Saturday, January 26, 2013

Niagara Symphony notes and then some!

I am wearing two hats while working this weekend:  first, my broadcast journalist's hat (that's the fedora with the business card tucked into the band) watching the news on the new Ontario Premier picked at the Liberal Leadership convention in Toronto tonight (Kathleen for the Wynne!); the other is the more sedate homburg while covering the arts beat as I do in this space on a weekly basis.

I will let the political pundits have at it for the discussions on the Liberal Convention this weekend; for my part, let's talk about the Niagara Symphony this weekend and what news they have been making as of late.  First off, let me say the Masterworks 3 concert Sunday afternoon at 2:30 promises to be an entertaining and challenging affair.

Guest conductor Earl Stafford will lead the orchestra through their paces in a programme that includes two of my favourite string works:  Grieg's delightful Holberg Suite, Op. 40 and the very familiar Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber.  Also on the programme are the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a and the difficult and not often heard Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland.  The nso's Principal Clarinet, Zoltan Kalman will tackle the work and I have no doubt he will be up to the task.  He is one of the most accomplished musicians on the local music scene, so this promises to be an event.

Maestro Stafford has had a varied career, but is perhaps best known as Principal Conductor of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, a post he held from 1984 to 2009.  He has also worked with such musical greats as Oscar Peterson, Mel Torme, James Ehnes and Evelyn Hart, the long-time Prima Ballerina of the RWB.  Ah, Evelyn of the women I had an incredible crush on years ago and it has never subsided!  But I digress...

Masterworks 3 also marks the launch of a new nso initiative:  they have made concerts more accessible to post-secondary students by allowing University and College students to now pay only $12 (plus applicable taxes and fees) to attend concerts by the nso, thanks to the generous support of inaugural sponsor, Scotiabank.  This is a great idea and hopefully a positive move toward attracting more young people to concerts by the nso; after all, they are the orchestra's future so best to nurture the relationship now rather than later or perhaps, never.

Tickets are still available at the box office at Brock by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or picking them up before the concert in person.  Should you go, be sure to keep an eye out for yours truly at my usual spot in the lobby before, after and at intermission of the concert, with a table full of great musical ideas available for purchase.  The holiday season may be over but you can certainly treat yourself to some great new music for the New Year!  If you don't see what you want you can always order through my website at or directly by email at

One final note, and this came up in discussion at the recent Holiday Pops! concerts following my dissertation in this space last fall on etiquette in the theatre.  So an addendum here for the concert hall, and it comes following the orchestra's performance of the wonderful Beatlecracker Suite, a 10-minute compendium of Beatles tunes arranged in the style of the familiar Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite.  Since it is several movements long and each is as short as only a minute or more, a problem developed at the December concerts.

Generally speaking, Niagara Symphony patrons are pretty good at knowing when to - and when not to - applaud.  The general rule of thumb is only after a work; in other words, a three movement symphony for example, should only elicit applause at the end of the complete work, rather than after each movement.  The problem with the Beatlecracker Suite is people threw that rule out the window and applauded after each segment, thus elongating the work needlessly and frankly, breaking up the flow of the work.  So please, applaud if you wish, as much as you wish, at the end of the work, not during.

This has been a problem for orchestras since orchestras began playing music, actually, but can be taken to extremes.  I recall attending a concert at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto years ago, an orchestra from the U.K. if I remember correctly, and the audience was so earnest in their desire to make them feel welcome they applauded every chance they got, INCLUDING when a stage-hand came out between works to move chairs around on the stage for the next work - how embarrassing!  He actually took a bow to much laughter, but I often wonder what they thought backstage on that occasion.

Audiences can go the other way, too, of course.  I remember being in London at the home of the Royal Philharmonic back in the mid-80s when the great Sir Yehudi Menuhin played with the RPO and the audience actually hissed his performance!  Granted he was in the twilight of his performing career as a violinist at that point but really, does he deserve that sort of reception?  Of course not.  But audiences there are some of the most demanding in the world, I find, and that event has always stayed with me.

Some time later I was again in Toronto at Roy Thomson Hall and Menuhin appeared with his young orchestra as conductor this time, and he was treated with great reverence by the Toronto concert-goers which seemed very appropriate on that occasion.  So basically, use a little common sense and don't go overboard with the applause.  People on both sides of the footlights will, I suspect, appreciate it.

Enjoy the weekend!

January 26th, 2013.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

News from Niagara Artists Centre and the Shaw Festival Film Series

A couple of items I wanted to write about this week, both local and both highlighting great success stories you can take in during 2013.  With January dragging on and on, any opportunity to get out and support the arts is always welcome!

This week our local MP, Rick Dykstra, announced as part of the Government's Economic Action Plan 2012, federal funding to the tune of $24,400 for improvements to the Niagara Artists Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  In a release this week, Dykstra said:  "Our government, through the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, is demonstrating its continued support for communities across Canada.  Here in St. Catharines, these local projects, like the one being undertaken by the Niagara Artists Centre, will create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity in our community."

According to Stephen Remus, Minister of Energy, Minds and Resources for the Niagara Artists Centre (I love that title, by the way!), the funding will go towards installing a grass roof above the Show Room Gallery along with a small area for film screenings, music and literary events.

The Niagara Artists Centre is one of our great local arts resources, housed in a historic building at 354 St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.  The wide range of arts-related programming paired with the vision provided by Remus means yet another reason to venture downtown for some cultural fulfillment. You can even become a member of NAC for a very affordable price, so that might be something you want to consider for the new year.

For more information on NAC, call them at 905-641-0331 or go to  They are open to the public Saturday afternoons from 12 to 4.

The Shaw Festival might be dark as far as live theatre is concerned, although the box office is now open for orders for the upcoming 2013 season.  But in this quiet time at Shaw, people in the know head to the Festival Theatre Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons for the annual Film Series.  There are two series, the Documentary film series on Fridays at 5:30 pm and the Feature Film series Saturday afternoons at 3 pm.

The Documentary film series continues until February 15th, with the remainder of the schedule including Diana Vreeland:  The Eye Has to Travel on February 1st; Chasing Ice on February 8th; and Under African Skies February 15th.

The Feature Film series continues this afternoon, in fact, with the Oscar-nominated film Argo at 3 pm.  The rest of the series includes Robot & Frank January 26th; A Late Quartet February 2nd; Anna Karenina February 9th; Silver Linings Playbook February 16th and finally, Quartet on February 23rd.

Now, I don't go to a lot of movies these days, although my far better half attends both series regularly each season.  But two in the Feature Film series have caught my eye and I likely will be attending Quartet and A Late Quartet, both classically-themed films that look very interesting.

Consulting the online bible of all things film-related, the Internet Movie Database (, both these films get good reviews from contributors since they were released last year.  Quartet is directed by Dustin Hoffman and stars Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Billy Connolly, and according to IMDB, the film takes place at a home for retired opera singers, where an annual concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday is taking place.  For opera singers, this would be a big deal, you know.  But an eternal diva named Jean arrives on the scene just in time to throw the proverbial wrench into the proceedings, as she is the former wife of one of the residents.  Opera intrigue in a movie about retired opera singers?  Why not?!

A Late Quartet is directed by Yaron Zilberman and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener, and looks to be a rather more serious affair than Quartet.  The synopsis from IMBD describes the storyline thusly:  "members of a world-renowned string quartet struggle to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and insuppressible lust."  Insuppressible lust?  I'm in!

It is rare two classical-music-themed movies would come out in a single year, and rarer still they are both garnering a lot of buzz in movie circles, but that seems to be the case with these two, so I will be attending both at the Shaw Festival next month to see for myself what all the buzz is about.

For more information on the Shaw Festival film series, go to or call 905-468-2172.

See you at the theatre!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kiwanis St. Catharines Music & Arts Festival coming soon.

Last weekend a gentleman arrived at my door with a request to stock copies of the current Official Syllabus for the upcoming Kiwanis St. Catharines Music & Arts Festival, which will be held from April 8th to the 27th of this year.  Even though I run a web-based business, thereby limiting the number of people actually coming to pick up orders, I agreed to stock copies of the Official Syllabus in case people contact me requesting a copy of it.

I have no idea if anyone will, but just in case, I thought I would publicize the fact in my weekly blog post to give them some publicity as the annual event is set to get underway again this year.  When you think about it, although April seems a long time off, the actual deadline for entries is coming up a month from now on February 15th.  Whether online, mailed or delivered by hand, the deadline is the same.

The Festival Chair, Peter Brown, is available if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions regarding the Festival at; for general enquiries or to volunteer your services, you can contact Claudette Borowski at  Any other information should be available through the website at including festival dates and locations.

Categories range from piano, strings, guitar, classical guitar, brass and woodwinds, band, vocal, dance and speech arts.  So a wide range of arts are celebrated with the Kiwanis Music & Arts Festival, with ages of participants ranges widely, from very young to young adult.  You never know what you'll hear until you actually go and watch the performances unfold.

I remember being asked a number of years ago to emcee the annual gala performance in St. Catharines, usually held at the end of April or beginning of May, and it was always inspiring to see such young, talented people performing at such a high level on their chosen musical instrument.  Performances were not always letter perfect, but they are not expected to be.  That being said, the calibre of performances were uniformly high.  This year's Festival of Stars Celebration will be held May 16th, by the way, and all participants receive a certificate.

In addition to Peter Brown and Claudette Borowski, the Kiwanis St. Catharines team includes George Cleland overseeing strings; Michelle Cumiskey with vocals; Anne Deyme of Rysons United Music Studios of St. Catharines overseeing guitar/brass/woodwind and band categories; Deanna Smith with speech arts; Jordan Setacci with dance and Jeanne teSligte, piano.  Together, they all endeavour to carry out the mission to encourage, nurture and support performances and educational activities in the city; musicians can enhance their interpretive and musical styles as a means of strengthening character development and further their enjoyment of the arts.

Once again, the deadline for entries this year is February 15th, and the Official Syllabus is now available at many locations throughout the city of St. Catharines, including my offices for A Web of Fine Music.  If you want to pick up a copy here, send me an email directly at and I will set one aside for you.

Of course, if you need a recording of music for a performance for preparations, I can certainly help you there as well; just send me an email or go through my website at and I will do my very best to get a recording of a particular work for you.

Let the competitions begin!

January 14th, 2013.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Some random thoughts on Social Media to start the New Year

It's a new year and I have learned a new word:  conversate.  Ever hear of it?  Neither have I, but it is apparently what we do now, rather than CONVERSE.  Sheesh.  Will we have any language left by the time the next generation reaches our age?  The way things look right now, I am beginning to have my doubts.

I was thinking of this over the past week as I mulled over what to write about this weekend, and I thought this would be the best time to offer my thoughts on social media and the use thereof by one and all.  First off, let me state I am using social media myself more and more all the time, mostly due to work responsibilities rather than I want to, but I do in fact find it rather helpful chasing down stories and people for interview material on the CKTB morning show, which I produce each weekday morning.  My use of Facebook and Twitter is more of a news-gathering device more than anything else, really, and that aspect of it I find quite useful.

My own postings on both are increasing as time goes by, and in fact you might have noticed I now post my weekly blog to both Facebook and Twitter each weekend.  If you want to follow me on either, I would love to add you to my circle of colleagues on both.  For Facebook, I simply use my name, Mike Saunders rather than the business name, A Web of Fine Music.  For Twitter, my handle is @finemusicman, and last time I checked I was up to about 61 followers since I started on Twitter in the fall.  The more the merrier, I always say, and while you're at it, why not add yourself as a follower of my blog right here on the site?

Now, those are the nuts and bolts of the matter.  On the subject of social media in general, I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the whole idea of social media; I have begun to worry people are spending far too much time on social media when the time could perhaps better be spent actually interacting with people on a more personal level.  How many times have you thought to yourself, rather than phone or meet someone in person, you simply just email them or send a message with either Facebook or Twitter?  Far too many times, I suspect, and the problem seems to be we can avoid people we don't want to take the time with but at least keep a civil distance from them without ignoring them entirely.  Nothing wrong with that, as we all have people in our lives we don't want to spend too much time with, but it can be taken too far so as to interact almost exclusively on either and lose the human contact entirely.

Sure, Facebook has been a boon to people finding long-lost friends and even family members and is especially helpful for helping to organize class reunions for your alma mater.  But we cannot and should not allow it to overtake our lives and be the driving force of almost all our social interactions on a daily basis.  Don't laugh; the less you interact on a personal level with people, you risk losing the ability to properly handle social situations when they actually do arise.

What can you expect when you connect with me on either Facebook or Twitter?  Well, first let me tell you what you won't find.  Foul language is one.  Nothing irks me more than to read a post by someone using expletives such as the f-bomb; remember, this is media, and that means people are (hopefully) actually reading your posts.  So for the sake not only of decorum but also good manners and sense, keep it clean.  Basically, if you wouldn't say the word or phrase in your normal conversation with your mother, for example, it doesn't belong on social media either.

The second thing you won't find in my posts are pictures that are of no use to anyone but the person who took the picture.  In other words, I don't take pictures of my lunch or any other meal of the day or the venue I happen to be in at the moment, be it public or private.  Maybe it is just me, but I remain unconvinced this sort of posting is of any social value whatsoever.  A funny picture or video or a clever saying?  Sure, that is fair game for the entertainment value alone.  But the far-too-personal posts are not for me and I shun them at all costs.

What I will post, on the occasional opportunities I do, in fact, post, are random thoughts on Twitter and Facebook and often something shared I have found of particular interest.  I don't profess to offer any great insights into the world around us, other than to say if I have an opinion on something I might just share it.  Nothing wrong with that, I believe, as public discourse is always healthy in this day and age.  I  will often post items I feel are of interest to those who read my blog on a regular basis, usually involving the performing arts or some related topic, or on music topics which hopefully will appeal to those who check out my website,

So, I've taken the plunge with social media in a big way over the past year and a lot of that has been due to the fact I now own an iPhone 4S, so both Facebook and Twitter are at my fingertips at all times. No need to sit on the sidelines when you can get yourself into the game, I always say.  The phone, incidentally, has more features than I will ever learn about nor make regular use of.  I almost cringed at the mere thought of acquiring one a few months back, as I did not want to be connected at all times.  But due to job requirements I felt it was in my best interests to do so, and here we are today.

Saunders with an iPhone and on social media.  The mind boggles...

Happy New Year!

January 5th, 2013.