Saturday, November 28, 2009

Niagara Symphony and Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects entertain this weekend

It's another busy weekend in Niagara, and I don't necessarily mean at the malls; the Niagara Symphony presents their second Masters concert Sunday afternoon, and Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects continues with their first presentation of the season in downtown St. Catharines. Today we'll look at both events and hopefully tempt you into attending both.

The Niagara Symphony will be presenting their second Masters concert at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University Sunday afternoon at 2:30 pm. This is an important concert for the symphony, as they also hold their annual Silent Auction in the lobby before the concert and during an extended intermission. This is a major fundraiser for the NSO, and I always see lots of great gift ideas throughout the lobby. So if you are going, plan to shop a bit and support our Niagara Symphony. They are on the right track with the rebuilding process with several talented individuals now in the front office, so let's show our support for them this weekend. I will be there for the concert, but due to space limitations, I won't be selling at my customary table. But you can still get in touch with me through my website at or by direct email, at if there is anything you want.

The concert itself features the first official appearance by John Morris Russell from the Windsor Symphony. John, you might recall, conducted the last Masters concert last season, featuring a very robust - some would say somewhat over the top - version of the Beethoven 5th Symphony. He is the third candidate to strut his stuff on the podium for the official candidate selection process, and he has some tough acts to follow. His concert, with a rather unfortunate title "Hot Cross Buns - English Style!" features music by William Boyce (Sinfonia No. 5 in D major); Ralph Vaughan Williams (Concerto in A minor for Oboe & Strings with featured soloist Christie Goodwin); Johann Christian Bach (Sinfonia in D, Op. 18, No. 4); T. Patrick Carrabre (the ubiquitous Chase the Sun); and Franz Joseph Haydn (Symphony No. 104, the "London" symphony).

I am looking forward to hearing the Boyce, especially, as we so rarely hear his music anymore. I have a lovely CD in my collection of many of his short works and they are just delightful. And a Haydn symphony is always welcome, especially a late one like the London symphony. With the Carrabre piece, Chase the Sun, this is being performed at all four Masters concerts this season so we have a chance to hear all four conductors' interpretations of the work. It isn't my favourite piece of music, mind you, but it is short enough that we can manage four times in one season.

I quite like Russell; he seems like a friendly sort with a definite style all his own, and he seems to know what he wants. Whatever you thought of his Beethoven at the end of last season, there's no denying he got a lot of great playing out of the orchestra, so it will be interesting to hear him perform less grand works that need a little more finesse. Anyone can pound the living daylights out of a Beethoven symphony and it will survive the ordeal; these works will show the measure of the man, I think.

Tickets are still available from the Brock box office, by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257. See you there!

Now, before we go, a few words about a theatre presentation well worth your time between now and next weekend. I attended the opening night performance of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects' first production of the season, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, written in 1996 by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. This is a gritty, often bleak and sometimes funny look at the hardscrabble life of a 40-ish spinster, played by Artistic Director Kelly Daniels, and her constant run-ins with her conniving and mean-spirited mother, played by Shaw Festival stalwart Jennifer Phipps. Rounding out the cast is another Shaw regular, Graeme Somerville as the daughter's love interest, and his younger brother, played by Craig Pike.

Essentially, Daniels' character of Maureen feels life is passing her by as she tends to the constant needs of her aging mother, knowing full well once Mom is gone, she will have nothing else in her life to turn to. No man, no family, no life. Enter Graeme Somerville in a standout role as Pato, who would very much like to rescue Maureen from her daily drudgery. After one stolen night of bliss under the same roof with Mom - the morning encounter between Phipps and Somerville is a highlight - the two lovers start to make plans for a life together, away from Mom. That, of course, doesn't sit will with her, as she will no longer have her daughter at her beck and call day in and day out.

What follows is considerable nastiness on the part of both mother and daughter and the passing through Maureen's fingers a chance to escape to Boston for a new life with Pato. Her bitterness is palpable and certainly understandable; her reaction to it certainly not. Phipps has always been one of my favourite Shaw actors and here she puts in a standout performance. Daniels is very impressive as daughter Maureen, and Pike shows promise in the smaller role of Pato's younger brother. Another Shaw alumni, Donna Belleville directs the play with great care and precision, and the lighting is perfectly suited to the production.

This is an example of a small community-based theatre company doing everything right and hitting all the right buttons, proving once again there is indeed great live local theatre to be had once the Shaw Festival is done for the season. The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, and more information and tickets are available by going to their website,

November 28th, 2009.

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