away from home.  We'll look at some other great ideas shortly in this space.

Enjoy your weekend!

June 16th, 2018.


Friday, June 1, 2018

News and notes in the Arts

As the first weekend of June unfurls in all its glory, a few items of news and notes from the local arts scene and beyond to get you going for the weekend...

Last night I had the pleasure to attend the 2018/19 Hot Ticket lineup announcement at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  This was the second of two consecutive nights, as the large Partridge Hall was filled almost to capacity both nights.  That tells us something about the local arts scene:  truly, if they build it, we will come.  And we do.  Last year for example, more than 75,000 people filed through the doors at the PAC to take in a performance of some sort.

What I love about this stat is it comes after barely three years of existence, as the PAC opened in the fall of 2015.  This fourth season announcement stokes the fires even more so, and helps to put to rest once and for all the notion the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre would not be supported and embraced by the community at large.

Guests the last two nights got to sample food from sponsors Wind, East Izakaya and Ma Chinese Cuisine along with Niagara wines in the lobby before the event inside Partridge Hall, and also experienced other notable sponsors in Robertson Hall including Critelli's Fine Furniture, The Peanut Mill and Elite Spa Group, among others.

Once inside the theatre a combination of performances both live and pre-recorded outlined the upcoming season in both the banner Hot Ticket series as well as performances by local music and theatre organizations such as Carousel Players, Essential Collective Theatre, Suitcase in Point, TD Niagara Jazz Festival and Twitches and Itches Theatre, among others.

Both Executive Director Steve Solski and Mayor Walter Sendzik spoke glowingly about the way the PAC has helped to breath new life into downtown St. Catharines with quality performances to satisfy most every taste.  It was left to Programming and Marketing Manager Sara Palmieri and the rest of her talented team to outline the upcoming season in greater detail as the evening progressed.

Of particular note the second annual Celebration of Nations, a gathering of indigenous arts, culture and tradition will once again kick off the new season September 7th to the 9th in and around the PAC.  It will be expanded this year, feeding off the momentum of the inaugural event last season with something for most everyone in both music and theatre as well as other art forms.

Tied in with that event, which Mayor Sendzik highlighted last night, was the celebration of the late Gordon Downie scheduled for October 18th.  Walking the Path of Reconciliation will be a celebration by Canadian artists of the impact of Gord's art and work.  Downie of course died last year after completing his final tour with The Tragically Hip, and not before making a special effort to shine light on the reconciliation with Canada's First Peoples.  The concert is a collaboration with The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund and will feature artists ranging from Twin Flames, Bruce McCulloch, Tom Wilson and Danny Michel to Trent Severn, Matthew Barber, Damnhait Doyle and others.

For tickets and more information on all upcoming performances, go to www.FirstOntarioPAC.ca or call the box office at 905-688-0722.

This coming Sunday afternoon in the Cairns Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Gallery Players will present the final concert of the current season, Opera in Concert - "Folly in Love" by Alessandro Scarlatti.  Directed by Bud Roach, the performance features Capella Intima along with Members of the Nota Bene Baroque Players from the Guelph area, along with soloists Sheila Dietrich, soprano; Vicki St. Pierre, mezzo-soprano; Bud Roach, tenor; David Roth, bass; along with instrumentalists including Julie Baumgartel and Rona Goldensher on violins, John Wiebe on viola, Margaret Gay on cello, Borys Medicky on harpsichord and Terry McKenna on lute.

The opera is full of comic themes including mistaken identity, sibling rivalry and of course, love at first sight.  It was the first opera for the then eighteen-year-old Scarlatti, premiering in Rome in 1679. The public quickly embraced this new, youthful voice in the world of opera, in spite of the fact there was a papal decree against such scandalous behaviour as women on stage and even the ban on the church's employment of theatre musicians.

Tickets to Opera in Concert are available in advance by calling Gallery Players at 905-468-1525, or you can pick them up at the PAC box office on Sunday afternoon.

Finally, Hamilton-based composer Robert Bruce's "Blues Hologram" debut concert comes up next Wednesday evening, June 6th at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in the Tanenbaum Pavilion.  This will be the first public presentation of the group's intriguing musical style and sound, integrating both live music and a cinematic experience in a multi-media concert performance.  Each song will be performed while accompanying a specially-produced short film.

The performance will highlight the vocal duets of classically-trained Amy Dodington and the more earthy, gospel-infused style of Martina Aswani performing the compositions of Robert Bruce, blending both classical elements and basic blues elements he grew up with and learned throughout the 60s and 70s in the areas of popular and rock music.  Four of the songs have been recorded already, in fact, and featured in Bruce's first full-length feature film, "Love Bonds", now in the final stages of post-production.

Bruce and singers Dodington and Aswani will be joined by Hamilton percussionist Dave Simpson, who has worked with Bruce several times over the last ten years.

The event next Wednesday, June 6th begins at 7:30 with the doors opening at 7.  Tickets are $20 and available at the door, or in advance via PayPal at www.robertbrucemusic.com.

Lots to see and do in Niagara and beyond this week and in the months ahead.  Enjoy!

June 1st, 2018.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A couple of ideas for celebrating your Mom on her special day

So it's Mother's Day, and by now many restaurants will be full over the brunch period and again this evening at dinner as people take Mom out on her special day.  Flower shops and corner hucksters are busy today with last-minute shoppers picking up flowers on their way to scheduled appointments with their Mom.

As thriving as those businesses are this weekend, I offer up a couple of alternatives for later this afternoon you might like to add to the day's events or even substitute for the tried and true.  While both require a short drive out of town, this is a glorious day to take a drive, see the wonders of Spring in all its glory, and marvel at the blossoms before they are all gone.

First up, my good friend and amazing talent Catherine Wilson is performing this afternoon at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre, not with her usual group Ensemble Vivant, but rather as featured soloist with the Symphony on the Bay orchestra conducted by Claudio Vena.  This is the orchestra's Proms Concert, the finale to the current season, in fact.  It's full of easy-to-digest pieces alongside slightly weightier works, all of which will put Catherine's musical talents on full display, along with those of the orchestra.

On the programme will be several works in the first half featuring Catherine with the orchestra, including the Piano Concerto in F minor by J.S. Bach, Gershwin's ragtime classic Rialto Ripples and Phil Dwyer's Bernardo's Tango.  Catherine will also be performing her own composition Sackville Street Ballad, and the principal string players of the orchestra with Maestro Vena on viola will join Catherine on Ernesto Lecuona's popular Andalucia.

At intermission you can meet Catherine and no doubt pick up a copy of one of her CDs, including her latest CD/DVD combination, Ensemble Vivant Live in Concert:  A Tribute to Rick Wilkins.  I'll have more to say about the disc in a future posting in this space.

The second half of the programme will feature the orchestra performing Proms favourites such as Elgar's Chanson de Nuit and the ever-popular Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1 among other works.  Also featured will be the winners of the Symphony on the Bay Young Artists' Competition, including violinist Erin Merkley and mezzo Lyndsay Promane.

Symphony on the Bay is Burlington's full-size community orchestra, serving the Burlington area and beyond for many years now.  These are musicians who clearly love what they do - making music together.  Why not treat Mom to an afternoon of fine music-making and really make a day of it?

Tickets are available by calling 905-681-6000, or just go to the Burlington Performing Arts Centre box office prior to the performance this afternoon at 3.  Hope to see you there!

A little further afield today is a CD release concert featuring Jeff Bird celebrating his new recording, felix anima.  Jeff will be joined by guest musicians Ben Grossman and Witek Grabowiecki as they perform music from the new CD at Trinity United Church at 400 Stevenson Street in Guelph at 3 this afternoon.

Jeff is a multi-instrumentalist who is perhaps best-known for his way around the mouth-organ, otherwise known as the harmonica.  On the new disc he offers up his own unique interpretations of the music of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12-century German abbess who lived a relatively long life for the times, from 1098 to 1179.  The new disc features Bird on harmonica, a droning Shruti box and a host of other interesting instruments.

Bingen's music is largely sacred and transcendent, reflecting her vocation as an abbess, and are both contemplative and uplifting.  She is still very well known today for her music as well as her theological, scientific and dramatic contributions to the era.  She was a saint, a Doctor of the Church, mystic, feminist and visionary all wrapped up in an enigma that has captivated audiences for centuries.

Jeff Bird is a founding member of the seminal folk group Tamarack, and he was part of the legendary The Trinity Session along with the Cowboy Junkies.  He has scored music for film, television and dance, and is a talented graphic artist, having created the artwork for the new CD as well.

For more information on Jeff and his new recording, go to www.felixanima.ca.  Copies of the new disc will certainly be available at the church after the performance today, and you can get your tickets at the door.  The concert starts at 3 pm.

So there you go:  music, food, flowers and Spring, all coming together to make Mom's day special today.

Happy Mother's Day to Moms everywhere!

May 13th, 2018.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Lots happening in the arts in Niagara this week!

In spite of the less-than-springlike weather at the moment, there is plenty to do in and around Niagara this week, all pertaining to the arts in one form or another.  So let's take a quick look at some of the things coming up you might want to take in.

First up, the 10th Annual In The Soil arts festival is on in downtown St. Catharines, and continues throughout the day tomorrow.  Events began on Friday evening at The Hub on James Street, which is currently closed off to vehicular traffic from King Street to St. Paul Street.

To celebrate the one decade milestone, organizers are welcoming over 500 artists, makers and arts workers to the city core to share 150 acts and art installations throughout downtown St. Catharines.  Events take place in venues ranging from a school and a church to the I.O.O.F. Lodge on James Street and even in a yurt.  Let's not forget the alleys, bars, cafes and right on James Street as well.

One of the nice things about In The Soil is there is literally something for everyone and every age, and much of it is deemed family-friendly.  Yes, there is a licensed Hub Bar open to those of age, but other than that the family is pretty much welcome everywhere else.

As always there are lots of food choices as well, and I even spied the Gorilla Cheese truck on James Street when I visited the area in the pouring rain this morning.

Don't let the weather deter you - the final day on Sunday promises to be a little bit better in that regard, so check out the In The Soil website for details on events still to come before things wind up Sunday evening.

Also tomorrow, Silver Spire United Church will play host to the next concert featuring the Eybler Quartet, as part of the Gallery Players of Niagara season.  The concert begins at 2 pm and the church is located at 366 St. Paul Street.

The Eybler Quartet will be taking audience members on a journey through the first 50 years of the string quartet, from the rarely heard but pioneering works of Franz Asplmayr, a colleague of Mozart and Haydn, no less, to the music of Mozart himself.  They'll be playing the Mozart A major Quartet K. 464, as well as the Beethoven Op. 130.

In fact, the concert will coincide with the launch of the Eybler Quartet's new CD, devoted to the music of Beethoven, and I am pretty sure you'll be able to pick up a copy of the new disc at the concert.

The Quartet is made up of violinists Aisslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman, as well as Patrick Jordan on viola and cellist Margaret Gay.

This concert also ties in nicely with the In The Soil arts festival, as the concert is is actually one of the scheduled events this weekend for In The Soil.  If you purchase their Festival pass you can come to the concert tomorrow with what's called one of their Arts Worker tickets.  You can also purchase an Arts Worker ticket on the Gallery Players website or by calling them at 905-468-1525.

To help celebrate International Jazz Day on Monday, the TD Niagara Jazz Festival has a couple of musical events coming up this week:  "Discover Jazz" is a free public event presented by noted jazz musician, educator and jazz programmer Mark Micklethwaite on Wednesday, May 2nd.  The lecture/presentation will take place in the evening from 7:30 to 9:30 pm at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library, located just off Highway 55.

Also up this week is the second presentation in the ever-popular Live Learn Jazz series produced in partnership with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library, featuring intimate, jazz-themed lectures, workshops and performances from Canada's best and most-accomplished musical artists.  Thursday evening's performance features vocalist Stu Mao and the quartet in a concert titled Porter and Porter.  The performance begins at 7 pm at The Exchange Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake at 7 Queen Street.

The TD Niagara Jazz Festival, the brainchild of Niagara-based jazz performers and husband-and-wife team of Juliet Dunn and Peter Shea, was selected as Best New Festival in Ontario for 2017.  It has grown from one three-day weekend at the end of July to two weekends now, both at the end of July and literally packed with performances throughout Niagara.

For more information, check out the TD Niagara Jazz Festival website.

Finally, this week the 50th annual Niagara Folk Arts Festival will get underway, with three days of world-class entertainment kicking off the annual festival on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Setting up  will take place on Thursday of this week, incidentally.  Their home at 85 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines will be the scene for a lot of the entertainment the first weekend.  There will also be the requisite Open Houses throughout the festival and of course, the annual Day in the Park in Montebello Park will also be coming up this month.

Another family-friendly event, the festival will be free, featuring diverse musical performances, family friendly activities, international food vendors and crafters.

You can check out the Folk Arts Festival website for more information and specific times for events scheduled.

Have a great week in Niagara!

April 28th, 2018.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Brunch in Niagara, in style!

I'm digressing from music & arts reporting again this weekend, but as the saying goes, "if music be the food of love, play on!"  So play on we will, and apologies to esteemed Eating Niagara writer Tiffany Mayer for treading on her tasty territory just a little bit this weekend.

In spite of what my far better half would have you believe, I enjoy good food, artfully presented in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that shows a lot of care and attention to detail.  So I have been doing a little poking around Niagara the last few months trying out some new and new-to-me venues that have caught my interest, many of which Tiffany has written about in her regular columns.

This weekend I'll look at three small, intimate establishments that are off the beaten track, locally owned and operated, and who pride themselves on creating a memorable brunch experience.  These are not the traditional eggs & bacon mom & pop places with large portions for a small amount of money.  That's not the crowd they are going after.  They are aimed at people looking for something more, something a cut above the average breakfast place.

Niagara, of course, has no shortage of great lunch and dinner destinations, many tied to the burgeoning wine industry.  But I've always found brunch to often be the forgotten child, as it were, save for the large big-ticket brunch offerings at some of Niagara's finer hotels.

No more, I am happy to report.  In the past couple of months we've visited two small brunch havens in St. Catharines and one in Vineland, all three relatively new and all three successfully carving out their own little niche in a growing marketplace.  I'm also happy to report they are all very, very good.

First up, just a short walk from our house in central St. Catharines is "a peculiar little bistro called:  mirepoix...breakfast, lunch, mostly brunch" as their simple website proclaims.  It's located at 64 Court Street, just across from the Midtown Plaza on Welland Avenue.  I visited this particular location in former incarnations as a purveyor of Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and an Indian restaurant, both good in their own right but somehow not able to survive all that long.

Mirepoix is operated by Maddy, formerly of the famed Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro on St. Paul Street West, and Chef Warren, who state their goal is to "reclaim fancy breakfast in St. Catharines."  They do that with a bright, airy yet cozy location with simple seating and an open kitchen.  The menu, which changes regularly, is posted on a huge blackboard on one wall.  Items are all made fresh, in-house, local, seasonal and organic, whenever possible.  Yes, there are options for those who prefer to eat vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free.

The menu at present includes avocado toast with smoked salmon, lobster eggs benedict, pork belly eggs benedict, steak and eggs, omelettes, burgers and more.  I have eaten there twice so far, the first time enjoying the apple pie french toast, served with local apples, maple syrup and oats.  The second visit saw me opt for the vegetable skillet, made up of roasted potatoes and veggies in a cast-iron skillet served piping hot to your table.

Prices are all around the $15 range and the servings, while not huge, are more than ample.  Service was efficient in spite of a full house while we visited, and reservations are highly recommended.

Mirepoix, which the website states refers to the "starting point to many a rad recipe", is open from 8 am to 2 pm Wednesday to Sunday.  For reservations call 289-968-8772.

Next up is the Revalee Brunch Cafe on Victoria Avenue in Vineland.  We drove by one Sunday afternoon just after they closed at 3, and one look at the menu posted in the window convinced us to get an earlier start the next weekend.  The bright, modern yet small cafe is tucked away in the corner unit of a modern plaza complex fronting a townhouse development about midway between Regional Road 81 and the QEW.  You'll find it at a set of lights, on the west side of Victoria Avenue.

The Revalee website states they want the food "to be forward-looking, modern takes on classic dishes...familiar and innovative all at once."  The simple menu features a common price for all dishes, with one side presenting "omni" dishes while the other presents vegan dishes.  No matter which side of the menu you prefer, the food is beautifully presented and abundant.

The omni menu ranges from the so-called Revalee Classic, scrambled eggs with double-smoked bacon to huevos rancheros, smoked trout, a Scandinavian brunch featuring pickled herring along with a host of other ingredients, and The Full Monte for the larger appetites.  I chose the French toast, thick challah bread laden with spiced pears, granola, creme fraiche and mulled spice wine.

The vegan menu includes rosti, vegan french toast, vegan rancheros, carrot "gravlax" and Holy Sproat! among other offerings.  The latter blends micros with curried beat hummus, hemp hearts, seeds, radish and a host of other items.  My wife opted for the rosti, featuring a potato, carrot and onion latke with beet hummus, cucumber, mint and tomato fattoush and tahini cashew creme.

Revalee is paired with a delivery business called Box Lunch Brigade, specializing in healthy and inventive box lunches delivered to your home, place of business or school.  The cafe is open seven days a week from 8 am to 3 pm, and reservations are recommended during peak times.  Call 905-562-4101.

Finally, back in St. Catharines we come to the most intriguing of all, the Yellow Pear Kitchen, which I had the pleasure of visiting just this morning, in fact.  Billed on their website as the restaurant that Niagara built, it is run by Jason and Nicole Sawatsky, the people behind the familiar Yellow Pear Food Truck you see around town at summertime events.  The menu changes often and reflects, as they put it, "our love for what we do through the best products Ontario has to offer."

Yellow Pear Kitchen is located at 526 Lake Street in a strip plaza, flanked on one side by a pizza joint and on the other by The Frosted Cupcake.  But it can be a little difficult to pinpoint, as the red sign out front still promotes a long-gone Korean restaurant proclaiming hot pot in their native language.  The sign, if nothing else, is a conversation starter for sure.  Thankfully, Yellow Pear is emblazoned on the large window out front so you know you're at the right place.

Upon entering you are struck by the clean, modern lines and cozy ambience, augmented by a built-in gas fireplace in the centre of the room.  The cafe only seats 28 so you simply have to make a reservation at most times.  I got lucky this morning, wandering in unannounced about 10:30 when a stool at the small counter became available.

Nicole was my server this morning and was amazing, even asking if the music was too loud at one point, since I was closest to the stereo system.  I don't ever recall anyone asking me that before!

On the walls you'll find an intriguing collection of art, presumably by local artists, and all of it is priced and for sale if you are interested.

The menu changes very frequently so it is not really useful to list items here, although the eggs benny is pretty much a mainstay on the menu.  I opted for the buttermilk waffle, heaped with sliced peaches, bananas and strawberries, drizzled with maple syrup.  A single apple-sage breakfast sausage adorned the plate on the side.

Of the three, Yellow Pear is slightly more expensive than the rest, but still very reasonable.  The quality and ambience is exceptional, and the servings are very ample.  As with all three restaurants, vegan options are handled easily should you choose that option.

The Yellow Pear also recently won a Diner's Choice Award for Best Overall Restaurant in Toronto/Ontario and Niagara from Opentable diners.  Pretty impressive considering the number of new and interesting dining establishments there are out there.  You can read more and even book a table through Opentable.com.

Hours are 9:30 am to 2 pm, and Yellow Pear is only open Friday to Monday, but it is well worth the visit almost any weekend.  Just make sure to call ahead to make a reservation so you're not disappointed.  The number is 289-213-4240.

So in addition to great dining options in Niagara, we can now most assuredly included wonderful brunches as well.  All three places are destinations in their own right, and certainly able to satisfy even the most discriminating palate.

Bon appetite!

April 14th, 2018.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Season winds down for Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts

Since I was on vacation the past week I took a walk down to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre for the weekly Tuesday RBC Foundation Music@Noon student recital in the Cairns Recital Hall.  It is a weekly event during the school year, with the final one of the season scheduled for this Tuesday, April 3rd featuring piano & guitar students.

Last Tuesday's recital was primarily devoted to voice students in the Department of Music, but several instrumentalists were also featured.  Voice students included Awura-Adwoa Bonsu, mezzo-soprano, Emily Stockwell, soprano and William Sadler, tenor.  Instrumentalists included Gavin Oresta on guitar, and Divya Iyer, Ruth Jones and Nayla Nicole Whipple on piano.

The students are from the studios of Deborah Linton (voice), Timothy Phelan (guitar) and Erika Reiman (piano).  All have achieved a remarkable level of achievement already in their chosen studies, and will only get better as time and experience increases.  How many will ultimately pursue professional careers is certainly open to conjecture, but based on last week's recital more than a few have promising musical careers in their collective futures.

The standouts for me included pianist Michele Braun, playing the Brahms Intermezzo in E major, Op. 116, No. 4 and soprano Emily Stockwell, who performed two vocal selections, Silent Noon by Vaughan Williams and Brahms' Immer lieser wird mein Schlummer, Op. 105 No. 2.  Stockwell especially displayed a radiant voice with lovely tone, plus a nice stage presence.

To be sure, all of the students are exceptional but as is always the case with these recitals some are more advanced than others.  But that is not to discourage those still in the earlier stages of their studies.

Once again the Cairns Recital Hall was well-filled for the performance, including a number of students from Sir Winston Churchill School, who got to engage in a Q&A with performers outside of the actual performance.

As mentioned the final student recital takes place at noon tomorrow, so if you don't have plans over the lunch hour why not head to the PAC for an hour?  Best part of all, the recitals are totally free of charge.

Elsewhere with the Department of Music as the season winds down, there is a student solo recital this evening at 7:30 in the Cairns Recital Hall featuring pianist Luis Molina, once again with free admission.  Tomorrow evening a must-attend concert will feature The University Wind Ensemble directed by Zoltan Kalman in the larger Partridge Hall.

Kalman, who is Principle Clarinet with the Niagara Symphony and also on the faculty at the Department of Music brings together both high school and university students as well as members of the Niagara musical community for a varied programme from the wind band repertoire.  It can get a little noisy sometimes, but that's part of the fun!  Tickets are just $12 and available from the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office.

Meantime the University String Orchestra performs at the Cairns Recital Hall Wednesday evening at 7:30 with George Cleland conducting.  This is the Department of Music's newest ensemble, featuring university students and community members.  They perform standard repertory as well as more obscure gems waiting to be rediscovered.  Once again, tickets are only $12 and available from the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office.

Finally, the Brock University Choirs wrap up their season Sunday afternoon at 2:30 in the Cairns Recital Hall featuring Brock's student choral ensembles (men's, women's and mixed choruses) under the direction of conductor Rachel Rensink-Hoff.  They perform a wide variety from the choral repertoire both well known and not so well known.  Tickets are $15 and again, available from the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office.

I always enjoy attending the events scheduled by the Department of Music at Brock University's Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts.  The talent is there and the price is extremely affordable.  And now that we have such a great performance venue right in the heart of St. Catharines, why not take advantage of the opportunity whenever you can?

Happy Easter!

April 2nd, 2018.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Going off-topic for a political rant

I'm late posting my weekend blog, and for that I apologize but time just kinda got away from me.  But I want to detour from my usual arts reporting and get something off my chest that has been simmering for some time now.

Reader warning:  I'm entering what I call the High Rant District here, and it's going to get political.

I have been active on social media for quite a number of years now, due in part because of my media background and the fact in those days it was basically required you be on social media.  But being a writer and broadcaster by trade for over 40 years, I bring a different approach than some to what constitutes a correct posting on social media.  Because I know it is still media to be consumed by the public, I am always careful to watch my language, be respectful and try to offer balanced views on anything I post.

It appears sometimes, these days I am in the minority.

Over the past several years the face of social media has changed and I find it to be a veritable Wild West of extremism, hateful and downright nasty viewpoints and character assassination on an almost regular basis.  None of these attributes do I subscribe to, nor will I ever.

The present climate, combined with the latest revelations about Facebook have prompted me to reconsider my associations with social media and adjust accordingly.  Last week I tightened my security settings to the highest level on all fronts and began a rigid schedule of changing passwords and such on a very regular basis.

No terrible events in regards to security breeches yet, thank heavens, but I wanted to be more careful than I have been in the past.  And ultimately, I am not ruling out exiting from social media altogether should the current climate escalate much further.

Now all of this was precipitated by a posting I made via Facebook a little over a week and a half ago regarding the announcement that Donald Tump Jr. and his wife Vanessa are apparently divorcing.  I captioned it with the simple line "Like father, like son..."

It was an observation on a newsworthy event.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Well, the fallout was fast and furious and I think most people who posted comments that were particularly nasty were missing the point entirely.  My post was not necessarily Trump-bashing, although I readily admit I am no fan of the current U.S. Chief Executive.  I was simply referring to the fact Trump Jr. was following in his father's footsteps, since Donald Sr.  is on what, his third marriage now?  Anyway, the damage was done and what followed was a litany of vitriol.

I find it interesting those on either side of the border who are supporters of Trump cannot see the forest for the trees.  You cannot offer criticism without them taking umbrage in the worst possible way and get nasty in the process.

Oh, the references to people "picking" on him, why should we worry about him anyways, and just look who we've elected on this side of the border - that's what we should be worried about!  You get the idea.

Look, politicians everywhere are public figures so in any case they will be loved by some and vilified by others.  That's politics and they know or at least should know what they signed up for.  But we've lost the ability to moderate our stances and observe a certain amount of decorum while posting in a public medium.

I have written about this on social media before:  there is an attitude now that "My guy is right and everyone else is wrong, and not only that, they are idiots.  There is no longer any middle ground.  There is no longer an ability to temper your views with a measure of balance; rather there is a firm desire to stifle opposing views and label them as not only incorrect but downright treasonous.

We're seeing this more and more on this side of the border now as well, and with a provincial election in Ontario looming this June, the vitriol is already ramping up in a big way.  Supporters of Ford Nation pitted against The Enemy.  They are right and anyone who doesn't agree with them are clearly wrong.

News flash:  no matter what side of the political fence you are on, your representative is going to do/say something stupid at some point whether you like it or not.  They will also do many good things as well.  All sides will.  That's how it works, and suggesting your particular candidate can do no wrong is disingenuous and you are sadly incorrect.

What happened to constructive political discussion anyways?  Have we all been reduced to nothing more than sheep following the leader all the while devoid of the ability to rationalize and think for ourselves?  I hope not, but I fear this might be the case.

No matter what side of the political fence you sit on, and no matter what side of the U.S./Canada border you live on, we all have to get along.  When all is said and done, we are still democracies and contrary opinions are to be welcomed and discussed openly and respectfully.

It's going to be a long election here in Ontario with the outcome still not assured by any of the three major parties, no matter what people say.  Lots can happen between now and June 7th, and lots undoubtedly will.  But one thing is certain:  there will be winners and there will be losers.

It might be wise to learn to accept either side of the equation with grace and equanimity before the results are announced in June.

As for me, I plan to avoid any political postings on social media for the foreseeable future, lest I hurt the feelings of one side or the other.  Too many supporters are too thin-skinned these days, and I don't need the stress and aggravation that comes with it.

If that doesn't work, I will simply exit social media altogether.

On that note, have a great rest of the week!

March 28th, 2018.