Friday, March 26, 2010

Choralis Camerata gets Holy Week underway this weekend in Niagara

It is hard to believe, but Easter is next weekend! For those of us who observe Lent, it has been a long period doing without something we feel we should give up for Lent; for me, it is chocolate, and believe me, I am looking forward to Easter!

Another reason to look forward to Easter is the wealth of great music available at this time of the year, especially choral. This weekend, for example, Choralis Camerata, directed by Laura Thomas, perform their Easter concert twice, in Niagara Falls Saturday night and Sunday afternoon here in St. Catharines.

I am particularly looking forward to these concerts, as they are performing two works I have not had the opportunity to hear live before: Vivaldi's Gloria and Stainer's The Crucifixion; both perfectly suited to the Easter season. The Stainer, especially, is a welcome addition to the season this year, as it was first performed over the Easter season in 1887. The work, written primarily for amateur singers, is probably the best-known work by the British composer Sir John Stainer, who was knighted by Queen Victoria following the success of this work. He became one of the leading British composers of the Victorian age, and in fact he lived almost exactly during the Victorian period, having died in 1901 at the age of 61.

The Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi dates from 1715, but did not receive its first modern performance until 1939, after being rediscovered in a pile of manuscripts by scholars in the 1920s. It has since become one of his best-known works, but it was almost unknown during the two hundred years following Vivaldi's death. The work, scored for three solo voices and several instruments, including trumpet, oboe and violin with chorus, is broken up by the composer into 11 sections, and is largely joyous in tone, as befits the Easter theme of resurrection.

Both performances are widely recorded, and I have several versions of both works available through my website,, or by emailing me at I will also be at the Niagara Falls concert on Saturday evening with lots of music of a choral nature for sale at very attractive prices.

The Saturday evening performance is at Lundy's Lane United Church at 5825 Lowell Avenue at 7:30 pm. The Sunday afternoon performance is at 2:30 pm at First Grantham United Church at 415 Linwell Road in the north end. For tickets, contact Choralis Camerata at 905-354-4348 or simply pick them up at the door.

See you Saturday evening for some great choral music in Niagara Falls!

March 26th, 2010.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

News from the Shaw Festival this week

Although the season has yet to begin, there is news on two fronts from the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake this week, both of great interest to fans of the Festival.

As you may have heard, the Shaw was hit by a strike last week - the first in the history of the Festival. It involved IATSE Local 461, which involves the Festival's Facilities Department, and the Production and Audience Sales and Services Departments. The strike began last week when talks broke down, so the picket lines went up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is something we're certainly unaccustomed to seeing outside the Festival Theatre as well as the smaller venues.

The parties returned to the bargaining table with a mediator on Thursday morning, and early Friday morning, following a marathon bargaining session, a tentative agreement was reached, giving the Facilities Department their first collective agreement, and tentative renewal agreements for the Production and Audience Sales and Services Departments. So, voting will be held shortly, and IATSE Local 461 is recommending ratification of all three tentative agreements, which means this strike should be short-lived.

Talking to Odette Yazbeck yesterday, the Public Relations Director says the strike will not affect the season, and everything will open as scheduled, which is a relief to everyone involved. A strike is never pleasant; I almost faced a strike situation with in my job at CKTB Radio in St. Catharines a number of years ago, and it was not something I was personally looking forward to. For people who would rather work than strike, it can be awful, so thankfully it was short lived and hopefully now resolved.

The other news from Shaw recently is the fact the Festival will celebrate the life of the late Goldie Semple on Sunday, March 28th at 3 pm in the Festival Theatre. Goldie, you might recall, died peacefully on December 9th at the age of 56 after a courageous battle with cancer. She left behind her husband of 33 years, Lorne Kennedy, and their 14 year old daughter, Madeline.

I wrote earlier this year of Goldie's passing, and the profound affect her career has had not only on me, but on so many other people over the years. The actor, teacher and mentor was certainly one of the most elegant performers on any stage anywhere, and her work at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals over the years has been exemplary. To single out just one or two particular performances would do a disservice to her other fine work, so suffice it to say, whatever Goldie put her mind to, we were all the better for it. I can honestly say, I have never seen a bad performance from Goldie.

We plan to be at the Festival Theatre next Sunday, and I hope a lot of her friends and fans will come out too, as we celebrate the life of one of our great artists who left us far too soon.

March 20th, 2010.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Revisiting downtown Niagara Falls on a sunny Saturday

Every now and then, as you know, I tend to veer off my customary musical path and take a detour of sorts if the mood strikes me. Well, this is one of those days. And it comes after a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon visiting Queen Street in downtown Niagara Falls.

I have written before about the revitalization of the downtown core, led by the Niagara Historical group headed up by Mordechai Grun. I spoke with Mr. Grun recently and have to admit, the man has a vision, and it is indeed workable. Just stroll the downtown core and see for yourself. Even with downtown road reconstruction underway that has an entire city block closed off to traffic, the area is thriving thanks to the vision of an entrepreneur and a city council willing to back the vision up with infrastructure improvements.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a breakfast hosted by the Myrtle Beach Tourism people, to entice more people from this area down to Myrtle Beach area to vacation. I have not been back since 1972, and I am sure it is hugely different now than it was then. Perhaps someday...but the breakfast meeting was held at the newly-renovated Elements Restaurant, part of the snazzy new Table Rock complex overlooking the Falls. The view is fabulous, especially on a picture-perfect early spring day when I was there. It was a wonderful way to kick off a tourist-in-your-own backyard sort of Saturday in Niagara Falls and visit some spots I have not gotten around to visiting for awhile if at all.

Around noon I parked the car on Queen Street and walked the length of both sides of Queen Street, and in spite of the construction going on, people were down there shopping and enjoying the day. It's the age-old adage: give them something to come down for and people will come. The number of restaurants and bistros is surprisingly large, with Paris Crepes Bistro my particular favourite right now. There are others I want to try, but that will take some time. I made a point of visiting some of the shops and businesses open on a Saturday and found there is a fair amount of optimism downtown these days, and with good reason: investing in the area is reaping real benefits for all concerned. There is much more work to do, and certainly the tragic loss last fall of Rosberg's at Queen and Erie is a great loss, but even that might present a silver lining somewhere along the way. We'll have to see.

One of the businesses I visited that truly impressed me is the florist shop directly across from Paris Crepes, called Fresh Floral Designs. The facade and interior are contemporary and very sharp, and the owners know the importance of customer service and doing things the right way.
They are just two of the many businesses downtown proving the theory people will indeed come if you give them a reason to.

So, what it all boils down to is this: downtowns are not dead, they just need a vision, people willing to invest and of course, businesses to bring people back. Niagara Falls is slowly but surely doing this with their revitalized downtown core, and I look forward to returning again soon to explore some more.

One aspect I found everywhere I went on my visit, and worth noting here, is customer service for all these businesses is paramount, and I always look for that aspect while doing business wherever I go, since I have always strived to provide exceptional customer service with my own web-based business, A Web of Fine Music. Try it for yourself and see. Visit and I will do everything I can to provide you with exceptional customer service too

March 18th, 2010.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

News and Notes around Niagara this weekend

My apologies for not writing my mid-week entry this week, but it is that time of year again when you have to get things ready for the accountant, and ultimately, the government. So by the end of the day all this week, I was too tired and too numb above the neck-line to even contemplate what to write, so I will make up for it today with both entries combined into one.

I received an email from my good friend Anne Deyme over at Rysons United Studios of Music on Court Street in downtown St. Catharines. You may remember back in January I wrote of the untimely death of her husband, Don, who suffered a massive heart attack. Don was, as Anne would say, the one who did all the repairs for the schools and many private customers throughout the region. When he died, the void had to be filled somehow, if the shop was to continue operating.

I am happy to report Anne has hired two technicians for in-store repairs: Jamie Clarke who is 44 and a graduate for brass and woodwind repairs and has run his own business for fifteen years; and Torry Doyle and David Tufford team up to do the repairs on guitars and anything else electronic.

Anne points out schools, especially during March break, will be happy to know they are up and running again, and they can work on your instruments while the children are off on break. Rysons even offers same day service so schools don't have to wait, even though March break is a busy time traditionally with all the music camps up and running in the region.

So, don't despair if your beloved musical instrument is in need of repairs; Don may be gone but not soon forgetton, and others have taken up the gauntlet and will run with it, carrying the Rysons banner with them as they go!

Now, the other item of interest is the spring show for Garden City Productions, our premiere community theatre group here in St. Catharines. GCP is presenting "The Fantasticks" by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, directed by St. Catharines' own Di Nyland-Proctor.

The Fantasticks is one of those musicals everyone has heard about, but I suspect not that many have had the opportunity to see; I know I have been familiar with it for decades but have never caught a performance anywhere until now. I am looking forward to finally seeing it when it opens tonight at the Mandeville Theatre at Ridley College.

If the title doesn't ring a bell, think of the song "Try to Remember" which was everywhere in the late 60s. This is the one big song from the show; however, the musical holds the distinction of being the longest-running and most successful musical to date, and that's something when you consider some of the other long-running musicals of the past, including "Sound of Music" and "Cats" for example.

The Fantasticks is a 1960s allegorical musical that hints at Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet insofar as two children from two different families fall in love; in this case, the respective parents are encouraging them to do so rather than discourage them. Beyond that, you'll have to see the play!

The Fantasticks runs at the Mandeville Theatre at Ridley until March 28th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. For tickets call the Brock Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or pick them up at the show.

See you there!

March 13th, 2010.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chorus Niagara performs a Bach masterwork this weekend

This is a weekend Niagara-area lovers of choral music will not want to miss: Chorus Niagara presents the third concert of their 2009-2010 season, and it promises to be a memorable experience. The choir, directed by Artistic Director Robert Cooper, performs the St. John Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach on Saturday evening in Grimsby and Sunday afternoon in downtown St. Catharines.

Bach's St. John Passion is one of just two surviving Passion works - the other being, of course, the St. Matthew Passion - out of an original four or five. As great as this work is to perform and to hear, it has always presented a problem for those wishing to create a so-called 'authentic' version of the work, as really, no such beast actually exists. The St. John Passion was first heard on Good Friday, April 7th, 1724, and then presented the following year in Leipzig. It was performed twice more in the 1730s, so basically it was performed all of four times during Bach's lifetime. For each of those performances, Bach appears to have reworked the music somewhat, adding and subtracting numbers or simply changing the order of the music. So anyone wanting to perform the work now essentially has four different performances to choose from.

However they choose to perform it, the richness of the music means you can't really go wrong with whatever music you peform. Robert Cooper is a stickler for accuracy, so it will be interesting to see how he tackles this problem with this weekend's performances.

The St. John Passion, the lesser-known of the two surviving Bach Passion works, calls for four soloists, four-part chorus and a large orchestra. It is sort of an equivalent of the Passion Play, with part of the story dealing with the arrest, trial and crucifixion, with the words of the historical persons, namely Christ, Pilate, Peter and John as Evangelist, set as recitatives. The chorus plays the part of the crowd, made up of soldiers, priests and the general populace. So anyone familiar with the Lord's Passion on Easter weekend will be very familiar with the story told in the music here.

There are still tickets available for both performances, through a chorus member or calling the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257. Saturday evening's performance is at the expansive Mountainview Christian Reformed Church on Main Street West in Grimsby; Sunday afternoon's performance is at the more traditional Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines. Either venue will provide great acoustics and sight-lines, so you basically look at which time works best for you and which location is closest to you.

Once again, I will be in the lobby at intermission and after each performance with a wealth of great choral music for sale, including, of course, recordings of the St. John Passion. I have several copies of the Netherlands Choral Society performing the work for sale this weekend, either at the concerts or through my website, A Web of Fine Music, at You can either email me at or phone my office at 905-682-9303.

Enjoy the music this weekend!

March 5th, 2010.