Saturday, November 27, 2010

Niagara Symphony presents Vivaldi's Four Seasons this weekend

Hard to believe we are just about at the end of November already! No snow yet, but that doesn't appear to be deterring people from getting into the Christmas spirit, so that is good to see. I'm not quite there yet, but I am getting there. One or two more Christmas bazaars this weekend and I might be in the Christmas spirit officially...

Now, one way to celebrate the season and in fact, every season, is to attend the second Masterworks concert for the Niagara Symphony, coming up Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University. This concert is a big deal on a number of levels. First, we welcome Associate Conductor Laura Thomas back to the podium for performances of Glenn Buhr's Akasha and the wonderful Symphony No. 41 by Mozart, the so-called "Jupiter" symphony. But we also welcome a young violinist and guest conductor, a mainstay at the Shaw Festival for many seasons, and of course, the annual silent auction tables in the lobby.

Laura always does great work with the Symphony, and I am always happy to hear what she can do in the Masterworks concerts in addition to her more frequent appearances in the Pops! series. She'll be joined this weekend by young violinist Julia Wedman, who was in town just last Friday evening at Robertson Hall for the launch of the new CD by the Eybler Quartet, of which she is a member. The CD, incidentally, featuring music by Mozart and Backofen, is a sheer delight to listen to, and is featured in my November Fine Music Newsletter, as well as on my website at You can order a copy of the disc through my website or by simply emailing me directly at

Julia is on a leave from her full-time position with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Toronto, so she can spend some time travelling the world. But she stops in St. Catharines this weekend to perform and guest-conduct the Vivaldi Four Seasons, Op. 8 with the Niagara Symphony. Julia told me last week at the recital at Robertson Hall the violinist doesn't necessarily need to go through all the traditional gestures the conductor normally does to conduct the orchestra while playing; eye contact or even a head nod is often all that is required, so we'll see how it all comes together this Sunday afternoon.

Joining Julia and the Niagara Symphony is narrator Sharry Flett, a long-time member of the Shaw Festival acting ensemble, who will be reading a sonnet attributed to Vivaldi that subsequently inspired him to write the music for The Four Seasons. I must admit, I have never heard the sonnets before, so this will help make a very-familiar classical piece appear fresh and new again. The Four Seasons, of course, is a four-part work that has become in the last 70 years or so Vivaldi's most famous work, and certainly one of the most famous classical works, period. Adding Sherry's narration to the mix changes the whole complexion of the work for many, I suspect, and adds a new dimension to this popular work.

I have always been a fan of Sherry: her work at Shaw is always solid and interesting, and years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing her for a theatre production in Toronto where she quite simply captivated me with her charm and grace. What a lady! Can't wait to hear what she does tomorrow afternoon.

Finally, the annual silent auction fundraiser for the Niagara Symphony is also part of the afternoon's proceedings, taking up every available table in the lobby before the concert and at intermission, so you can peruse the offerings and hopefully bid often on many items in time for Christmas. Just think how much Christmas shopping you can do while supporting the Niagara Symphony! Since space will be at a premium in the lobby, I won't have my usual table set up for this concert, unfortunately, but I will be there for the concert, and if anyone has any musical enquiries about the music or any other musical question about something you're looking for, be sure to stop me in the lobby and I can take down the information for when I get back into the office.

Still don't have your tickets yet? The Brock box office can set you up by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or you can pick them up at the door prior to the concert.

Enjoy the show!

November 27th, 2010.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Ultimate Christmas Gift for the serious music lover

As I write this, we are just a month away from Christmas Eve, so for most men, that means about 29 days before they seriously start to thing of their Christmas shopping, it seems. For others of either gender, they get at it early and get the best ideas and deals long before things run out of stock. I'm saying this now, as I hope I run out of stock on this particular item this Christmas, because it is so great!

My business, A Web of Fine Music, which you can find at, is primarily devoted to classical and jazz CDs, although sales are not confined to those two particular musical genres. I order whatever you like, at Christmas and throughout the year. But I also issue my Fine Music Newsletter each month, and included are my Top Ten Mike's Picks for the month; these are new or recently released CDs and sometimes just old favourites I think you might like, that I suggest for you in case you would like to purchase them from A Web of Fine Music. By November, I have an eye towards Christmas, and try to offer some Christmas music in the mix, of course, and also some great items for holiday gift-giving.

This year, I think I have the ultimate Christmas gift for the serious music lover on your gift list, and it is the feature item both in the newsletter this month and on my website. Hanssler Classic has recently reissued a 10th-anniversary edition of their Complete Bach Edition at a very special price, and from what I have heard from the copy I've been sampling so far, it is a spectacular set! It comes in two formats this time, something that wasn't possible at the first issue ten years ago. The first format is the familiar CD format, in a slim long box that flips open to reveal 172 CDs of the entire J.S. Bach ouvre, featuring Helmuth Rilling and his various ensembles recorded over a period from 1975 to 2000. This Limited-Edition set includes a CD-ROM with 5,000 page eBook, including all song texts, introductions, and biographical notes; as well as two books with complete track listings. Over 200 hours of glorious music, meticulously recorded by Hanssler and all packaged in an elegant, matt-black box.

The second format is a fully-loaded iPod Classic, also in matt black finish, including OEM headphones, USB cable, backup DVD-ROM discs with the Complete Bach Edition in AAC format. The jury may still be out on whether MP3 files are as good-sounding as traditional discs, but there is no denying the compactness of having everything Bach wrote in the palm of your hand! Granted, the iPod version is more expensive, but either way, the set constitutes a real bargain when you consider what this set originally cost as a box set ten years ago, or as the discs were originally released over a 25-year period.

So, you're asking, "What's the cost, Mike?" The 172-CD box set is specially priced at $ 350 for the holiday season; the iPod format is $ 600 for the holiday season. Granted they are not cheap, but consider everything you get, and the fact this is globally recognized as the only authoritative edition of Bach's complete works, and you begin to realize just how valuable this set really is.

I have the CD box in stock now, and ready to ship. Once it is gone, I can get more, but keep in mind Christmas is fast approaching and I suspect this will be a popular item this season, so if you are interested, drop me a line through my website or directly at and I can make arrangements to get a copy of either format to you in time to place under the Christmas tree this season!

Happy listening!

November 24th, 2010.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

News & Notes on the arts in Niagara

Just the other day I posted a reminder about Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects' latest production of Shakespeare's Villains, which stars Ric Reid and runs through this weekend at the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines. I suggest again if you have not seen the show, make tracks to the theatre before the end of the weekend as you will not be dissapointed!

Hot on the heals of that news is the latest release just out from Lyndesfarne, announcing their winter production will be the Tony award-winning play The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow, adapted from the novel by John Buchan and the film by Alfred Hitchcock. The play will star Lorne Kennedy and Jenny L. Wright from the Shaw Festival, along with John Osbaldeston and Jason Cadieux. The release states it is a "smart and fast-paced comedic thriller that sees four performers spinning through over 150 characters and a mysterious storyline - a seductive woman, a missing finger and accusations of espionage." Once again the director will by Kelly Daniels, Artistic Director for Lyndesfarne, who calls the play "a theatrical feast of sight and sound." More details will follow on this production but the play opens on March 10th at the Courthouse Theatre, so that will be something to look forward to come the new year.

In the more immediate future, we have a couple of important musical concerts coming up this Saturday afternoon, so you'll have to choose your favourite if either or both of these interest you, which I hope they will. First off, the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre will present 'Hear Freedom's Ring', a celebration of southern Ontario's history in a musical journey along the Underground Railroad, with tenor Michael Toby Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. During the performance visitors will discover the hidden meanings behind some of the world's most beloved spirituals. Having hosted concerts annually with Choralis Camerata on this same theme, I can say some of the hidden meanings in the lyrics is really quite astounding.

The concert takes place at the St. Catharines Museum, Welland Canals Interactive Centre at Lock 3 along the Welland Canal and tickets are only $ 20; you can call 905-684-8880 or simply pick them up at the door.

Also on Saturday at 1:30, and this is one I have a particular interest in myself, the St. Cathairnes General Hospital Foundation will be hosting a 25th anniversary Christmas Concert at the Bethany Commuty Church in St. Catharines. The concert will feature the popular Chorus Niagara, all 100 voices strong, along with special guest artist, singer Michael Burgess. You'll certainly remember Michael from his role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. There will be other musical acts taking part, including the Niagara Star Singers
as well on Saturday afternoon, and I am happy to report I have been asked to emcee the event, which I am all too happy to do.

The proceeds from the concert will be directed toward the 2010 Tree of Lights Campaign, one of the most successful fundraising initiatives for the Foundation, raising a remarkable 1.3 million over 24 years. The money is much needed and well spent: funds have been used to purchase urgently needed patient care equipment for departments including the Operating Room, Emergency Room, Critical Care and Paediatrics at the St. Catharines General Site. Specifically, funds from the 2010 campaign will be directed toward urgently needed electric beds for the SCGH site.

The afternoon promises to be a perfect kickoff to the holiday season, and with tickets only $ 20, how can you refuse? Students & seniors are only $ 15, and children 12 and under get in for only $ 10. If you don't have your tickets yet, call 905-323-3863 or go to

I have spent a lot of time at the SCGH over the years, first with my mother passing away in 2000, my father passing away in 2009, and me in Emergency three times in that same year, so I know intimately what is needed now at the hospital, and we all hope you'll help out by coming out to the concert Saturday afternoon beginning at 1:30.

November 18th, 2010.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A busy week for the arts in Niagara!

It's a good thing I am off on vacation this week, as there is simply so much to do in and around Niagara this month in general, and this week in particular. First of all, let's get to the Clerical Chefs dinner Sunday evening at the synagogue I wrote about on the weekend...

It was a marvellous affair, with good food, lots of familiar faces, and some pretty interesting music from the B'Nai Israel Melody Makers. No, I didn't dance the Hora on Sunday night, but most everyone else did, and that was fun to watch. At times in resembled a sort of ring-dance, and at other times, a sort of Jewish conga line. But everyone had a great time, and I am, in fact, returning to B'Nai Israel Synagogue in the morning for a guided tour of the actual house of worship, which I am particularly interested to see.

Now, on to this week proper. If you have not yet booked your tickets for the first production of Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects' new season, you have until this weekend to catch Steven Berkoff's marvellously witty and devilishly clever Shakespeare's Villains. It runs Wednesday through Sunday at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, and if you go, you will not be disappointed. I attended the opening a couple of weekends ago, and Ric Reid, the lone actor in this one-act tour de force performance, gives us a compelling look at several familiar - and some not-so-familiar - of Shakespeare's villains. Don't worry if Shakespeare's actual plays don't interest you; this play certainly will. It is an amazing performance and a great start to Lyndesfarne's season, and I know for a fact tickets are readily available for the remainder of the performances. Call the box office at 905-938-1222 for tickets.

Two events this Friday evening will interest arts lovers in Niagara: first, The Gallery Players present a musical celebration of the new CD by the Eybler Quartet with Jane Booth playing Backofen and Mozart. The disc is just out on the Analekta label, and autographed CDs will be available at the event for purchase, or you can simply order a copy through my website, If you go, the launch party takes place at Robertson Hall at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre at 85 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines. Admission is $ 10 unless you are a Gallery Players subscriber, in which case admission is free.

The second event Friday evening takes place at The Market at Brock University, with doors opening at 8 pm for the eleventh annual wearable art show known as Strutt. Benefitting the Niagara Artists Centre, this has developed into the largest wearable art show in Canada, which is really quite something. You never know what - or whom - you'll see there; but we can guarantee you'll see some pretty amazing wearable art developed locally at the show, which gets underway at 9 pm. General admission is $ 30; NAC members and students pay $ 20 and those on Curator's Row pay $ 50. They say to wear what you dare, so that leaves things open to all sorts of possibilities! For tickets, call the Brock Centre for the Arts boxoffice at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

Enjoy the week in the Arts!

November 16th, 2010.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Primavera Concerts fundraiser this weekend

As I mentioned in a recent posting, there is just so much going on in the area at this time of year, it is hard to cover it all, but I am trying! I wanted to write today about an event coming up Sunday evening that is quite simply taking the community by storm; in fact it is totally sold out at this point, so if you don't have your tickets, you'll unfortunately be out of luck this year.

Primavera Concerts, that innovative musical group based at St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street in St. Catharines, is holding their fall fundraiser this Sunday evening, and this is a new idea: an elegant kosher dinner prepared by two clerical "celebrity chefs", Rabbi Eli Courante of B'Nai Israel Synagogue, and Father Keith Whittingham of St. Barnabas Church. St. Barnabas and B'Nai Israel Synagogue are just around the corner from each other, and the event will take place at the larger of the two locations, namely the synagogue. Following the dinner, klezmer music will be provided by the B'Nai Israel Melody Makers.

I love the idea of this, and in fact, when I first heard of it late last month I ordered my tickets right away. I have always been fascinated by Jewish traditions, even though I am not of that faith, and I like the cooperation shown by both sides to sort of bring the people together as one for at least one evening. There will be dancing after dinner, of course, with people dancing the Hora; I don't know if I would even dare to try, but we'll see...

The dinner, not surprisingly, looks fabulous. Both chefs are known for their culinary skills; in fact we attended a dinner at St. Barnabas a few years ago where Fr. Keith held court, and it was amazing. He has a fully equipped kitchen in the church hall that could rival many a restaurant and knows his way around in there. This will be my first experience with the Rabbi as chef, although I am told he is no slouch in that department, either.

The menu choices reflect a wide range of tastes and great humour: Oi Vey Pasta Shells, for example, or Hava Nagilah Baked Fish. I think most people are looking forward to the desserts, however: how about a serving of Frozen Hell, or the one I plan to experience, Seven Mortal Sins. That's the dessert I am looking forward to experiencing, by the way... Anyway, it looks like a great menu and we know the chefs are experienced enough to pull it all off.

The music, being klezmer, will be decidedly Jewish, of course, and that is great, too. I have always had a love of klezmer music, going back to my first exposure to the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band out of Toronto, who have put out a few recordings, and of course the better-known recordings featuring Itzhak Perlman with klezmer musicians recorded for EMI Classics. If you have not had a chance to hear the spirited, ebulliant joy of real klezmer music, you're in for a treat. And if you want to be introduced to it by way of recordings, email me at or go to my website, and send a message from there, and I can find a good recording or two of authentic klezmer music in case you want to have your own kosher dinner party this season.

As for the fundraiser tomorrow night, congratulations to Primavera Concerts for selling out a fundraiser and getting the whole community talking about an innovative concept they will likely have to repeat again in the future!

November 13th, 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bishop Bergie installed Tuesday evening in St. Catharines

Every now and again, I step outside my usual realm of writing and touch on something of interest to me, and I hope by extension, to you, too. I'm doing that with this entry today, although there is a musical connection towards the end, so there is rhyme to my reason.

Last evening, Gerard Bergie was installed as the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of St. Catharines, in a lavish ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. When I say lavish, I don't mean in an over-the-top way; rather, it was a marvellous celebration of renewal for the Catholic church, as the new Bishop moves the Diocese forward into the future. Incidentally, November 9th was the 52nd anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of St. Catharines, so it was a fitting date for the Installation.

On hand for the ceremony were over 180 clergy, priests and deacons from the Diocese of St. Catharines and Hamilton. There were 38 Bishops in attendance as well, including Bishop O'Mara, now retired as Bishop of the Diocese, who himself was installed at the same Cathedral in 1994. So there was certainly a celebratory tone for the evening, with greetings offered from many people in attendance, most notably from Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope's official representative in Canada.

As for me, I was honoured to be asked once again to handle broadcast duties on our local cable provider, Cogeco, who taped the evening's events for later broadcast. As well, I was a reader at the ceremony itself. It's funny, but I realized last evening I have now handled broadcast duties for three Bishops for the Diocese of St. Catharines, which means I have been around for all but the first two Bishops of the Diocese since it was founded!

The new Bishop is younger than I am by a couple of years, I was surprised to find, and was born and raised in Hamilton, where he has served in many capacities for a number of years now. He has an engaging personality and quick wit, and articulates his points with considerable precision. In his homily last evening, he both honoured the past and looked to the future, inviting everyone in attendance to pray for him as he begins his new journey.

Now, about the music. I have a friend who has long considered the music heard in the Anglican Church to be superior to that heard in the Catholic Church, for the most part. While I have often enjoyed glorious music over the years at Anglican churches in many cities and even countries, I personally feel last evening's music provided by a massed choir, several instrumentalists and soloists directed by David Holler along with Music Director Lucas Chorosinski at the organ to be of the highest calibre, and as good as anything you'll hear anywhere. For me, nothing beats a large choir and grand organ at full tilt to lift the spirits as well as the pulse rate!

As for the broadcast itself, it went quite well, I'm told, and if you desire to experience some wild vicarious thrill watching me introduce the evening's proceedings while all around me got into position, I understand Cogeco will be broadcasting the Installation this coming Friday evening as well as Saturday and Sunday mornings. I don't know yet if I will watch, as I have always been my own worst critic with these things, but we'll see...

Welcome to St. Catharines, Bishop Bergie!

November 10th, 2010.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shakespeare's Villains a devilishly clever play!

As I wrote Friday in my last entry, one of the anticipated arts events this month was the opening Saturday evening of Steven Berkoff's Shakespeare's Villains at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines. It served as the season opener for Lydesfarne Theatre Projects and was, in fact, the Canadian premiere of the one-man tour de force.

Artistic Director Kelly Daniels showed a certain amount of daring in being the first to present Berkoff's play in Canada, which up to now he had only performed himself. But the gamble has payed off nicely, with huge applause Saturday evening for her husband, actor Ric Reid in the Berkoff role. Ric, I have long felt, is one of those underestimated Canadian actors who just goes about his work and continues to impress quietly. All that may change after this play, as Reid romps through a myriad of Shakespeare's characters, some you would expect to be villainous and others not so much, with almost lightning speed.

Oh sure, there was a line or two needing prompts at the opening (was it intentional?) but consider all the lines he has to remember. And he's carrying the whole darned thing himself! I think it was a pretty impressive performance you would do well to see before it closes November 21st.

My far better half was almost reluctant to go with me, since sitting through a Shakespeare play is about as pleasant as a root canal while suffering from a migraine, but I encouraged her to come, as I had attended the Media Day preview the week before and knew she would enjoy it. She not only enjoyed it, she was laughing even more than I was at the witty lines Berkoff has come up with.

As Reid himself has said, this is the role of a lifetime, and I believe him. Although only 85 minutes in length with no intermission, the play packs a lot of sharp dialogue into that time frame and more characters than you can imagine, both male and female. R.J. Conn has provided a simple, yet effective stage design, and director Kelly Daniels successfully manages to keep Reid reigned in while at the same time giving him room to breathe.

Lydesfarne Theatre Projects has been going from strength to strength the last couple of seasons at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre, and this new production kicks off a very intriguing season.

Do yourself a favour and catch the show before it closes November 21st. Performances are Wednesday to Sunday this week and next, and tickets are very affordable: general admission is $ 25 with students and seniors paying only $ 15. Call the boxoffice at 905-938-1222.

November 8th, 2010.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A busy weekend in Niagara and beyond in the arts!

Here we are, barely a week into the month of November already, and we have lots of things going on both here in Niagara and beyond. This weekend, for example, along with the plethora of Christmas bazaars and other seasonal events already getting underway, we have three noteworthy arts events I want to touch on today.

First off, Chorus Niagara gets their new season underway with two performances at St. Thomas' Anglican Church on Ontario Street, Friday and Saturday evenings. Titled CN Cinema, this is a mixed-media presentation of The 1923 silent film classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney. I think most of us have seen the film at one time or another; this weekend, the film will be projected on a screen while the members of Chorus Niagara, out of sight but not out of earshot, provide a live choral "soundtrack" to the film. I talked to Artistic Director Robert Cooper about it this week and he says it is a challenge keeping everything in sync, but doesn't anticipate any problems. He adds popcorn will be available to make the evening truly an event, which is a nice touch.

The Friday performance is now done, of course, but you can try for tickets for Saturday night; call the Brock Centre for the Arts boxoffice at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 for ticket availability. It will be a tight fit at St. Thomas' Church, but this looks like a performance not to be missed.

Meanwhile, over at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines, the season opener for Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects continues until November 21st. Previews were Thursday and Friday; opening night is Saturday for the Canadian premiere of Steven Berkoff's one-man show Shakespeare's Villains, starring veteran actor Ric Reid. Ric is directed by his real-life wife, Lyndesfarne Artistic Director Kelly Daniels, in a tour-de-force performance examining many of the well-known villains in the Shakespeare canon. Everyone from Iago from Othello to the Macbeths to Shylock from The Merchant of Venice and even Richard III get a going-over by Reid, courtesy the insightful dialogue created by Berkoff, who has been the only actor to headline the play thus far. So Reid has big shoes to fill, but from what I saw at the media preview a week ago, he is more than up to the challenge. This is the sort of play an actor relishes: as Reid says, "It demands a great range of playing that few plays ever ask of the actor."

The play, 90 minutes long without an intermission, launches the new season for Lyndesfarne, which has given us some thought-provoking live theatre over the winter months the past several years. For tickets, call the Lydnesfarne boxoffice at 905-938-1222. Although there may still be a few seats left for Saturday's opening, you might do better to attend one of the later performances which offer a greater variety of seating choices. I look forward to attending the opening and will report on it next week.

Finally, there's a concert in Elora Sunday afternoon with a distinctly local connection: Thorold-born organist Andrew Henderson launches his new CD with a special recital at 4 pm on Sunday at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, at the corner of Henderson and Smith Streets in Elora. This is the very church the CD was recorded at this past June, on the glorious Casavant organ I love to hear whenever I visit Elora during the summer festival season. Not surprisingly, much of the music at the concert will be taken from the new CD, including Handel's Organ Concerto in F, Op. 4, No. 4; Barrie Cabena's Eine kleine Morgenmusik, and Elgar's familiar Imperial March. Also featured will be music by Bach, Bonnet and Gounod.

I have had the pleasure of hearing Andrew Henderson several times over the years, and have met him more than once. He has this disarmingly calm demeanor and a thorough knowlege of the music he plays; he may not be the flashiest organist on the circuit these days, but he is certainly one of the best of the new breed. The CD will be sold at the concert for only $ 15, which is a bargain, and afterwards at the Elora Festival Office. I will have to look into getting hold of the CD to feature on my website over the holiday season, which you can find at

If you're thinking of travelling up to Elora for the recital, it is a lovely drive up through Guelph, about 2 hours from Niagara. Admission is by donation, by the way, with tax receipts issued for gifts over $ 10. You can't beat that!

November 5th, 2010.