Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Top Five noteworthy arts events of 2010

Tomorrow evening is New Year's Eve, so the week leading up to same we tend to collate a number of lists of 'best of' and 'worst of' for the year, along with Top Ten lists of everything from news events to most popular food trends for the year. Not to be outdone, I humbly present this week my Top Five noteworthy events in the arts during the past year in Niagara and beyond. I could have done a Top Ten, I suppose, but these are the real noteworthy events as I see them, and anything else would have been just padding out the list. So, let's get to it...

The return of actor extraordinaire Christopher Plummer to the thrust stage at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario, in a breathtaking production of Shakespeare's The Tempest. As I wrote at the time, this production had it all: amazing special effects that didn't detract from the play but rather augmented it; a stellar supporting cast; great design and direction; and of course, Christopher Plummer, who presented a beautifully crafted Prospero. This was a production for the ages, and one we'll likely not see again. Hope you got tickets this season...

Staying with live theatre, the continuing evolution of first-quality, exciting and vibrant live theatre in downtown St. Catharines courtesy Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects and their Artistic Director, Kelly Daniels. Yes, Virginia, there is great theatre in the heart of downtown St. Catharines in the dead of winter when the Shaw Festival is hibernating. The last three productions for Lyndesfarne, going back to the fall of 2009, have shown the quality of theatre we're capable of producing in our own backyard: Ric Reid's delightfully manic and funny take on Steven Berkoff's hilarious one-man show, "Shakespeare's Villains" this past fall; Kelly Daniels and Ric Reid romping through Michelle Riml's comedy "Sexy Laundry" in the spring; and in the fall of 2009, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's gritty play "The Beauty Queen of Leenane", starring Daniels and featuring a great performance by Shaw actor Jennifer Phipps. Yes, there is great theatre to be had in downtown St. Catharines; the challenge now is to get that word out and fill more seats in the new year.

The announcement this past May of the new Music Director Designate for the Niagara Symphony, Toronto-born Bradley Thachuk. After a season-long search for a new Music Director and an audition process that saw four eminently-qualified candidates for the position show what they could do as each conducted a Pops and Masterworks concert, the audience was asked to vote for their favourite following each concert. How much influence the audience had on the final selection process is open to speculation, I suspect, but the final outcome, announced at a press conference at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University in May, seemed to please most people, and Brad said all the right things that day as he accepted the position. This season, we don't get to see Maestro Thachuk every time out, since he has to fulfill his final committments in Fort Wayne, Indiana this season, but he is conducting about half the season. Next season we get all Bradley all the time, and then we truly get to experience what this energetic young conductor has to offer. A sidelight to the entire selection process for me personally was a lovely email from candidate Diane Whittry thanking me for my comments in this space following her two outings with the Symphony last season. A classy touch, I found.

The second most noteworthy event in the arts has to be the November 'Flash Mob' unfolding amongst unsuspecting food court patrons at the Seaway Mall in Welland on November 13th. The people at Alphabet Photography, who devised the idea as a sort of video 'thank-you' for their clients, never imagined the thing would go viral within days, with about 30-million hits the last time I checked on YouTube. What a thank-you! What great promotion for Alphabet Photography and especially for Robert Cooper and Chorus Niagara. Cooper arranged the music for that specific location, and the photographers and chorus members executed the game-plan flawlessly. The result, singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's oratorio "Messiah", is four minutes of sheer pleasure: watching the faces of the stunned food court patrons; the quick appearance of digital cameras to record the event; and the sheer exhuberance of a skilled choir who simply knows this music backwards and forewards. The downside to this whole story? The numerous copycat versions now out there, with each of them apparently claiming the idea was theirs. Go figure. But we were first here in Niagara. Bravo to everyone involved for creating some Christmas magic in the most unusual place: a shopping mall food court. What can they do for an encore!?

The summer announcement by all four levels of governement: federal, provincial, regional and municipal, to work together and bring significant funding to the table to help make the dream of a downtown performing arts centre a reality in St. Catharines. The announcement, though not totally surprising, was still significant considering the scope of the funding and the determination from all levels of government to see this thing through to its conclusion. There was some tension as we waited, on the edge of our collective seats, no less, for the funding to come from the provincial government for the Brock portion of the project, which will see the construction of a centre for their arts programs and students in the heart of downtown St. Catharines. We are still a few years away from seeing this project reach completion, but significant strides have already been made, giving downtown merchants the incentive to improve their own premises as we work collectively to make the downtown a destination place once again. This project has the potential to totally transform not only our own downtown, but the entire peninsula. Handled properly, we can bring more performances to Niagara from outside the area, as well as showcasing our own homegrown talents such as Chorus Niagara, the Niagara Symphony, and a host of smaller arts organizations. The trick will be making it affordable both for the tenants and the patrons. We have time to do this right, and we had better, for we have all waited so long for this project to move forward at a pace not seen before. Let's show everyone how good a job we can do on this!

So there you have it, my Top Five for the year 2010. I hope your 2011 is just as interesting, and I wish you all a Happy and prosperous New Year. I have lots more to write about in the New Year, including some announcements I will be making in due time, so please keep reading this space, and please always send your comments in; I love the feedback!

December 30th, 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Down to the wire for Christmas 2010!

As always, Christmas is closer than you think, and believe me, I have been running hard the last several weeks trying to catch up! I fear the day will overtake me in the passing lane any moment now; I haven't even got my Christmas cards written and in the mail yet - now that is bad! But most people know not to expect them until the new year anyway, so...

I don't know yet if A Web of Fine Music will be setting any sales records this month, but I will do my end-of-month calculations late next week and see where we stand. Based on that, we'll chart the course for the next year and see where life leads us. In the meantime, if you have any last-minute music-buying needs, I can certainly do my best to fulfil them if you go to my website at or email me directly at

For many people, Christmas is a time to be close to family, but for me my family is now quite far away for the most part. My sister and her family live in Kenora and my brother and his family live in Aurora, so it is basically Sophie and I with the two cats here at home base at Christmas, making for a quiet day. Frankly, I like it that way now, since I run so hard for most of the month I enjoy the fact I can just stop and rest for a change on Christmas Day. The week between Christmas and New Year's is traditionally very quiet in the music business, so I am able to catch up on paperwork in the office, pay some bills and catch up on sleep and reading. That sounds so inviting at this point!

If Christmas means more to you than the simple commercialization of the day, and I certainly hope it does, you likely will be attending a church service either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. If that is the case, you will be bathed in some glorious music of the season that helps to re-establish the meaning of the season. For me, personally, my Christmas begins about 11 pm on Christmas Eve, when all the important preparations are done.

It is then I, having donned my tux and walked to the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines, I prepare for the annual radio broadcast of the Midnight Mass, which begins with a live carol service at 11:30, both broadcast on radio station 610/CKTB here in St. Catharines, where I have been employed for almost 30 years now. This is a great tradition that goes back 78 years, making it the longest-running radio broadcast of its kind in North America and perhaps the world. I have been the host for the broadcast for 21 years now, which is amazing to me; I hardly imagined when I took the reigns from the late Johnny Morrison in 1989 I would still be doing this on Christmas Eve. In fact, in the 78 years of the broadcast, I am only the third voice of the broadcast, and that is something to think about.

I still have to write the script, which hopefully will be later this evening if I am lucky, but I have a knack for getting it done under pressure if it has to wait until tomorrow evening. The difference now is I keep the script saved on my computer, which means I don't have to completely re-write it every time out. The first decade or so I had to pull out my trusty old Underwood manual typewriter (which I still have, by the way) and write it from scratch each and every year. I don't miss those days...

After the broadcast, about 2 in the morning, comes my all-time favourite Christmas moment: walking home in the cold night air, stars overhead, peaceful thoughts as I see the remainder of the Christmas light displays still on in home windows in my neighbourhood. At that moment, all alone and at one with the season, Christmas has arrived for me.

Anyway, it would be wonderful to know you were listening on the radio if not attending in person; just dial 610 on your AM band by 11:30 tomorrow night and you won't miss the broadcast. Let me know if you do; I would love to hear from you!

Merry Christmas, and I will be back at my usual post before the end of the year.

December 23rd, 2010.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last minute Christmas gift ideas from A Web of Fine Music

Hard to believe, but we're less than a week away from Christmas Day, and judging by the lines of cars entering mall parking lots in Niagara this weekend, lots of people are still out there looking for the perfect gift for that special someone. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't recommend a few good holiday recordings available through my website, A Web of Fine Music ( in time for Christmas gift-giving. As of this writing, all these are currently in stock and ready to go; all you have to do is email me either through the website or directly at

This is turning into the must-have Christmas disc of the season. Anyone who knows the group Pink Martini will not be the least bit surprised this disc is a hot item: they are wonderfully creative and inventive, with every track getting a thorough re-working and coming out sounding almost brand-new. The music is largely standard Christmas fare: White Christmas, Santa Baby, Little Drummer Boy, Do You Hear What I Hear? and We Three Kings are some of the more familiar tracks. Reflecting the international flavour of the disc, we also hear Shchedryk (Ukrainian Bell Carol), La Vergine Degli Angeli and Ocho Kandelikas. A nice touch, the lyrics are reprinted in the accompanying booklet in several different languages. The album graphics are first rate, as is the production of the disc itself, and this collection rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars.

The retro graphics set the tone for this new recording with the Seattle Symphony, sounding just fine, thank you very much, on the popular Naxos label. The collection features some pretty standard fare, including several selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ( Miniature Overture; March; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Russian Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers), plus several pieces from the Water Music Suites by Handel, which is a nice addition. Also heard are the ubiquitous Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, and the Christmas carols Gesu Bambino and Coventry Carol. The production values are first-rate, which is typical of the Naxos engineering team, and the orchestra sounds in fine form. Granted, they break no new ground here, but the programming is varied enough you'll enjoy listening to this disc time and time again. Holiday Classics rates a respectable 3 out of 4 stars.

A brand-new disc out just in time for the holidays, this collection of carols both old and new features the soprano voice of Monica Whicher, described by The Guardian as"poignantly expressive" teamed with acclaimed harpist Judy Loman, former Principal Harpist with the Toronto Symphony. Loman also did many of the arrangements on this disc, incidentally, and her music-making is always a joy to hear. Some of the familiar carols given lovely treatments here are The Garden of Jesus; In the Bleak Mid-Winter; Noel Nouvelet; Six Noels Pour la Harpe; and In Dulci Jubilo. The recording, made in Newmarket, Ontario's St. John Chrysostom Church earlier this year, has a lovely warm sound to it, and the performances are both first-rate. This is the disc for after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, as you're setting the milk and cookies out for a special visitor overnight. I really like this disc, and it rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars.

I don't quite know what it is about the music of Bach, but it lends itself to so many different interpretations, both classical and otherwise, it is hard to find a bad recording of Bach's music at all. He was such a prolific writer of music for Christmas, too, you have a perfect opportunity to take liberties with his original music and make something uniquely different and special, which is what arranger Bill Dobbins has done on this brand-new recording of Bach's Christmas Oratorio. The King's Singers are totally in control here, keeping the meaning of the music in focus throughout, in spite of the decidedly jazzy arrangements provided by Dobbins. This may not be a disc for the purists, but rather, those open-minded individuals who also happened to enjoy the big-band Christmas presentation offered by Chorus Niagara last year at this time. This set is an adventure! It rates a positive 4 out of 4 stars.

I think everyone grew up listening to this disc, coming out as it did in the 60s when James Last was at the peak of his popularity. I took a long time to make it to disc, however, but the wait was worth it. The sound is quite amazing given the age of the recording, and the arrangements, although showing their age just a bit, still are fun to listen to today. I can't imagine many actually 'dancing' to this music, but listening will be easy: Last just knows how to handle a good tune and make it fun. Most of the medleys are made up of German carols, although some familiar international carols can be heard, including Silent Night and I Wonder as I Wander. Go ahead, listen to this disc again and relive those heady days of the 60s when people thought we could do just about anything! Christmas Dancing rates a respectable 3 out of 4 stars.

Just a few items of interest this week; remember, all of these are currently in stock as of this writing, but don't delay. If you're interested in more information, go to my website at or email me at and I will take care of the rest.

The countdown is on - let's enjoy the ride!

December 19th, 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Countdown is on to Christmas - ready or not!

So here we are, as I write this, just over a week away from Christmas Day, and there is still so much to do. That's the trouble with this time of year; too much to do and too little time to do it in. But we somehow manage, and after Christmas is all said and done for the year, we usually say next year we'll be better organized. But it never happens. At least we know we have a lot of company...

I was thinking of all this for a couple of reasons this week; I was out last evening on a whirlwind Christmas shopping spree, and everything is pretty much done now. An hour out of my life at targeted locations, and I had most everything done - now that is lucky, and good news! I always have to get my shopping done early, for two reasons: firstly, much of my family now lives up north in Kenora, so I have to send everything up to them, which I did earlier today. But I also can't afford, being in the retail business with my website, A Web of Fine Music, to leave things to the last minute when I am busy enough as it is filling and sending out last-minute orders for my customers. So I have never been one to be wandering the mall on December 24th, lamely looking for something - anything - that might remotely resemble a present someone I know might appreciate receiving.

So, what has all this got to do with the arts, you ask? Well, I have devoted a lot of time lately to writing in this space about the myriad of Christmas concerts and other events scheduled for December, and the fact you almost need all your spare time just to attend them all, should you wish to. By now, December 16th, you would think they would all be done, but no, not yet. We still have several concerts coming up, including A Glissandi Christmas tomorrow evening at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the annual Christmas Choir Concert at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in downtown St. Catharines, which comes up at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon.

Out of town, we have the National Ballet of Canada presenting their ever-popular Nutcracker performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts through to January 2nd, and the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra has their annual Christmas Pops performances this coming Saturday afternoon and evening at Hamilton Place. I just received word yesterday the annual Festival of Carols peformances at St. John's Church in Elora, featuring The Elora Festival Singers scheduled for early next week are all sold out, so we're both out of luck on that one.

The problem has always been, of course, balancing your pleasure with what simply has to be done this month. For me, I am always so busy with my website (, I often don't have time for many of the concerts unless I happen to be set up in the lobby, as I usually am with the Niagara Symphony and Choralis Camerata, for example. So it was I was looking at my schedule this week when the 20th annual Civic Christmas Carol Concert rolled around Tuesday at noon. Now, I have never been to this wonderful musical event before, and although I had a lot on my plate that snowy Tuesday, I decided "What the heck, everything else can wait!" as I made my way over to St. Thomas' Anglican Church for the annual event.

As always, it was a sellout, and well worth the small donation to Community Care that was requested of people attending. The choirs of Laura Secord Secondary School and Holy Cross Secondary School, along with the Chorus Niagara Children's Choir and the Civic Brass Ensemble were all in fine form, filling the church with glorious sounds of the season. It is hard not to get caught up in the spirit of the season when you hear those youthful voices ring out in song, and we, doing the best we can, joining in on occasion. The icing on the cake was the Christmas message delivered by The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the special guest for the occasion. I have had the pleasure of speaking to him before and he is the most down-to-earth, kind and gentle soul you could imagine. The fact his roots take him back many years to his radio broadcasting days, about the time I was getting into the business myself, well, he just made us all so proud in the radio business! His words, echoing those of the Queen in her 1957 Christmas Day address, still ring true for us today, and his blending of then and now was a pleaure to hear.

So, will I go for number 21 next year? You bet I will! I wish I had become part of this annual tradition, a unique one in a city our size I imagine, years ago. But better late than never, and the tradition now begins for me.

Another tradition at Christmastime for many is going to Niagara-on-the-Lake the weekend before Christmas for the annual reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, featuring several members of the Shaw Festival acting ensemble. This is the sort of thing you need, like Tuesday's Civic Christmas Carol Concert, to take you out of the commercialization of the season and ground you to the true meaning of Christmas. So it will be this Sunday afternoon at 3, when Peter Millard, Ijeoma Emesowum, Kelly Wong, Gabrielle Jones, Peter Krantz and Guy Bannerman will present A Christmas Carol at St. Mark's Anglican Church on Byron Street, with musical interludes presented by music director at St. Mark's Michael Tansley, along with singer Patty Jamieson. This should be a great afternoon; in fact it usually sells out, so if you have not already done so, you might want to get your tickets in advance from the Shaw Festival boxoffice at 905-468-2172. Tickets are only $ 12 for adults and $ 6 for children; a small price to pay for the magic of Christmas without sugar-coated carols piped in to the mall shops everywhere at this time of year. There, I feel better already just thinking about it!

There is much to do in Niagara to bring you back to what Christmas is all about; all you have to do is look around and marvel at the possibilities. Enjoy!

December 16th, 2010.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Niagara Symphony and Chorus Niagara celebrate the season this weekend

This is what would be called by some a Big Weekend in local arts circles, as both Niagara Symphony and Chorus Niagara unleash their always-popular Christmas programmes on what are expected to be for both groups, sellout crowds. And since the season is so full of things to do at other times, this is the perfect weekend to set aside some time for yourself to just relax and enjoy some great music.

First off, both this evening at 7:30 and tomorrow afternoon at 2:30, the Niagara Symphony presents their Pops! 2 programme, titled "A Niagara Holiday Fantasy". This is always a popular event, and I imagine it gets tougher each year coming up with new ideas. This year, the Chorus Niagara Children's Choir will be featured, along with young Annette Malinowski singing the lovely "Allelujah" from Mozart's Exultate Jubilate. There will also be the requisite audience singalong, and several Leroy Anderson classics, including the ever-popular Anderson arrangement of "A Christmas Festival". Needless to say, I will be in the lobby before, at intermission, and after both concerts this weekend with lots of seasonal sounds to hopefully tempt you, including several recordings of Leroy Anderson classics.

The guest conductor this weekend is St. Catharines native Rosemary Thomson, who will be joined by her sister Elspeth Thomson playing viola at this concert. Thomson now resides in B.C., where she is Music Director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

Meantime, Chorus Niagara rides the wave of popularity generated by their much-watched "Flash Mob" video on YouTube, now approaching something like 15-million hits, last time I checked, and counting. Handel's Messiah is much more than the celebrated Hallelujah Chorus, of course, which was featured in the video, but those in the know will be there this weekend to hear the every-other-year event in the Chorus Niagara calendar. I would not be surprised if both performances, this evening at 7:30 in Grimsby at Mountainview Christian Reformed Church and tomorrow afternoon at 3 at Calvary Church in St. Catharines, are total sellouts due to the popularity of the video on top of those who would normally not want to miss this event. So be forewarned, and hope for the best!

Ideally, you can go to the Niagara Symphony for one performance, and Chorus Niagara for the other this weekend, and if that sounds like an ideal way to avoid the mall this weekend, there is still time to call the Brock boxoffice at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or take your chances at the door for both events.

Enjoy the sounds of the season this weekend!

December 11th, 2010.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chorus Niagara celebrates the season in syle!

What a season it has been so far for Chorus Niagara! Every year, they put on several performances of great choral music throughout Niagara, with Handel's Messiah performed every other Christmas. Their performances this year take place next weekend, in fact.

This year, however, Chorus Niagara is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity due to the production of a 5-minute 'flash mob' video on YouTube that has gone viral, with more than 6-million views the last time I checked. The worldwide interest the video has garnered has meant coverage on Good Morning, America, Inside Edition, CNN and ABC World News. Now, the choir is set to perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah from the food court at the Seaway Mall in Welland again this coming Wednesday morning at 6:30 am, as they broadcast live from the mall on Canada AM. Life just doesn't get any better for Chorus Niagara these days!

It all began when Jennifer Blakeley and her team at Alphabet Photography in Niagara approached Chorus Niagara with the idea to record something seasonal in a public location. The result was an early-morning visit with choir members, recording equipment and such back on Saturday morning, November 13th. The set up crew apparently got there at 5 am; choir members began arriving at 6, and rehearsals began shortly thereafter. Once the mall opened for the day around 9, choir members, dressed in their Saturday street clothes, milled about and basically blended in with mall shoppers visiting the food court that morning. When Lynn Honsberger, their accompanist, finished playing endless Christmas carols on the electronic keyboard in the food court, the cue was given for her to launch into the opening chords of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's oratorio 'Messiah' and the fun began. One by one, choir members joined in, surrounding startled patrons of the food court with glorious music for the holiday season.

What is interesting watching the video now is how quickly - likely within seconds - people's cell-phone cameras began recording the event, which is a part of everyday life now, it seems. All went well for the few minutes the choir sang, with everyone bursting into exhuberant applause at the end. Success! But it took a lot of work to get to that point and everything was planned out and rehearsed in advance. You can tell from the quality of the photography everything was orchestrated to the second, yet it looks spontaneous and very matter-of-fact. The video, which you can find on YouTube, or just go to the Chorus Niagara website,, and there it is on the home page for you to enyoy, is one of the classiest, well-done and inspiring videos you're ever likely to see.

What I like about this whole idea is bringing quality music to the masses by way of modern technology. Literally millions around the world will log on to view the video, and even if their interest in the choir or the music itself doesn't go beyond that, it is a victory for those who feel classical music has taken a back seat in society today. Here is an example of great music being performed exceptionally well in the unlikeliest of locations, and everyone wins. The choir gets great exposure, as does the Seaway Mall, and everyone feels good from watching a few minutes of video magic unfold. You might not be able to catch lightening in a bottle, but capturing the performance in a video is the next best thing, I suspect.

If you want to catch the entire performance of Messiah, keep in mind the Hallelujah Chorus is but a small part of the entire work, but every note Handel wrote is glorious, and nothing else will put you in the spirit of the Christmas season like Messiah will. Performances are next weekend on Saturday evening at 7:30 at Mountainview Christian Reformed Church in Grimsby, and Sunday afternoon at 3 at Calvary Church in north St. Catharines. Tickets always go fast for Chorus Niagara's presentations of Messiah, so don't wait. Likely the best seats are to be had for the Grimsby performance, I should think, but you can check with the Brock box office for ticket availability at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

By the way, the early-morning performance at the Seaway Mall food court this coming Wednesday at 6:30 am is open to the public, so if you are free, why not head down and watch the action as Canada AM broadcasts the choir live to a national television audience?

Yes, life is good for Robert Cooper and Chorus Niagara. And it is about to get so much better, I bet. Congratulations!

December 4th, 2010.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

News and Notes on Christmas in Niagara

There is so much happening these days in Niagara, as the Christmas season is upon us, I thought I would devote my midweek entry to a round-up of things coming up over the next few days in the area. First, though, I want to quickly look back on the Niagara Symphony performance on the weekend.

As mentioned in my last entry, the second Masterworks concert of the season was conducted by Associate Conductor Laura Thomas Sunday afternoon, as they performed Buhr's Akasha and Mozart's Symphony No. 41, the "Jupiter" symphony. Laura, I find, is a very democratic conductor, giving credit to everyone in the orchestra who deserves it, perhaps since she is also a member of the orchestra herself. Oddly, though, I don't feel the orchestra sounded as sharp as it usually does, and I can't put my finger on just why that would be. The other notable piece on the programme was Vivaldi's familiar The Four Seasons, Op. 8, performed by members of the strings conducted from the violin by young Julia Wedman, who spends a lot of her time in Toronto performing with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. This was not a period instrument performance, of course, but the Symphony under Wedman presented a rather rustic, rough-hewn version of Vivaldi's greatest hit, with its own particular charm. A notable change was the fact all the violins and violas stood during the performance, which added a different visual dimension to the performance I quite enjoyed. Wedman for her part was poised and took control of the situation without dominating it. The other nice addition to the mix was Shaw Festival actress Sharry Flett, who narrated the sonnets attributed to Vivaldi that subsequently inspired him to write the music for The Four Seasons. Again, it added another dimension to the performance, changing it from just another performance of a classical warhorse to a work with exceptional grace and charm. Overall, a pleasant performance; I also scored a couple of winning bids at the silent auction tables after the performance. Bonus!

Now, on to other things happening this weekend. Staying at Brock University, tomorrow evening (Friday) from 6 pm to midnight, Nuit Blanche Brock 2010 takes place - a multidisciplinary celebration of installation, time-based and performance art. It's a free community event organized by the Department of Visual Arts, with over 30 student artists and performers participating from Dramatic Arts, Music and Visual Arts. Art works include drawings, sculpure, dance, photography, video, installation and performances. Locations are throughout the campus, including the Thistle Complex, James A. Gibson Library, Market Hall and the MacKenzie Chown complex. For a complete listing of art works and dowloadable maps, you can visit Should be a great evening, and it's free!

On the weekend, the Avanti Chamber Singers present Christmas Suites: Seasonal Music from Niagara and Beyond at St. Barnabas Anglican Church on Queenston Street. Tickets are available at the door or through the Department of Music at Brock. The concert begins at 7:30 on Saturday evening. Also at St. Barnabas Church, which is one of the acoustic jewels of Niagara, by the way, the next Primavera Concerts performance takes place Sunday evening at 7:30, and features Graham and Ian Shaw as narrators in a performance of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. This is a perennial favourite, and the old recording of Dylan himself reciting it is still available on CD; you can order it through my website,, or just emailing me directly,

Both Saturday and Sunday, Laura Thomas' choral group, Choralis Camerata, presents their annual Christmas concert, and since Chorus Niagara is doing Messiah this year, they are not. This season, the concert includes a number of seasonal favourites, with the highlight being Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl & the Night Visitors, which premiered on television in 1951. There's an indication how television has changed over the years: the world premiere of an opera on television was broadcast LIVE on NBC back in 1951, so the 50th anniversary comes up next year. Laura and her singers jump the gun this weekend, with performances Saturday evening at 7:30 at St. Andrews United Church in Niagara Falls, and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the expansive St. Alexander Roman Catholic Church in Fonthill. Tickets are available at the door for both performances, and on Sunday afternoon I will be in the foyer at intermission and after the show with lots of seasonal music for sale, including the only CD recording of Amahl currently available, on the Naxos label. It is a great recording; sadly the original from 1951 which I still own on LP, is long out of print. If you can't make it to the concert but want a copy of the CD, send me an email at and I can get a copy for you.

A little further afield, over in Lewiston, New York, their annual Christmas Walk takes place on Center Street with many area merchants getting into the act, and tied in with it this year is the grand opening of the Opera Hall Gallery at 736 Center Street. Many local artists' work will be featured, not just this weekend, but on an ongoing basis.

In Hamilton, one of the best area choirs down that way, the John Laing Singers, present their annual Christmas concert on Saturday evening, 7:30, at Central Presbyterian Church on Charlton Avenue in Hamilton. Titled Gloria in Excelsis, the concert features music from Palestrina to Whitacre and lots of other music in-between. The John Laing Singers have a great sound, and their lovely Christmas CD, Merrily Sing We, is a joyful celebration of the season in words and music. I have it featured on my website at, or email me directly at and I can get a copy out to you in time for Christmas.

So, as you can see, we have lots going on not far from our own front doors. More to come, too, and I will have some thoughts on the upcoming Messiah performances with Chorus Niagara this coming weekend in my next blog entry.

Enjoy the season!

December 2nd, 2010.