Saturday, February 26, 2011

Niagara Symphony pulls out all the stops with Pops! 3 this weekend!

Even though we are still in the depths of winter, shovelling out yet again here in Niagara, a wonderful diversion will be offered this weekend with the Niagara Symphony's presentation of their Pops! 3 concerts Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Titled "Hey Niagara, You've Got Talent!", Associate Conductor Laura Thomas leads the orchestra and a bevy of guest artists through an eclectic mix of music both well-known and unfamiliar.

Over the course of several months, Maestro Thomas auditioned a number of aspiring artists, all hoping to show what they can do onstage this weekend with the Niagara Symphony. The results will be showcased in a diverse programme featuring music by such composers as Offenbach, Bernstein, Berlin and Copeland, as well as the rarely-heard Piano Concerto by Leroy Anderson. Also on the programme are a comic duet from Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute" and a so-called "Fiddle Summit" finale bringing together five Celtic fiddlers plus the full symphony orchestra. The fiddlers include Brennan and Conner Doherty, Amanda Botts, and several members of the Symphony's violin section: Gail Poulsen, Michael van Dongen and Mary Beth Doherty. Other guest artists include pianist Brian Barber; baritone Jonathon Dick; Jocelyn Fralick, soprano; as well as recording artist Tara Hart and local jazz guitar legend Warren Stirtzinger. All in all, it sounds like a great programme!

On Sunday afternoon, local lawyer and businessman Patrick Little gets his wish to conduct the Symphony himself in a performance of the familiar "Can-Can" from Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann." Back in November, you may remember, the Symphony held their annual silent auction in the lobby, and one of the hotly-contested auction items that day was the opportunity to be a Maestro for a Moment, and conduct the Niagara Symphony. I considered bidding on that prize myself, but thought better of it before actually signing on the dotted line. I think this will be much more relaxing, watching Mr. Little do his thing while I sit in the audience! Good luck, Patrick!

As always, I will be in the lobby before, at intermission and after the show both this evening and Sunday afternoon with a table laden full of great musical treasures just looking for a new home. In addition, I'll have copies of the Simple Gifts CD Gail Poulsen recorded with musical friends at Christ Church McNabb a few years ago, with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity Niagara. It is a wonderful disc, and if you don't have one yet, I'll have lots on display for you to purchase this weekend.

The Niagara Symphony has been having fun lately, now the pressure of auditioning new Music Directors is over and done with, so this should be a great musical party this weekend. If you don't have your tickets yet, you can get yours either at the door or through the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257. Best choice of seats I would imagine will be Saturday evening, but you can try your luck on Sunday afternoon if that works out better for you.

See you at the Symphony!

February 26th, 2011.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Remembrances and looking ahead musically this week

Although I am a little late getting my blog entry out this weekend, I have a lot of ground to cover as many thoughts are swimming around in my head, so bear with me. There is a connection to all the thoughts, I can assure you!

The community lost two individuals in the past week or so that bear mention in this space. The first, of course, is the passing of Henry Burgoyne, the last of the family dynasty to head up the St. Catharines Standard before selling the company to Southam in 1996. Henry had been publisher since 1975, when he was all of 26 years of age and groomed for the position for several years. I never new Henry; however I did know another member of the Burgoyne family, Mary, who ran the radio station I work at, CKTB RADIO. In fact, I was the last hire for the Burgoyne family at the station before ownership changed hands in 1982. I didn't get much of a chance to get to know Mary back in those days, but it was interesting being part of a family tradition going back decades in the community.

Henry passed away earlier this month from cancer at the age of 61 - far too young for a man with so much more to do with his life. The visitation was Friday, which I attended in the evening at Hulse & English Funeral Home, in the same two rooms I stood in almost two years ago when my father passed away. I didn't know many in the room that evening, but I did know Janet & Peter Partridge, both of whom have been long-time clients of mine with my music business, A Web of Fine Music ( Janet was also a Burgoyne before marrying Peter; in my early years at CKTB RADIO both Janet and Peter would be in the station in the evening preparing to record the classical-music show they hosted on our FM sister station back then.

The memorial service for Henry was Saturday morning at 11 at the Ridley College Chapel, where Henry had a long association both in his early student years as well as much later on in his life. I unfortunately could not attend, as I was at another funeral service for the second individual I want to write about today: The Reverend Canon David Vincent Blackwood, who passed away earlier this month in Hamilton, where he lived out his final years after leaving St. Catharines. In fact, David and his second wife Lorraine lived just a few doors down from us here in the city, and we got to know them quite well over the years.

The first time I met them was before I moved to my present house; I happened to be walking down their street on a cold but sunny February day, and noticed a very vocal cat stuck on their roof. Ringing their doorbell and informing them of the fact, it discovered I had been about the tenth or so person to do so that day! I presume the cat finally made it down at some point, but for me, I was welcomed into their home for tea and spent a goodly part of the afternoon getting to know the Blackwoods. I always remember that day!

Reverend Blackwood spent many years in retirement at St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street, another of my favourite houses of worship in the city. He is perhaps best known for sewing the elaborate vestments the ministers wear; his talent was truly exceptional and in fact, received coverage in The Standard a few years ago. David's funeral was also Saturday morning at 11 am, and St. Barnabas was packed to the rafters with people from all walks of life, all touched by his gentle manner and humility. I, along with many more, were relegated to the church hall to watch the service on the big screen set up. It was clearly the largest turnout for a funeral at St. Barnabas anyone could remember for a long, long time. Certainly a fitting tribute to a man who touched so many lives during his.

So, how do I connect all these in some way? Perhaps not totally, but I will say the music at St. Barnabas is very much in the Anglican tradition, which means absolutely glorious, and that also describes the acoustics at the church as well. Music also plays into my association with the Partridges as well, beyond the fact they are long-time clients of mine. Peter has been orchestrating an organ recital this coming Tuesday evening at another downtown church I have long admired, St. Thomas, featuring the acclaimed organist James O'Donnell. Mr. O'Donnell last appeared at St. Thomas for a recital in October of 2008 and literally brought the house down with his peformance. This coming Tuesday evening, history will likely repeat itself with a varied programme of music both familiar and unfamiliar played on the organ at St. Thomas' Church. Mr. O'Donnell is Master of the Music at Westminster Abbey and Cathedral in London, so will be deeply involved in planning for the upcoming nuptuals of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It promises to be a full house on Tuesday evening, so I suggest you get there early to get a good seat. If all goes according to plan, I hope to be there as well, with a number of recordings by James O'Donnell to sell.

There are not many organ recordings available now, but plenty of discs featuring him as Master of Music and/or conducting the choirs at both the Abbey and the Cathedral, so I will do my best to cover all the bases on Tuesday evening. If you attend, be sure to stop by my table and say hello!

February 20th, 2011.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Some 'other' ideas for Valentine's gifts this year

My apologies for not writing my weekend blog entry sooner, but my main computer has decided to cause major headaches again, so I am using a secondary computer for the time being, which delayed my writing today until now. That being said, so what are you planning to do for Valentine's Day this year?

Most people think of the obvious things, of course, such as chocolates or roses, or maybe even sexy lingerie. I heard one suggestion on the radio today for 'sexy ladies' to wrap their gift for their lucky man in sexy lingerie, which is an interesting concept I had best leave up to your imagination at the moment. But anyway, if you have not made any specific plans yet for a gift of some sort, may I make a few interesting suggestions?

This first one will likely be a little last minute, as it actually happens on Sunday rather than Monday, but Primavera Concerts are holding a concert Sunday afternoon titlted "Follow the Chocolate Road", featuring a group known as Folia. Made up of Linda Melsted on baroque violin, Terry McKenna on baroque guitar and lute, Justin Haynes on viola da gamba and Borys Medicky on harpsichord, Folia will be accompanied by Tamara Bernstein as narrator, providing colourful readings from period diaries, letters and even recipes. The concert celebrates chocolate's glorious conquest of Baroque Europe, with stops in Spain, Italy, France, and finally to the coffee houses of England. The concert begins at 3 pm at the acoustically lovely St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street in St. Catharines, and tickets should still be available at the door. In the evening, incidentally, there will be a Valentine's Eve Dinner featuring a three-course dinner, flowers and more chocolates. If you're interested, I would suggest calling ahead to see if there is room available at the dinner; call 905-934-9285. Even if there is no space left for the dinner, the concert itself will be a wonderful prelude to the day on Monday.

The second idea has nothing whatsoever to do with music, but everything to do with showing you care. I was over to the Lincoln County Humane Society today to learn more about their RescueMe campaign, which is designed to raise much-needed funds to help equip the new spay and neuter clinic presently under construction at the Fourth Avenue site. For a donation to the campaign in your sweetie's name, your sweetheart will know you care about the pets still residing at the Humane Society and how you can help towards reducing the overpopulation of cats and dogs in Niagara at the present time. I plan to take advantage of this unique fundraising effort myself on Monday, and hope you will give it your consideration, too.

A tasty idea for a quick and easy dinner for Monday, and a way to show your support for a downtown business as well: how about ordering a heart-shaped pizza from Bella Noella Pizza on Summer Street just off James Street? I was in to see owner Steve Turcin this week, and he says the biggest challenge to getting people to venture to his shop is simply knowing where Summer Street is, so if you head down James Street just past King Street, you turn right on a small sidestreet that is in fact Summer Street, and right up at the top of the street is a small stand-alone building housing Bella Noella Pizza. It is worth the trip, too. Steve makes a great pizza, with a creative flair you simply don't find in run-of-the-mill establishments. Vegan pizzas, vegetarian pizzas and gluten-free pizzas are all part of a day's work for Steve and his crew, so there is simply no excuse to say no to a heart-shaped pizza this Valentine's Day. You'll find them listed in the Yellow Pages or simply Google Bella Noella in St. Catharines.

Finally, I would be remiss if I were not to plug my own web-based music business, especially around this particular day, since music is always a romantic part of any Valentine's Day. Although it is too late to special order your request, you still have a wide array of choices for music I might just have stock on. One example you might want to consider is a brand-new CD from EMI Classics featuring Placido Domingo. The title of the CD says it all, really: Passion - The Love Album. This two-disc set features the great tenor in a variety of musical styles ranging from romantic ballads to latin-tinged numbers such as Granada and Perfidia. All for only $ 25.00 for the two-disc set! Email me at if you're interested, or order through the website, at Of course, the Mike's Picks page on the website has a great variety of musical options perfect for any special occasion you might have coming up.

So there you go: everything from music to dinner for that romantic day. What more could you possibly want? Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dance the weekend away in Niagara

I have not written much about dance the last little while, which is strange, really, as I have always loved dance - especially ballet. Back in the late 70s I began attending performances of the National Ballet of Canada in Toronto and fell in love with classical ballet the moment I first saw it. I went to everything - full-length classical ballets to shorter, more contemporary offerings. I always found the language of body movement to be very descriptive and, well, frankly sexual at times. The saying that all guys who dance ballet must be effeminate, which I regularly heard in those less-enlightened times, would certainly be put to rest the moment you got past your preconceived notions and actually watched them dance. These people (both male and female, incidentally) are true athletes who prepare for a dance programme just as hard as a football player, for example, prepares for the next big game.

I had a long association with the National Ballet that lasted well into this century (boy, that makes me feel old!) as well as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and various and sundry other companies from around the world who would visit the Toronto area. Alas, I have not been in several years, and I do miss it. The ballet for me is simply the perfect blending of brain and brawn; the intellectual and the sexual. One of these days I will have to go again and enjoy the experience all over again.

This weekend, in fact, you and I can enjoy two superb Canadian solo dancers come together for a shared programme of contemporary dance and music. From different generations and different training backgrounds, Peggy Baker and Nova Bhattacharya explore the intersections of east and west in "Whole Wide World", a world premiere from Peggy Baker Dance Projects and Ipsita Nova Dance Projects.

On the programme, Baker will present her 2006 choreography "Krishna's Mouth", set to a haunting cello score by the noted Japanese-American composer Karen Tanaka, and "Strand", performed to music for piano written by Canadian composer Ann Southam. Bhattacharya, meantime, will present "Map of the Known World", choreographed for her by Peggy Baker, as well as her latest work, "Unspoken", both featuring original music from Toronto tabla virtuoso Ed Hanley. The programme will conclude with both performers in the world premiere of "Aleatoric Solo Duet."

There are two performances this weekend at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines: Saturday evening at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30. Anyone who has attended a performance at the Courthouse Theatre knows it is an intimate space, so as such it will be limited seating this weekend. You can try at the door, but it might be best to call the Brock box office for tickets to either performance: 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or order online at

Enjoy the weekend!

February 5th, 2011.