Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking for some entertainment for your late November Sunday afternoon?

This is the time of year there are so many concerts, theatre events and such happening, it is hard to keep track of them all.  But no matter:  you can always keep track by consulting the Calendar page of my website, for listings that are updated regularly on happenings in Niagara and beyond.  I have been falling a bit behind the last week, but plan to catch up again this coming week, so keep an eye out for more updates.

In the meantime, there are three Sunday afternoon offerings you might want to consider if you have a desire to ignore the mall and all the holiday madness already underway, and actually relax with some great music or theatre.

In downtown St. Catharines, the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre is the place to be for the final performance of ECT's thought-provoking play The Valley, written by playwright Joan MacLeod.  Presented in the round and headed up by Essential Collective's Artistic Director Monica Default, The Valley tells the story of Connor, his mother Sharon, police officer Dan and his wife Janie, exploring mental health issues and the stigma that surrounds them.

The final performance is this afternoon at 2 pm with pay-what-you-can pricing, and tickets are available at the door.  This play has been getting a lot of attention recently and with good reason, so you might want to check it out for yourself before it is done.

Meantime, up the hill at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University, the Niagara Symphony presents their second Masterworks concert of the season, entitled Will to Live.  Featuring guest conductor Kenneth Woods and tenor Lawrence Wiliford, the concert begins with the Chamber Symphony Op. 46a by Ullmann, and concludes with the ever-popular Symphony No. 4 by Beethoven.  In between, Wiliford pairs with Austin Hitchcock on horn and the string section of the orchestra for Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Strings and Horn.

I like the dark wartime-era Ullman and Britten works, both dating from the 1940s, pitted against the decidedly more upbeat and sunny-sounding Symphony No. 4 by Beethoven, often overlooked for some of his weightier symphonies, most notably the 5th.  It's also the kind of programming I like to see from the NSO, balancing newer works with traditional favourites, never going overboard and risking losing their core audience.

This concert also features the annual Silent Auction in the lobby before and at intermission of the concert, where you can outbid your neighbour on a wide variety of great gift items.  You can do your Christmas shopping right there, and enjoy a great concert, too!

Tickets to this afternoon's performance at 2:30 are available by calling the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or just pick them up at the door.  Should be a fun afternoon and a busy one at the Symphony as well.

Incidentally, earlier this month Music Director Bradley Thachuk dropped the puck at a Niagara Ice Dogs home game at the new Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines, and I think that is the type of cross-promotion that can only help the NSO as they try to build their core audience in the future.  I will be writing more about that aspect next month as the so-called 'Next' Gen series kicks off December 7th.

Finally, if you are near or plan to be up in the Guelph area today, the always-creative and inspiring Guelph Chamber Choir, directed by Gerald Neufeld, presents a concert entitled Carols for Christmas. Along with the usual array of holiday favourites, there will also what is being described as "music for wine glasses" - who knew there was another use for wine glasses?  Just kidding...anyway, sounds like a lot of fun, especially as that particular piece apparently brings out the "mad scientist" in Maestro Neufeld courtesy the new technology all around us today.

There's special guest artists for the concert presenting both musical and narrative offerings, at St. George's Church in downtown Guelph.  This is one of my favourite churches anywhere, incidentally, as it is a large, traditional and acoustically lovely church right in the heart of the city that embraces creative endeavours such as this afternoon's concert by the Guelph Chamber Choir.

The concert is at 3 pm and tickets are still available; you can get them at the door on a cash-only basis prior to the performance.

So there you go:  three reasons to avoid the mall and putting up your holiday decorations for another week!  You're welcome.

Have a great Sunday!

November 30th, 2014.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

News and notes on the local music scene in Niagara this weekend

As I've written the past couple of weeks in this space, there is no shortage of musical events in Niagara to catch your interest, and this weekend is no exception.  So a few notes on things that have happened or will be happening you might want to keep in mind before Monday rolls around again.

Last evening you had your choice of catching Liona Boyd in Concert at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake or the Toronto-based Madawaska Ensemble at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  I chose the latter, simply because another chance to hear La Liona comes up next Friday evening, November 28th at Silver Spire United Church in downtown St. Catharines.

The Madawaska Ensemble performed two of Brahms' greatest chamber works as part of the Encore! Professional Concert Series presented by the Department of Music at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock.  The ensemble is young, sharp and very accomplished, handling the master of the Romantic Era with relative ease.

I am also happy to report the audience was quite large for one of these events, with many in the audience Brock music students who are required to attend the concerts as part of their course curriculum.  While I saw a few lost souls who had no interest in the music whatsoever, including the young lady seated beside me who fidgeted, played with her hair, stared at the ceiling, noisily searched in her bag for nothing in particular throughout the concert and who, at the start of intermission instantly started texting people, by and large the audience was appreciative and responsive.

I love well-played chamber music and this concert was a pleasure to witness from beginning to end.  It also illustrates the high quality of music programming the Department of Music at Brock presents each season, and which will be coming to the downtown Performing Arts Centre next season.  So thanks for the great concert last night, Madawaska Ensemble.

As I mentioned, Liona Boyd, Canada's so-called First Lady of the Guitar, is on a concert tour of smaller venues in the province at the moment, which brought her to the lovely St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake last evening.  The tour is to support her new Christmas (or Holiday-themed if you prefer) CD, A Winter Fantasy.  I featured the disc in my November newsletter from A Web of Fine Music a couple of weeks ago, in fact.

Liona is really doing what she does best here:  visit smaller, more intimate venues with her guitar and fellow musicians to engage in some seasonal fare.  The musicians in question last night were the Queenston Ladies Choir, while next Friday night the Silver Spire Adult Choir will accompany Ms. Boyd.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Liona, as she was one of my very first radio interviews when I worked in Oshawa and commuted every day from my home in east-end Toronto.  The year was I think 1977 and Liona had made a splash on the Canadian music scene with a few solo guitar albums on the Boot Records label.  I was invited to interview Liona at her parents' Etobicoke home that afternoon and when I arrived, she was deeply embroiled in a long-distance phone call trying to book her concert dates in South America.

Back then Liona did all that herself, before she became much more famous and others were doing all that work for her.  But on this fateful day, I patiently waited while she negotiated the concert while sitting on the living room floor in a long flowing dress.  When we finally did talk, she was delightful in every respect, and I have had the pleasure of talking to her a few times over the years since; she is always very graceful and accommodating in our conversations.

Anyway, you can catch her concert next Friday evening at Silver Spire United Church by calling 1-888-222-6608 or going to  You could also likely get them at the door.  If you want her new CD, I can certainly get that for you by contacting me directly at

Finally, tomorrow afternoon you have two local concerts to choose from, one in Welland and one in St. Catharines.  In Welland, the local choir Choralis Camerata will present their second concert of the weekend, featuring Britten's A Ceremony of Carols and J.S. Bach's Wachet Auf! at Central United Church on Young Street.  Accompanying the choristers directed by David Braun will be harpist Deborah Braun and Sinfonia Camerata, along with soprano Kira Braun, mezzo-soprano Jennifer McKillop, tenor Jason Lamont and baritone Michael York.

Tickets are available at the door or in advance through their website, or by calling 905-646-9225 or 905-354-4348.  The concert begins at 2:30 Sunday afternoon.

Here in St. Catharines, meanwhile, Primavera Concerts kicks off their 10th anniversary season with a concert entitled A Strauss Party, featuring Guy Few on trumpet and piano and Stephanie Mara on piano.  As you might expect, the concert is primarily of trumpet and piano selections as well as piano four hands, celebrating the great composer Richard Strauss and his contemporaries and successors.

Primavera Concerts also uses Silver Spire United Church for most of their concerts again this season, with tomorrow's musical offerings beginning at 3 pm.  For tickets and more information call 289-990-3630 or go to  You can also pick them up at the door prior to the concert tomorrow afternoon.

So there you have it:  several reasons not to go to the mall and listen to all that dreadful piped in holiday music over the next few days.  No need to thank me; just doing my part for the sanity of the city and its' citizens, that's all.

Enjoy your weekend!

November 22nd, 2014.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Theatre and music notes around Niagara this November

The month of November is fast approaching the half-way mark already, and there is no shortage of great music and theatre available right here in Niagara for you to enjoy.  I'll touch on three such events getting underway or happening this weekend you would do well to attend if you have the time.

First up, Garden City Productions' new fall show is actually an early Christmas show this year:  Irving Berlin's White Christmas, which opened Friday evening at the Mandeville Theatre at Ridley College.  I'm sure everyone is familiar with the story by now, thanks to Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye hoofing and singing in the movie version many years ago.  For some it is the quintessential holiday "feel-good" movie and for a time, my season was not complete without watching it at least once.

Garden City Productions always punch above their weight, as it were, and this new show, directed and choreographed by Wendy Leard and featuring Tom Inglis as music director, should be no different.  Condensing the large story line from the popular movie is not an easy job, but GCP always seems to find a way to pull it off.

Performances continue this weekend with a Sunday matinee, and the remainder of the run will be Friday and Saturday evening performances the following two weekends, as well as Sunday matinees until November 30th.

For tickets and more information, call 905-682-1353 or go to

At the other end of the theatrical spectrum is the fall offering by Essential Collective Theatre, Joan MacLeod's play The Valley, which opened this evening at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.

This show is presented in the round and explores mental health issues and the stigma that surrounds them.  Admittedly theatre not for everyone, I suppose, it will however appeal to those with a social conscience and aware of the need for a better understanding of and treatment of mental health issues in society today.

Performances continue evenings, Tuesday through Saturday until November 30th with pay-what-you-can matinee performances each Sunday afternoon at 2.  Of special note is this coming Tuesday evening, November 18th, playwright Joan MacLeod will do a play reading at 7 pm prior to the performance, and participate with the cast in a post-show talkback with the audience.

There is also a community event coming up Monday evening of this week at Brock University's Sean O'Sullivan Theatre that ties in nicely with the subject matter covered in The Valley.  It's a Town Hall Forum entitled "Out of Our Minds" featuring a guest panel of representatives from mental health and police services as they discuss themes present in the play.  This event is free and open to the public, by the way.

New Artistic Director Monica Default is taking ECT into exciting new directions, continuing the tradition of presenting quality thought-provoking local theatre in the heart of the city.

Tickets for The Valley will be available at the door prior to each performance through to November 30th.

Finally, a music note with a sincere apology attached.  The Gallery Players of Niagara kick off their 20th season Sunday afternoon with a performance featuring their founding music director, Heather Dawn Taves in a concert of piano and woodwind music.

I must apologize, though, as I detailed the wrong information when I included concert details from last year's inaugural concert in my November newsletter that came out a couple of weekends ago.  My mistake, totally, and my sincere apologies to The Gallery Players and their devoted fans for the mix-up in the newsletter.

Yes, this is indeed Gallery Players' 20th season, and this kickoff concert is tomorrow afternoon at 2 at the Silver Spire United Church on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.  Tickets should be available at the door, or you can order in advance by calling 905-468-1525 or log on to

Incidentally, Gallery Players are just about to release their brand-new CD to mark their 20th anniversary season, and I hope to have a copy in my hands shortly so I can review it in this space in the near future.

So there you go:  fun theatre, serious theatre and music to brighten up a November Sunday afternoon.  What more could you want to chase away thoughts of early snow in Niagara?

Enjoy the weekend!

November 15th, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Busy season underway at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock University

I am always amazed when the brochure arrives outlining the season's offerings at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts up at Brock University.  If you love music, drama or the visual arts, there is something there for you this season well worth investigating.  So I thought I'd outline some of the highlights in my mid-week blog post just in case you want to escape your everyday world for something a little more satisfying.

One of the best deals in the city is the RBC Foundation Music@Noon series most Tuesdays at noon through to the end of next March.  The recitals are absolutely free, and feature established talent as well as accomplished students in the Department of Music at Brock.  Just today for example, local guitar virtuoso Timothy Phelan performed at the Concordia Seminary Chapel up at Brock, and I hear it was a great concert.

In coming weeks, there will be recitals by Voice Students, Instrumental Students and Piano Students at Brock before the Christmas break.  The series resumes in January with another 11 recitals planned. And did I mention they are all free and open to the public?

The University Wind Ensemble performs two concerts each season at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre, both directed by Zoltan Kalman.  The fall concert comes up December 2nd. and the spring concert on March 31st.  Both concerts pair up established Niagara musicians with both university and high school students as they perform major wind band repertoire.

The Viva Voce! Choral Series gets underway this coming weekend with a performance by the Avanti Chamber Singers directed by Dr. Harris Loewen, entitled Viva La Musica.  The concert at St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street is Saturday evening and will also be a release party for their third CD, "Beauty is Before Me", the fifth instalment in the "Voices of Niagara" CD series.

As with the previous four recordings in the series, the music on this new disc is either written or arranged by composers with a Niagara connection, with most being recorded for the very first time.  Composers represented on the latest recording include Penny Blake, John Butler, Nathaniel Dett, Erik Gero, Brock professors Peter Landey and Harris Loewen, Gail Poulsen, folk singer Stan Rogers, Matthew Tran-Adams, and Ronald Tremain, Brock's first Professor of Music.

The concert itself opens with a work written especially for the occasion, based on the familiar round "Viva La Musica", and follows with a number of works by Renaissance composers and modern composers.  Tickets and the new CD will be available for purchase at the door.

The rest of the Viva Voce! series continues November 29th with the Brock University Choirs directed by guest conductor Glenda Crawford with their fall concert, and the spring concert on March 28th; and two more performances by the Avanti Chamber Singers, on February 7th and April 25th.

The very popular Encore! Professional Concert Series gets underway November 21st with the Madawaska Ensemble performing two works by Johannes Brahms; Toronto-based Quartetto Gelato on January 30th; local jazz diva Sarah Jerrom and Friends presenting something called The Yeats Project on February 27th and Trio Surgite presenting Voices of Eastern Europe on March 27th.

The Department of Dramatic Arts presents a couple of plays each season, with the fall offering opening this coming Thursday evening at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre:  Hannah Crowley's The Belle's Stratagem, directed by Gillian Raby and featuring music by local musician Joe Lapinski.  The cast is made up of students in the Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock, and the play is a comedy exploring the city and how we cope in this more modern, digital age.  If you can't make the Thursday evening opening, there are additional performances Friday morning at 11:30 and evening at 7:30, as well as Saturday evening at 7:30.

Finally, if the visual arts interest you, the Walker Cultural Leader Series continues in the spring with the Department of Visual Arts presenting acclaimed Canadian painter Janet Werner in March and April.  The public presentation of Painting the Imaginary Portrait takes place at Rodman Hall on March 5th, and that is a free community event.

In April, Rodman Hall hosts Janet's exhibition, From likeness to fiction:  the portrait inside out, running from April 1st to the 26th, and again it is a free community event.  The exhibition then travels to the University of The West Indies in Trinidad for May and June.

So there you go:  lots to choose from and literally something for everyone as is the case each year with the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock.  And just think, all that creative talent will be in their new home in downtown St. Catharines come next year, so why not get involved now prior to the move?

Many of the concert events are at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre up at Brock, and for any of the events requiring tickets, you can get those through the Brock Centre for the Arts box office by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or go online to  For many of the events tickets will also be available at the door prior to the performance.

I have all the events listed on the Calendar page of my website at, and you can alway check out their website as well for more information at

There is always something interesting happening at MIWSFPA, the rather unwieldy acronym for the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts; all they need is you to share the excitement!

Enjoy the show when you go...

November 11th, 2014.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Marking the 100th anniversary of the Great War in music and memories this weekend

This weekend, even though Remembrance Day is still three days away, many Canadians will pause and think of someone they either knew or even didn't know, who served in the First or Second World Wars.  We'll wear our poppies proudly on our left and thank the veteran who is selling them yet again this year, in spite of perhaps failing health in their senior years.

This year, of course, brings a special poignancy to the day with the recent deaths of two Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent of Quebec and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo of Hamilton.  Reports just yesterday suggest Royal Canadian Legion branches may not have enough poppies on hand to supply all who want them prior to Remembrance Day this year.

What a bittersweet thought that is.  Yet it shows how close the two deaths hit home for many Canadians, who have come to the realization there is danger on our own soil should we choose to ignore it.  And we are especially thankful for all the work the men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces do around the world as well as here at home to protect us all.

This weekend, we can perhaps show our gratitude and reflect on the difficult jobs these men and women in uniform do, and have done for many years, defending democracy and human rights around the world by attending a concert or other event commemorating those who lost their lives in past conflicts and continue to do so today.

Two such concerts are coming up tonight, in fact, one in St. Catharines and one in Hamilton; both will be fitting tributes to those we remember on Tuesday.

In St. Catharines, Chorus Niagara presents The World Remembers, a First World War Centennial concert.  Artistic Director Robert Cooper has put together an audio and visual program with the help of the St. Catharines Museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War, as witnessed by the personal accounts of Niagara's soldiers and nurses, their families, friends and community.

This musical salute to the pride, passion and pathos of the so-called "war to end all wars" will be sponsored by The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation, and takes place at 7:30 pm at Calvary Church in St. Catharines.  Tickets will be available at the door or in advance by calling the Brock Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or by going to

You can find out more about the concert and the entire Chorus Niagara season by going to their website at

In Hamilton, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra presents In Remembrance:  Fanfare for the Common Man this evening at 7:30 as well.  The reflective and memorable programme will display the honour, valour and innate beauty of symphonic music in a tribute to the community's veterans and military families.  It will have special meaning for many Hamiltonians as Cpl. Cirillo lived in Hamilton.

The concert features Samuel Barber's eloquent Adagio for Strings, Elgar's moving Enigma Variations, and the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich, featuring cellist Yegor Dychkov.  Guest conductor Gregory Vajda leads the orchestra as well in the familiar and majestic Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland, as a way of paying tribute to so many uncommon men AND women in the military the world over.

Tickets for tonight's concert at the Great Hall of Hamilton Place will be available at the door prior to the concert, or you can call ahead to book yours if you have not already done so.  The box office number is 905-526-7756, and online you can book at

We should always show our gratitude and appreciation for our members of the military every day of the year, but this year especially, this weekend is even more important.  Please make an effort to show you care and appreciate the work they do throughout the year.

Have a good weekend!

November 8th, 2014.