Saturday, October 14, 2017

Stratford Festival's Guys & Dolls a hit!

Since I no longer work full time in the radio industry, I no longer have the privilege of attending and reviewing live theatre events on an ongoing basis as I did in the past, so nowadays it is a hit and miss proposition for me.  But when I do attend I feel the need to wear my reviewer's hat as in days of old and give my take on a particular theatre or music event.

Such was the case last weekend as my far better half and I travelled to Stratford for an overnight stay at our favourite B&B and catch a couple of rush seats for the big musical this season, Guys and Dolls.

First off, let me say rush seats are not what they used to be.  I know we are supporting the arts and all that, but there didn't appear to be much of a rush for rush seats for the Sunday afternoon performance, from what I could see.  Even at that, the theatre was just over 65 per cent full at showtime, from my best guess.

It is interesting to note we attended both festivals this past month, the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, each time catching their big musical for the season.  Maybe it is just me, but with the acrimonious atmosphere we appear to be living in today as far as the world is concerned, something light and escapist seemed to fit the bill just fine, thanks.

While I don't mean to pit both major festivals against each other here, it is hard not to draw comparisons between the two big musicals being offered this season.  While the Shaw Festival revived a nicely updated version of a 1937 musical poking fun at the British aristocracy, the Stratford Festival decided to bank on a tried-and-true Broadway classic by Frank Loesser, Guys and Dolls, harkening back to the 1940s when New York City was a hotbed of gamblers, gangsters and particularly unsavoury characters.

Described as a "musical fable of Broadway", Guys and Dolls dates from 1950 and is based on a story and colourful characters dreamed up by the one and only Damon Runyon.  Music and lyrics are by Frank Loesser with a book by Jo Sterling and Abe Burrows.

The story is well-known by now:  a bunch of gangers and gamblers are trying to stay one step ahead of the law as they try to find new and creative places to hold their all-night crap games, wagering whatever and whenever they can.  Into this less-than-ideal atmosphere march the local unit of the Salvation Army, trying to save souls from the evils of gambling and such.

The Sally Ann brigade is led by a winsome young lady named Sarah Brown, played with great charm here by Alexis Gordon.  Somewhat naive and of good moral character, she cannot see the forest for the trees at times as she and her band of dedicated soul-savers work tirelessly on a thankless task.

Sarah meets up with the sorry lot of gamblers and finds herself strangely attracted to Sky Masterson, one of the gambling kingpins who wagers a bet he can whisk her off to Cuba for a quick dinner getaway.  She accepts and gets more than she bargains for when the drinks take effect.  So, too does Sky, played nicely by Evan Buliung, who falls hard for Sarah and starts thinking maybe it's time to turn over a new leaf.

Into this mix of good and not-so-good characters add Sean Arbuckle's convincing take on Nathan Detroit and his long suffering girlfriend cum fiancee Miss Adelaide, played with great style and sexiness by Blythe Wilson.  Nathan gets roped into marrying showgirl Miss Adelaide after stalling for fourteen long years in order to help secure a gambling spot for the guys.

Supporting cast members that stand out are numerous in this first-rate cast, including Steve Ross' snack-eating Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Mark Uhre's ultra athletic Benny Southstreet.

But as good as this cast is, and they are collectively very, very good, the real star of the show is director and choreographer Donna Feore, who just seems to go from strength to strength at Stratford, proving to be the director/choreographer of choice now for the ultra-important big-scale musical on the Festival Theatre's thrust stage.

Her work here is simply breathtaking, with many moments when you sit watching the cast and wonder just how they do what they do without colliding on stage.  She's that good.  Feore has the cast to back up her ambitious steps, of course, but her vision is what drives this show from start to finish.

Sure, the storyline is somewhat dated to be sure, and gender equality is not really part of the mix here.  But you check your logic at the door here as you do with Shaw's slick Me and My Girl and just enjoy the show.  There simply is no better way to spend a fall afternoon at either festival than to catch either musical before they close.

The run for Guys and Dolls has been extended to November 5th as have several other shows at Stratford this season, so you still have plenty of time to see the show before it closes.  For this fan of great musicals, Guys and Dolls rates a solid 3 out of 4 stars.

For tickets and more information, call the box office or go to www.stratfordfestival.ca.

Next week, more on our trips to Stratford this season and things to see outside of the theatre at any season.

Have a great weekend!

October 14th, 2017.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Remembering Thanksgivings past & present...

It's been a little while since I was regularly posting in this space again, and for that I apologize.  Busy work schedule with very early mornings lately have meant little or no brain power left when I finally sit down to write.  But a holiday weekend seems the perfect time to revisit some thoughts I have had lately while working around the house.

I'll dispense with the arts reporting for this weekend since Thanksgiving weekend is here, and many of us find ourselves in a somewhat more reflective mood than usual.  The crisp fall days and cooler nights tend to do that as we realize the winter is not that far off.

After living in our present home for about 16 years now, we've accumulated a lot of stuff.  Much of it, as many others discover too, they can certainly do without.  So I have been spending a lot of time in the basement lately sorting through boxes and seeing what we can discard and what we should keep.  It is a tedious process as anyone who has done the same can attest to.

Much of the stuff I've sorted through lately has been related to my late parents, as many of their personal things ended up in our basement since I'm the only family member living in Niagara with them.  That means wading through boxes and boxes of photographs of all of us growing up, none of them ever digitized.  That will be a tedious project I might leave for retirement, if I get to it even then!

My Dad was an amateur photographer of some renown, having won more than a few awards over the years including one in a Toronto Star photo contest back in the 80s for a picture he took of two cats on a roof in England many years ago.  That framed photograph will soon have a place of honour in my home office.

You can imagine the number of photo albums I have to go through after a life lived behind the camera lens, shooting pictures of the family on vacation for many years as well as photographic evidence of their many retirement trips.  How many?  Well, they drove not once, not twice, but FIVE times to Alaska for example, taking breathtaking pictures along the way.  In fact, the only state, province or territory they did not visit during their lives was, uh, New Jersey.  Could never quite figure that one out...

When Mom passed away in 2000, Dad kept going, albeit at a slower pace.  He also travelled further afield, since Mom was not too fond of airplanes.  So Dad in his final years joined travel groups going to such far-flung places as China and Iceland.  His camera was never not around his neck.

Dad never got into digital photography, preferring instead traditional black & white shots since he was largely colour-blind.  He had to rely on Mom's expertise when developing colour photographs so he could get the shadings just right.  Yes, Dad developed his pictures himself.  Years ago while growing up in Toronto, if you could not find Dad he was usually holed up in his downstairs darkroom developing photographs of the family trips we had taken.

At the time of his death in 2009 Dad still had about five 35mm cameras of various quality, all of them well-used.  When I was clearing out his things after he died I discovered there was still a half-used role of film in one of the cameras and I was curious to see what final thoughts he had in his final months.  Were there more stunning nature shots to marvel at?  I took the camera to my local Black's camera store to see what could be done.

I was given instructions on how to extricate the film from the camera without exposing it to the daylight and upon doing so, took the film in to Black's for developing.  I waited to see what would come back.  Sadly, they were all mundane shots even I could have taken, such as cars parked in the Pen Centre parking lot, for example.

I guess even Dad had run out of inspiration for his photographic art by the end of his life.  I was crushed.  But still, these were his final pictures, so they will always have a special place in the archives.

All of which brings us to this reflective time of year, Thanksgiving weekend.  Traditionally we gathered as a family to celebrate not only Thanksgiving but Dad's birthday that landed on the 10th of October and Mom & Dad's wedding anniversary, which was October 15th.  Dad would be turning 93 this year had he lived; if both Mom and Dad were alive they would be celebrating their 68th wedding anniversary.

It's a funny thing, but I find I miss them more as the years go by rather than less.  With each passing Thanksgiving I wish we could still be together celebrating as in the past, knowing it simply isn't possible.  But this weekend neither of them will be far from my thoughts as this weekend continues.

Meantime in the basement, I took great care with the wedding album still in good shape after all these years, admiring how young they looked back in 1949.  Oh Dad, you were a handsome devil back then!  Mom looked stunning.  I stopped momentarily and my heart jumped when I realized buried in a box were the credit cards Dad still had when he died.  I thought I had destroyed them years ago, although I know I cancelled them right away.  But these were physical evidence of a life well lived, there in my hands at that very moment.  I came close to shedding a tear, as it really never gets any easier to do this.

Growing up I remember Mom doing the ironing while dampening the clothes with a vintage Coke bottle with a sprinkler head attached to it.  She would vigorously shake the water out before ironing the section to perfection.  I found that very bottle in one of the boxes and I almost lost it.  God, this was getting painful...

I was both fascinated and intrigued when I found Dad's war records, as he never really discussed that part of his life much, and I noted the date of his discharge and the day of his passing were identical, separated by over half a century.  Yes, I sniffled while discovering the fact.

So at the end of this rambling reminiscence I just wanted to take a moment and remind you to cherish what you have and those around you who matter most.  It is not wise to carry grudges for years at a stretch, and if you have any this is as good a time as ever to resolve the outstanding issues and get on with living your lives.

We are all put on this earth for a purpose and for only a finite period of time.  Why waste it on anger and acrimony?  You never, ever want to regret not telling someone you love how you feel until after they are gone.  Do it now.  This weekend is ideal.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend.  Celebrate however and with whomever you see fit.  But be thankful.  We have much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

October 7th, 2017.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Shaw Festival production of Me & My Girl well worth the wait

It seems unusual to be writing about a Shaw Festival show this late in the season, but for unforeseen reasons this past weekend was the first opportunity to attend a Shaw performance this year.  I am happy to report the wait was well worth it!

Although the so-called 'flagship musical' Me And My Girl opened in late May, seeing it this late in the season actually has some advantages:  firstly, the show runs like a finely tuned Maserati.  Nothing goes wrong and not a single bad note to be found anywhere.  Secondly, there was not an empty seat to be found in the house at the large Festival Theatre at last Sunday's matinee.  That cannot always be said early in the season as shows are staking out their territory for audience's affections.

Me And My Girl is a 1937 musical all the rage in pre-wartime England that faded from the spotlight somewhat until Stephen Fry revised the book for a 1985 revival of the show, updating things quite nicely.  The original book and lyrics were by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, with music by Noel Gay, a popular composer of the light-music genre back in the day.

Oh sure, some of the gag lines are just as bad as they were in 1937 - you can't change tradition too much, you know - but other than that, this is a vintage musical wearing a snappy new suit and freshly shined shoes.  And wearing a hat, as in the Act II opening number "The Sun Has Got His Hat On."

That's one of the popular songs not in the original show, and the production makes the most of the moment with comic star Kyle Blair as Gerald Bolingbroke leading the ensemble in full cricket gear to kick off the second half.

Two other popular numbers added also make you wonder why they were not in the show from the very beginning:  Noel Gay's ever-popular The Lambeth Walk closing out Act One and the sentimental ballad Leaning On a Lamp Post, sung by star Michael Therriault as cockney bumpkin Bill.

What's that, you say?  Michael Therriault from the Stratford Festival?  Yes it is, and without a doubt Michael was the first big "get" for new Shaw Festival Artistic Director Timothy Carroll.  We met up with Michael at one of the Foster Festival performances at the PAC this summer and he genuinely seemed to be happy to be down in Niagara for a change this year.

Therriault is both charming and exceedingly funny as the cockney Bill, a long-lost son of a wealthy British lord who is set to assume duties as the head of the Hereford Estate, providing he meets with the approval of executors of the estate, played with great hilarity by Shaw stalwarts Sharry Flett and Ric Reid.

There is little more to the thin plot here:  just enter the obligatory cockney girl-friend of Bill played with great charm and warmth by Kristi Frank who threatens to throw an ill-timed wrench into the proceedings by wanting to marry her man no matter what.  But alas, they might be able to smooth over one cockney to fill a need; Bill is told he will have to marry 'up' in order to keep up appearances.

Enter complication number two:  Elodie Gillett as the gold-digging Lady Jacqueline Carstone who has her eye on the prize and wants Bill, warts and all, for herself.

That's about all you need to know about the story here.  Basically it's boy has girl, boy risks losing girl as he moves up in the world, boy struggles to keep said girl while all around him work against him, boy finally winds up with a new and improved version of his girl after all.  What more do you need to know?

Sure it is well-trodden ground here, but hey, you are not expecting Saint Joan when you enter the theatre this time and as such, it would be hard to find fault with this show.

Indeed, the last two seasons have seen the big musical not hit the bullseye when it comes to ticket sales, so perhaps playing it safe this time around was as much a sound financial decision as an artistic one.  Carroll and Company need not worry though.  The full house on Sunday is proof they scored a winner with this show and that gives them some breathing room for next season.

The other notes on the show involve the exceptional work of Ashlie Corcoran, making her directorial debut at Shaw with this show, and the tasteful yet evocative sets and costumes designed by Drew Facey and Sue LePage, respectfully.

There was a sad note during the run, as the Festival had to announce the untimely passing of ensemble member Jonah McIntosh not long after the opening.  He was replaced by Stewart Adam McKensy who stepped into the role on short notice and never looked back.

You won't leave the theatre with any more answers to life's questions than when you entered.  But you will leave with the melody of The Lambeth Walk dancing in your head for days to come, and that is not a bad thing, really.

Me And My Girl rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars, and continues at the Festival Theatre until October 15th.  For tickets, call the Shaw box office or go to www.shawfest.com to order yours.

Have a great week!

September 27th, 2017.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Foster Festival finale a fun, fitting way to end Season Two

So Wednesday afternoon of this week my far better half and I took shelter from the heat and the sun at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre as we caught the third and final Norm Foster play in the festival that bears his name.  The play, Lunenburg, is a world premiere and well worth your time before it closes next week.

Norm as you probably know is arguably Canada's most successful playwright ever, having produced oh, about 150 plays or so since the whole thing started with The Melville Boys back in 1984.  But until last year there was not a festival devoted to his creative genius.

That all changed when Emily Oriold, Executive Director and Patricia Vanstone, Artistic Director, decided the brand-spanking new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines would be the perfect venue for the new venture.  They approached Norm Foster and he agreed, no doubt feeling humbled at the prospect of a festival devoted to his works.

It's true what they say that "All good things come to those who wait" as those who have waited for just such a festival are being rewarded with some exceptional theatre for their summertime pleasure.

There were two world premieres this season, the first opening the second season back in June.  Screwball Comedy was a hit out of the gate, although I wrote at the time I didn't really think it was his best work.  Following a presentation of an older Foster play, Old Love in July, the second world premiere opened last week and it is vintage Norm Foster.  Like a rose wine with a fresh bouquet...

Okay maybe that's a bit much but hey, I was in a good mood after the performance this week.  And with good reason.

Lunenburg is set, of course, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and offers up a tale of love both old and new, betrayal, mystery and of course, plenty of comedy.  It involves two American visitors, Natalie and Iris, with Yankee drawl in full flight, coming to visit the Maritime home of Iris's late husband.

Iris is in mourning, of course, at the loss of her husband of four years but nothing could prepare her for what she discovers upon her arrival.  Thanks to talkative next-door neighbour Charlie Butler, Iris discovers she has been "the other woman" in a relationship that saw her late husband sharing his bed and life with not one but two wives.

The fact he would spend half the month with Iris and the other half of the month outside the country in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia never seemed to bother her; she just assumed he had business dealings outside the country every month.  Oh he had business all right...but let's not let get too far ahead of the story here...

You see, Iris's dear, departed husband was in fact leading a double life.  The news courtesy of neighbour Charlie leaves Iris thunderstruck.

While all that is going on, things start 'going on' between Iris' friend Natalie and neighbour Charlie.  A recurring gag sees them in a passionate embrace just as poor old Iris happens on the scene trying to deal with her situation.  Darned if you can't fall in love while trying to help your best friend through an emotional crisis.

There are but three roles in this play, and all three characters are created for the first time by the exceptional cast assembled by director Vanstone.  Melanie Janzen, returning after a great debut last season in Here Along the Flight Path, plays supportive friend Natalie Whitaker.  The dumbstruck wife is played by Shaw Festival alumnus Catherine McGregor, while another Shaw stalwart Peter Krantz appears as the neighbour Charlie Butler.

Janzen is the madcap sidekick everyone loves to watch.  Following in the footsteps of such great television second bananas as Valerie Harper and Vivian Vance, Janzen has impeccable comic timing and knows just when to stop before going too far.  In every respect she is a joy to watch.

As the wife Iris, Catherine McGregor is both funny and sad, dealing with such tremendous loss and with shock at the revelations awaiting her arrival.  Although the central character in the play, McGregor wisely allows the two budding lovers to steal the spotlight more than once and run with it. She needs the support, sure, but isn't insecure enough to remain on her own during the day while the two 'lovebirds' go sight-seeing together.

The real pleasure in this production is seeing Shaw veteran Peter Krantz create the role of Charlie.  He has an innocent streak in him, but deep down inside all he really wants is another chance to "charm the ass off" a woman.  He darn near succeeds in that regard early on, but we are left hanging until the end to see if the charm wears off or not.

I have lamented in the past Krantz interpretations of characters at Shaw, but here he seems much more at ease in the role.  He spoke with my esteemed colleague John Law recently and explained it was a new experience for him to create a new role rather than offer up his interpretation of a role many before him have already made their mark on.

He hits the perfect balance here, so Peter has nothing to worry about.  He is both charming and a little devilish at the same time as Charlie.  No wonder Natalie is swept off her feet!

Lunenburg is far and away the strongest play of the season and a great way to end the season, too.  It sets the scene for an even better Foster Festival next year, when once again there will be two world premieres.

You still have time to catch Lunenburg.  It plays through this weekend as well as Wednesday through Friday of next week at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  For tickets and information, go to www.fosterfestival.com or call the box office at 905-688-0722.

The Foster Festival is now firmly entrenched in our summertime entertainment schedules.  If you have yet to determine if it should be included in yours, this production is the strongest argument in the affirmative yet.

Have a great weekend!

August 11th, 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Irish star Mary Black coming to Midland, Ontario this coming Monday night

I can't say I have written much in this space about Midland, Ontario, although I do have a connection to the city.  Back in the 60s I remember going to visit relatives who lived in Midland at the time; I can't remember just where in the city they were, but I still vividly remember a rainy day we all gathered at the house for a family affair and my aunt fell going down the steps when leaving and broke her hip.  She ended up going to the hospital in an ambulance that day, which I will never forget.

Okay, not the greatest memory to have of Midland, I admit, and as such I am probably due for a return visit if for no other reason than to come and go without the aid of an ambulance in either direction.  But it won't be this weekend as plans have already been made, unfortunately.

But if you still have time on your hands and feel the urge to hit the open road for a trip up north, Midland is as good a place as any to visit this weekend, or any other weekend for that matter.  Besides, celebrating all we have to enjoy in Ontario during the country's 150th anniversary celebrations is not such a bad idea, is it?

This Monday evening, being the holiday Monday or Simcoe Day if you want to be more formal about it, Irish singing star Mary Black makes her only Canadian appearance on her final North American tour.  The concert will be at the Midland Cultural Centre beginning at 8 pm.

Mary Black has tried to retire from touring before, but the offers to continue performing keep coming in, so what's an established working musical legend to do?  Keep going, at least for a little while longer.  The tour coincides with the 30th anniversary re-issue of the album By The Time It Gets Dark in 1987.

Black herself says it is hard to believe it has been 30 years since that album was first released, especially since it always was one of her favourites.  To celebrate the anniversary Black and her producers took the old 24-track tapes to be "baked", a process to preserve them, which allowed the team to then do a complete remix and remaster of the original album.

The original release of that album along with her first solo album, the largely pop-oriented Without the Fanfare resulted in Black being named Best Female Artist in the Irish Rock Music Awards Poll for two consecutive years in 1987 and '88.

It was a scant two years later her groundbreaking album No Frontiers took the international music scene by storm, establishing Black as a major concert draw in North America as well as elsewhere in the world.  The recording climbed to the Top 20 of the New Adult Contemporary chart in the United States and also became a top seller back home in Ireland.  In all Black has recorded and released 11 studio albums, the last being back in 2012.

Prior to releasing her self-titled debut album in 1982, which made it to the Top Five on the Irish album charts and won the Irish Independent Arts Award for Music, Black spent many years performing with her brother and sister in nightclubs in and around Dublin.  She also spent time performing with a folk group named General Humbert.

So Mary Black is by no means an overnight sensation.  She has long since established herself as a top-calibre international artist equally at home singing traditional Irish folk tunes as well as more contemporary blues, rock, jazz and even country music.  And she will bring all of that and more to Midland's Cultural Centre this coming Monday evening.

Opening for Mary Black this Monday will be rising young artist Roisin O, one of Irelands more promising young up and coming artists.

The doors open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8; for tickets go to www.midlandculturalcentre.com or call 1-705-527-4420.

Have a great holiday weekend!

August 3rd, 2017.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Second Foster Festival production of the second season a winner

Last evening my far better half and I walked downtown to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre for the second production of year two for The Foster Festival, Norm Foster's Old Love.  Bookended by a couple of world premieres this season, the middle production did not disappoint.

Old Love is what you might call an "oldie but goodie" in the Foster canon, and an easy choice for almost any summer theatre company as it usually employs just two actors portraying a number of roles.  That being said, if you go with the two-actor option you had best be sure you have a formidable duo making up the cast or else the whole thing could fall flat.

Director Patricia Vanstone chose this riskier route rather than employ several actors to fill the roles, and without question it was a wise decision.  The theatrical high-wire act for this production utilizes the considerable talents of real-life husband-and-wife team of Booth Savage and Janet-Laine Green.

Savage and Green are comfortable enough with each other after all these years they can easily and fluidly move from role to role without much effort at all.  With few props to add to the characterizations, they bring many nuances to their various roles that add important definition to each part so as not to confuse the audience.

The simple yet effective set by Peter Hartwell and sympathetic lighting by David Tkach combine to further provide the fluid movement from character to character on stage.  Together the whole makes for a satisfying evening of quality theatre.

The story revolves around Bud, a hard-working newbie at a company owned by Molly's husband Frank.  At least he was a newbie 25 years ago when he first set eyes on Molly at the company Christmas party.  The impression Molly made on Bud was obviously significant because he thought of her off and on for many years thereafter, even during his lengthy marriage to master-promoter Kitty.

Fast-forward those 25 years and we find now-divorced Molly grieving at the graveside for ex-husband Frank, when who should also appear but Bud.  She didn't remember him, but oh did he remember her.  So much so he made a special effort to be there that day for the funeral and in his own clumsy way, try to put the move on Molly while Frank was barely cold in the box underground.

Therein lies the plot for Old Love.  Bud tries so very hard to get Molly to take a chance on love again after all these years and Molly not wanting any part of it, at least for now.  The witty repartee between the two is classic Norm Foster, combining the perfect balance of seriousness and frivolity according to the situation.

As mentioned earlier, it takes a special couple to pull off the multiple roles and with but a few verbal mis-steps by Green last evening, the chemistry between the two worked flawlessly.  They appear at times acerbic, sentimental, funny and even brutally honest with each other as the scene allows.

Old Love wraps up its run at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre tomorrow evening, so there is still time to snag some tickets if you have not already done so.  Go online to www.fosterfestival.com or call the box office at 905-688-0722.

Next week, the final production of the season opens, and it is the second world premiere for the season, Lunenburg, running from August 2nd to the 18th.  It should be a great way to end an already successful season for The Foster Festival.

Have a great weekend!

July 27th, 2017.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Tale of Two Music Festivals - Part 2

Last week I wrote about the start of the two music festivals in Ontario I have had the pleasure of attending over the years, and given the fact I have enjoyed both on the weekend, I thought a recap and update of each festival might be in order this week.

On Friday evening I attended the Opening Gala for Music Niagara at the acoustically lovely St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the concert title A Musical Kaleidoscope proved to be quite accurate.

The performance opened with a wonderfully creative reading of Vivaldi's ever-popular Four Seasons, although the lead instrument was not the violin in this case but rather the harp.  It brought an interesting bit of colour and renewed interest in this very familiar work, making it sound fresh all over again.  The harpist, Floraleda, commanded attention throughout the performance for her fine playing.

The world premiere of Composer-in-Residence Barbara Croall's Bimaawadaaso was next, and the piece was certainly intriguing.  Subtitled "They travel along in a group", the piece was scored for violin, the Anishinaabe cedar flute known as the pipigwan, the Syrian national instrument known as the bozoq, voice and string quartet.  The work featured two young Syrian performers who in fact were Syrian refugees who came to Canada just last year, Esmaeel Sharafadin and Rahaf Alakbani; they also performed a traditional Syrian folk song together prior to intermission.

The second half of the program was truly a stunner with a spirited performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in D minor, with the Canadian Chamber Academy Orchestra accompanying young violin soloist Emma Meinrenken.  Emma, all of 18 years of age, was a commanding stage presence in her own right, taking control of the youthful Mendelssohn concerto from the start.  A student of Artistic Director Atis Bankas, she is a graduate of the Music Niagara Performance Academy.

There is still lots of music left before the Music Niagara season wraps up August 13th with the Closing Gala at St. Mark's Church.  This weekend for example, Scotch Mary perform Friday evening at 6, part of the Market in The Village event, and on Saturday there is a wine and music event scheduled for Hare Wine Co. on Highway 55 starting at 11:30 in the morning.  The rest of the weekend will feature the Swiss Piano Trio Saturday evening at 7:30 at St. Mark's and Jeffrey Arthur and the Trio late Saturday evening at The Epicurean.  On Sunday, Two Row Dancers & Singers perform in Simcoe Park at 12 noon and a concert entitled Get Ready to Tuba (!) happens Sunday afternoon at 3 at St. Mark's.

For full concert season details and more information on tickets, go to www.musicniagara.org or call 905-468-2172.

Meantime up in Elora, the 38th season of the Elora Festival kicked off Friday night with an Opening Gala at the Gambrel Barn recreating the popular Last Night of the Proms from England with conductor Bramwell Tovey leading The Elora Singers, Elora Festival Orchestra and The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.  Since I was up at Music Niagara's Opening Gala I was not able to make it up to Elora for Friday evening, but we did make it on Sunday afternoon.

One thing about the Elora Festival, they don't waste any time or space when it comes to scheduling concerts over the two-week festival.  We attended the first concert of the day on Sunday at St. John's Church in the heart of town where Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin performed a 70-minute concert of mostly French and English songs, with some Spanish thrown in for good measure.

Gauvin is a spectacular vocalist and appears to be a very nice person, too.  She strikes me as the type of person you would love to invite over for a family dinner and have her regale you with stories of her varied musical career.  If there was a fault in the performance it was that it was simply too short.

But with scheduling being what it was, the space was needed for the next performance, the Britten Saint Nicholas Cantata scheduled for the same space at 4 pm.  Indeed, we were barely out of the church before musicians started coming in to prepare for the 4 pm performance.  In the evening young Canadian cellist Cameron Crozman performed at the Wellington County Museum Exhibit Hall.

Still to come, Emily D'Angelo will be heard in recital this evening at St. John's Church; tomorrow afternoon the Elora Festival Kids Camp is in full swing at 4 and a concert of Bach Magnificats is scheduled for the evening in the Gambrel Barn featuring The Elora Singers and the Trinity College Choir.  Saturday Mary-Lou Falls and Peter Tiefenbach pair up for Primadonna Choralis at St. John's Church at 1 pm; the Penderecki Quartet team up with the Dave Young Trio in the same space at 3:30 pm, and Canadian musical icon Gordon Lightfoot takes to the Gambrel Barn stage at 8 pm Saturday night.

On Sunday there are three concerts scheduled, the first of which we will be attending at 2 pm at Knox Church, featuring the Bach Brandenburg Concerto Nos. 1 & 5 and the Cantata No. 140.  Performers include The Elora Singers, the Elora Festival Orchestra and Artistic Director Noel Edison conducting.  At 4 pm the Trinity College Choir from England performs in the Gambrel Barn featuring works by Part, Byrd, Tallis and many others, and in the evening the Wellington County Museum Exhibit Hall will be hosting the Bach Goldberg Variations scored for String Trio, featuring the Berard-Janzen Trio at 7 pm.

More performances will follow before the Elora Festival wraps up on July 30th with something called a Hymn Tasting at 4 pm at St. John's Church.

For more information on the balance of the schedule or to order tickets, go to www.elorafestival.ca or call 1-519-846-0331.

Both festivals offer up a wealth of great musical entertainment to appeal to many musical tastes, and I can't think of a better way to spend a summer afternoon or evening in either town enjoying some great music-making.

Have a great weekend!

July 20th, 2017.