Saturday, February 28, 2015

Elora Festival Singers heading to Carnegie Hall

There's the age-old story of the tourist in New York City encountering a beleaguered musician and asking how to get to Carnegie Hall:  "Practice, practice, practice" came the response.

Well one of Canada's foremost professional chamber choirs has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall on March 13th, and they are in a mood to celebrate.  The Elora Festival Singers will host a concert previewing their Carnegie Hall performance next Sunday, March 8th at St. John's Church in Elora.

I have written before about this wonderful choir, formed in 1980 and directed all these years by Noel Edison.  They have both Grammy and Juno nominations to their credit, and in fact have a brand-new album coming out shortly I will be writing about in this space in the near future.

On March 8th, Noel Edison will conduct the Elora Festival Singers in performances of choral works by Eric Whitacre, Stephen Chatman and Healy Willan, among others.  There will also be a new work premiered at the March 8th concert by composer Timothy Corlis.

To be sure, many Canadian works will be featured when they hit the stage at Carnegie Hall, as well there should be.  This choir is one of the best in the country and rivals some of the best you'll hear anywhere, so making an appearance in New York is a perfect opportunity to showcase not only their own considerable talent, but those of the many composers they have promoted over the years as well.

There is a considerable difference between the Carnegie Hall space and the cozy space the choir usually occupies at their home base at St. John's Church in Elora, especially when it comes to how many people can catch the performance at one time.  That being said, I am particularly partial to the acoustic and ambience you find at St. John's Church, and look forward to hearing the choir there every summer when I visit the Elora Festival.

The choir sounds simply grand at St. John's, and you can almost reach out and touch them from the front pews they are so close to the audience.  When you combine that with the organ played by Michael Bloss, who accompanies them on many of their acclaimed Naxos recordings, the sound is expansive and full in spite of the small space.

If you have not already done so, if you go to the Elora Festival in July, make it a point to get to St. John's for the Sunday morning service at 11 am.  The choir sounds amazing at the service and I always find the experience to be particularly uplifting.

While you're in Elora, no matter the season there is plenty to see and do.  From the famous Elora Gorge to the equally famous Elora Mill Inn, still undergoing a major reconstruction, to the interesting shops that line downtown Mill and Metcalfe Streets, you can spend an entire weekend and still not cover everything worth seeing in Elora.

The fact the town is very much an artistic as well as a shopping destination means you will rarely be left wanting for something to occupy your time, any time of the year.  There are a lot of creative minds at work in Elora, so there is always something new to discover.

If you want to eat while visiting, you have your choice of small, well-priced cafes and bistros with interesting menus and very affordable prices.  Or you can eat and go at places such as the newly-opened Elora Bread Company, which I happily discovered for the first time last summer.

But back to the concert next Sunday.  If you want to go, tickets are available by calling the Elora Festival office at 1-519-846-0331.  With luck tickets will also be available at the door prior to the 3 pm performance next Sunday.

Let's cheer on a great Canadian cultural institution as they prepare to wow the audiences in New York in a couple weeks' time!

February 28th, 2015.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lots to see in do in Niagara this weekend!

It may be the dead of winter and the cold weather may seem to never want to end, but that should not deter you from getting out of your comfort zone indoors and partake of some great theatre and musical performances this weekend.  I've rounded up a few examples of why you should not stay home the next few days.

First off, Friday evening local jazz singer extraordinaire Sarah Jerrom and her musical friends will be performing The Yeats Project, blending elements of jazz and classical music and presenting the words of W.B. Yeats in a totally new way.

I first met Sarah when she was finally breaking into the local jazz scene while performing at Laura Secord Secondary School on a cold March night several years ago.  I always remembered the raw talent and potential for growth on display that night long ago and it's nice to see an exciting new musical project come out of that young musical mind so many years later.

Sarah sent me an email earlier this week describing The Yeats Project as original musical settings of eleven poems by acclaimed poet W.B. Yeats, orchestrated and arranged by Sarah herself for what she describes as an "unorthodox" 9-piece instrumentation.  Along with Sarah on vocals, the musical accompaniment includes violin, viola, cello, double bass, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, piano and drums.

Jerrom describes the sound as a blend of classical, jazz and improvised music, with a lot of experimentation with sound textures and pushing musical boundaries, all in the name of showcasing Yeats' words.  Sarah points out the nine musicians and the conductor are all from the Toronto area, and in fact they will be accompanying her in Toronto in the next few weeks following the St. Catharines performance this Friday night.

This will be the first of two shows to be recorded live for her second CD, and in fact she's currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Kapipal to raise funds for the project.  Just search Sarah Jerrom on Facebook and you'll find the campaign page should you wish to donate.

The Toronto date will be March 11th, by the way, at the Array Space.

Tickets to The Yeats Project in St. Catharines, 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 University, are available through the Centre for the Arts box office by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or by going to

The performance is tomorrow night at 7:30 in the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock and should be a great show.

Meantime, Essential Collective Theatre has a new show that continues until this Sunday at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines.  Entitled Wings of Wax, the play was written by Lindsay Price and is directed by ECT Artistic Director Monica Default.  It's a fun play, just perfect for taking your mind off the long winter we've been experiencing, and stars Joshua Stodart and Emma Mackenzie Hillier.

Performances continue Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and there is a Sunday matinee at 2 pm that is Pay-What-You-Can.  Tickets should be available at the door for any of the remaining performances.

Also Saturday evening, Suitcase in Point Theatre Company presents their annual fundraiser, Big Time Speakeasy from 7 pm until whenever.  They say until late, whatever that means...

Entertainment will be provided by Juliet Dunn and Ian Greene, Violet Canibelle and Suitcase in Point Theatre, and there will be a dance party with D. J. Dave Stiles.  Of course, being a fundraiser, there will also be Silent Auction items to bid on for everything from massages and artisan gifts to theatre tickets, hotel packages and more.

Tickets are available online at or you can pick them up at the door.  And the door in question is located at the Oddfellows Lodge at 36 James Street in downtown St. Catharines.  Although it takes place on the second floor, it is wheelchair accessible, by the way,

Chorus Niagara presents the third concert of their current season Saturday night at 7:30 at Calvary Church in north St. Catharines, entitled Life Eternal.  The performance pairs two Requiems composed nearly 200 years apart:  Mozart's and John Rutter's.  Mozart's was his last composition, of course, and the stories surrounding it are now legendary thanks to the movie and stage play Amadeus.  Rutter's is part of the composer's continuing legacy of great choral works, this one carrying a message of hope and comfort.

Tickets to the performance should be available Saturday night at the door, or in advance from any choir member or by calling the Brock Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.  You can also order them online by going to

Finally, the Niagara Symphony presents their second "Next Gen" concert for families on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 pm at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University.  It features NSO Associate Conductor Laura Thomas leading the orchestra in a performance of Camille Saint-Saens' immortal Carnival of the Animals as well as Compose Yourself!

Again, tickets should be available through the Brock box office by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or  you can pick them up at the door on Sunday afternoon.

There you go, lots to see and do this weekend, and once you are done it will be March and that means spring is only three weeks away...we hope!

Enjoy the weekend!

February 26th, 2015.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thanks for the nomination for SMC Niagara's 1st Annual Awards event this evening!

Back in 2008, my website designer suggested I start a blog in order to generate interest in my online music business at  I didn't know much about blogging at the time, but I read several and learned quickly what worked and didn't work for me.

In a way, my blog has become a personality-driven vehicle more than originally envisioned; it's become an extension of myself, really.  While originally it was designed to promote and discuss the arts in Niagara and beyond - and I still do that quite frequently in this space - I have in recent years expanded the parameters of the blog to reflect many of my other personal interests.

Being a downtown person, I write frequently about downtown issues, both here in St. Catharines and elsewhere, especially when I see great ideas that can translate here in order to make downtowns in Niagara a better place to live, work and play.  Everything from the return of two-way traffic to the coming rebirth of St. Paul Street as an entertainment mecca in Niagara have been discussed in this space.

Just this year, in fact, I began a monthly series entitled "Some of my favourite downtown things" in which I write about other businesses and enterprises in the downtown core that are making a difference in our community.  The latest instalment in that series was posted just last week after I paid a visit to Lessard-Coutu Jewellers on Lake Street in St. Catharines.

There have also been frequent visits to what I ruefully refer to as the "high rant district" when something ticks me off, like indiscriminate cell-phone use in public or why people feel compelled to take pictures of concerts they are attending or food they are eating.  I can feel myself fulminating already...

Being a former broadcaster by trade, writing is something I care very deeply about.  It must be clean, clear and concise, and beyond all else, fair and credible.  My desire to look at all sides of a situation or argument before drawing my conclusions hopefully results in a blog that is fair-minded and insightful rather than simply a vehicle for someone with a particular ax to grind.

The fact people from many walks of life read my blog regularly and frequently comment on it suggests to me some of my interests are their interests, too, so I appear to be touching a chord here in the community.

Imagine my pleasure and surprise, then, when I found out my blog had been nominated in the Personal Branding category for the 1st Annual Social Media Awards in Niagara.  The awards are a result of the ongoing growth and influence of the Social Media Club Niagara, which began six years ago this spring at Dom's in downtown St. Catharines.

I have attended the meetings off and on over the years since the very beginning, and have always had more than a passing interest in a medium some dismissed as just a fad not that many years ago.  I might have done that myself in the beginning, too, but have come to appreciate what can be done to change society for the better through the use of social media.

The awards ceremony was held this evening as part of their regular monthly meeting at Fresco's at Fourth Avenue and Martingale in St. Catharines, and I am happy to report the room was standing-room only and everyone was pumped as the evening got under way.

In all, there were 33 nominations in several categories, both individual and for community groups and businesses.  The judges explained the process was difficult due to the uniformly high quality of the submissions.

I was flattered to have been nominated, but didn't get my hopes up I would win, since I was up against some pretty high-powered local talent.  In the end, I lost out to a very worthy competitor, Tiffany Mayer, whose Eating Niagara website and blog have become benchmarks for good taste in Niagara and beyond.  Tiffany also published a book within the last year while on maternity leave from her main job, and it is well worth getting hold of and adding to your personal collection.

Everyone nominated in the Personal Branding category brought their own perspective to their work, and each and every one could win in this category, I feel.  So I am truly honoured to have been considered as a nominee myself.  The talent here in Niagara is simply astounding.

Sure, it would have been nice to win.  But we all share this honour simply by being nominated in a very hotly-contested category.  And those who didn't win this year have a year to step up their game and get ready for next year, and you can bet I will be!

Thanks again to SMC Niagara for the nomination and for a great evening at the awards ceremony.  It was great fun and we are all looking forward to next year's competition.

Have a great night!

February 24th, 2015.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Visiting LCJewelery - another of my favourite downtown St. Catharines things.

It's been about a month since I last wrote about another of my favourite downtown businesses or enterprises, and since my ongoing series in 2015 is supposed to be a monthly thing, we're about due for another update.

When you drive down Lake Street past Montebello Park and stop at the lights at Ontario Street, what do you usually notice while waiting for the light to change?  Most likely it is the beauty and sometimes the activity going on in Montebello Park.  Or perhaps you're just looking at the traffic and wishing the light would finally turn.

But when was the last time you turned to your left while waiting there and noticed that well-preserved set of row houses on the south side of Lake Street?  Probably too long.  One of the things you've been missing is one of the more interesting downtown St. Catharines businesses that is currently celebrating their 25th anniversary of pleasing customers in Niagara and beyond.

Lessard-Coutu Custom Jewellers is located at 4 1/2 Lake Street, neatly tucked away in the first of those row houses.  Until three or four years ago, it was all too easy to miss the business entirely unless the one sign outside caught your eye.  Now extra signage brings a little more attention to the location, although people often times still manage to miss it.

I paid a visit this week to learn just how a business some people don't even know exists has managed to carve a nice little market niche out for themselves, building a solid client base in the process.  I was met at the door by Maurice Coutu, otherwise known to one and all simply as Moe, and he welcomed me in to the showroom and sat me down in front of a giant computer screen, which is ground zero for the design process that takes place when you visit.

While they do sell many ready-made pieces sourced from all over the globe, their raison d'etre continues to be custom-designed jewellery.  If you see a design in a magazine somewhere or simply have an idea you would like to realize for that someone special in your life, this is where your dreams can be realized efficiently and affordably.

Together we scanned picture after picture of custom-designed pieces made to order for customers and they range from simple to simply stunning.  One of my favourites and typical of the personal service they offer is an engagement ring that includes in the design a backdrop of the mountain scape the lovers visited when they first met.

Moe walked me through the design process when a prospective client visits the shop with an idea. Throughout the creative process, the design can be altered and tweeked to make it just right, both in regards to the design and the price.  Being a design on the computer, anything can be altered with little effort at all.  But it is when that design is approved and the actual creation of the piece is underway the real magic begins.

As we descended the stairs to the basement, you get the feeling you are visiting Moe's inner sanctum.  This is where the wax moulds are made, and the manufacturing process begins.  He shows me the options for different coloured gold and how he achieves the exact carat specified by the client.  We also viewed the trusty kiln that is fired up regularly in the manufacturing process.  But it is the newly-acquired 3-D printer that holds pride of place downstairs, creating those moulds from the design approved upstairs between designer and client.

Moe tells me before he invested recently in the 3-D printer, he would have to send the design out to a manufacturer in Toronto, and each week he would travel back and forth with the hard pieces needed to create the design.  If something did not meet the client's expectations, back it would go to Toronto the following week for changes to be made.

Now, everything can be done in house, greatly reducing both the time and the cost involved in designing the jewellery.  While a 3-D printer is expensive, Moe considers it an investment he can't afford not to make.  Each job now costs less by doing it himself than if he sent it out to be done elsewhere; he also maintains complete control from initial design to completed piece.

When it comes to the time factor, consider this:  if need be, a ring can be designed and manufactured in house in a fraction of the time it used to take.  Moe tells the story of one gentleman who needed an engagement ring custom-designed in 24 hours.  A tall order to be sure, but Moe and his creative team did it; the process began at 5 pm and was done and ready for the customer the following day at 4.

Now, a couple of qualifiers here.  Most times Moe likes to have more time to work on the project and a month to six weeks is preferable so they can get the design just right.  And if you want to recreate some gaudy bauble you saw when you last toured the Tower of London, well, that can take some time.

But LCJewellery prides themselves on quality and efficiency, so if you need something done in a week, hey, they'll do it for you.  And the piece will be truly custom-designed, not out of a catalogue somewhere.

That brings us to the price.  Oh sure, you can easily spend $25.000 dollars on a design should you wish to.  But Moe stresses you don't have to.  They create pieces to meet any budget, large or small.  And that is the true magic here, I think.  Anyone can enjoy a custom-designed piece different from anything else you'll find in a mass-produced marketplace, and at a price you can afford.

Lessard-Coutu Jewellers is just one of the many businesses open and waiting to serve you in downtown St. Catharines, offering unique services you simply can't find elsewhere.  And they are yet another example of why I love living, working and shopping in the heart of the city.

You can check out their website at, and also find them on Facebook.  Their phone number is 905-984-8622.  Or you can find Lessard-Coutu Jewellers at 4 1/2 Lake Street; just look to your left rather than your right if you are coming down Lake Street and you can't miss them.

There's lots to discover in downtown St. Catharines!

February 19th, 2015.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love music? Lots to see and hear this coming week in Niagara post-Valentine's Day

So here we are, Valentine's Day drawing to a close for another year, and you feel the need for some love and cultural edification to help pull you through the remainder of the month of February, right?

Well, I can't do much about the love part, although I found it rather interesting today the number of men I found about 4 pm scanning the remaining cards and gifts at Food Basics before heading home for the night.  Tip to the gentlemen out there:  don't leave it until 4 pm on February 14th!  Wherever you choose to go to get your sweetie something, this day comes every year just like birthdays do, so can we plan a bit ahead, guys?

I am not being smug here.  Actually I am very lucky in this regard, as my life companion disdains all that Valentine's Day stuff anyways, and even though I dutifully try to surprise her every year with a little something, reciprocation has not happened yet.  Not that I am complaining; if we start doing that I have to try harder myself, and right now I can get by with the bare essentials and that's fine with me.

Today for example, I picked up a bottle of wine and a couple of luscious doughnuts at Beechwood Doughnuts for this evening after dinner, and as of this writing, the wine was divine.  The doughnuts will have to wait until snooze-time ends...

I was happy, though, to see the crowds still lining up at Beechwood today as they do most every day.  My plan to pick two of our favourites was thwarted when the person ahead of me got the last dutchie, so I had to go with plan B and try a couple of new additions to the menu, neither of which have been sampled yet, so I can't give you a report.

Boy, I have taken a detour already, haven't I?  Must be the thoughts of those doughnuts calling my name downstairs as I write this evening.  Curse you, Beechwood Doughnuts, for being so darn good!

Okay, once the day is done and you want something more than hearts and flowers, how about some great music?  Primavera Concerts has you covered Sunday afternoon at 3, as they return to home base at Silver Spire United Church on St. Paul Street for a performance by a trio known collectively as Sonic Escape.  Made up of Shaw Wyckoff on flute, Maria Keneko Millar on violin and Nan-Cheng Chen on cello, the trio is dubbed "daredevils with instruments".  You can look them up on YouTube or catch their links on Facebook in order to see what they are all about.

Along with music, Sonic Escape blends stories, dance moves and more into a highly-imaginative programme, and they bring their show to St. Catharines tomorrow afternoon at 3.  Tickets will be available at the door, or in advance by calling 289-990-3630, or by going to

Centre for the Arts at Brock University continues with several concerts this coming week, including Theatre Terra presenting Spot the Dog in the Wee Ones Wiggle Series for kids on the holiday Monday afternoon at 2:30.  This performance will take place at the David S. Howes Theatre, by the way.

Over at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre, Veterans of SNL perform Wednesday evening at 7:30, and Bettye LaVette & The Walkervilles on Friday, February 20th.  Tickets to all Centre for the Arts performances are available by calling the box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257, or going to

And next weekend, both the Niagara Symphony and Hamilton Philharmonic have romantically-themed concerts planned.  The Niagara Symphony presents their Pops! 3 concert, entitled Dancing Queen!  Yes, it is the music of Abba, with the Jeans 'n Classics Band joining the NSO and Maestro Thachuk Saturday evening at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre.  Not sure if you have to wear polyester to get in or not, but you can try...

The music of Abba has never gone away since they topped the charts in the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s, thanks in no small part to the musical Mamma Mia.  It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I am sure they'll pack the house next weekend for these two shows.  You can order your tickets through the Brock box office or take a chance and pick them up at the door.

The Hamilton Philharmonic presents a more traditional programme for a romantic night out next Saturday evening, February 21st.  Entitled Romeo & Juliet, the concert features the Romeo & Juliet Suite No. 1 by Prokofiev; the ever-popular Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture by Tchaikovsky and the Love Scene from Berlioz' opera Romeo & Juliet.  Just be careful if you sit in balcony seats for this concert...

The guest-conductor audition process continues with the HPO concert next weekend, as Alain Trudel takes to the podium for the concert of grand symphonic works all inspired by Shakespeare's famous love story.

The concert will take place the Great Hall of Hamilton Place and tickets are available at the box office by calling 905-526-7756 or by going to

So there you go - several concerts and events coming up over the next week, many with romantic themes to make you appear like a cultured hero, guys.  And none of them involve watching the movie 50 Shades of Grey, either.

You're welcome!

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 14th, 2015.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Visiting the Buffalo Auto Show and a rescue from CAA Niagara

Some collected thoughts on the weekend that was, which proved to be a bit of an adventure for your humble scribe.  I had planned to write about something else over the weekend, but after a rather interesting day on Sunday, I thought some words of thanks would be in order on a Monday evening.

Last month, my far better half suggested I join her brother and nephew on their annual trek to the Buffalo Auto Show, held in early February at the downtown Convention Centre.  Just the boys out looking at their big toys, as it were.  Okay, I thought, it has been about 20 years since I last visited an auto show of any description, so off I went yesterday morning, in full knowledge we might just get a winter storm blow in during the latter part of the day.

The drive down to Fort Erie where we were all to meet was reasonably uneventful, save for the recurring problem of the "Check Engine Light" coming on again on our 12-year-old vehicle.  Now, I am not like Penny on the Big Bang Theory (in a lot of ways, some of which are quite obvious, by the way) insofar as I don't like seeing the check engine light come on - ever.  It has been a bit of a recurring problem the past few months so I knew what to do about it when I got home:  make yet another appointment at my trusty garage, Central Service in St. Catharines.

Once everyone was assembled in our entourage, we headed to the Peace Bridge in a much newer vehicle than mine, and in no time we were hunting down a parking spot in downtown Buffalo.  Even by 11 on a Sunday morning, parking was at a premium, but we grabbed a spot in a lot about a block away from the Convention Centre and off we went to look at some shiny new iron.

Now, most guys want to look at the fastest, sleekest, most expensive and exotic models on display, and I must admit that is pretty much what we did when we got there.  Looking at the BMW, Maserati and Porsche exotica, you have to marvel at vehicles costing more than we paid for our house here in St. Catharines.

But for me, ever practical to a fault, I started scouting out the vehicles I have on my short list to replace our trusty Honda Civic Hybrid when the time comes in a few years.  There will be others added to the list before we make a final decision, I am sure, but right now I am down to three:  another Honda Civic Hybrid; upgrade to a Honda Accord Hybrid; or make a break with tradition and move over to the Subaru Legacy with AWD.  All of these are impressive in their own ways, and each has their own saving graces.  But I am rather disappointed Subaru does not sell their ultra-low-emission PZEV edition in Canada.  It was on display in Buffalo, but we can't get it here.  C'mon, Subaru, some of us want that thing here, too!

The afternoon visit concluded with a pilgrimage to the Chevrolet and Ford pavilions to look at the swoopy new Corvette and the latest Mustang.  But gee, there is a nice practical sedan over there...I will never change.

After the show we repaired to a local hangout north of Allentown for pizza and wings (well, pizza for me; no wings, thanks) and then hit the road for the return trip over the Peace Bridge.  In spite of a wrong turn that put us on the I-90 towards Niagara Falls, we made it back pretty quickly, and I was duly dropped off at my trusty car, coated in ice from the storm that had been passing through while we visited Buffalo.

It took awhile to chip away the ice and clear the snow, but I was on the road back home in short order, not thrilled with the prospect of driving through the snow all the way back from Fort Erie to St. Catharines, especially in a vehicle with the ubiquitous "Check Engine Light" glaring at me.

It didn't take long before I realized I had another problem to deal with.  Plodding along Gilmour Road, as I approached the Fleet Industries plant, I decided to pull over and investigate a rather ominous feeling and sound coming from the car.  For the third time since November, we had another flat tire to contend with!

It was at this point I was thankful for two things:  my iPhone was with me for the ride, and I am a longstanding member of CAA Niagara.  When I called, I was told the wait would be about 45 minutes or so, which is pretty much what I expected.  But I had no sooner hung up and called my far better half to let her know what was going on, and I had a call from the CAA.  It was the driver, already on his way to rescue me!  It had not even been five minutes since I placed the first call.  He arrived and said I just happened to call at the right moment, as he was in-between calls and just happened to be up the street.

So, up onto the flatbed went my beast, and off we drove on the snow-covered QEW back to St. Catharines.  Depositing my car at the garage, he was gone in a flash, and I walked home from there.  I neglected to get the driver's name, but he lives in the Fort Erie area and he was just great.  We talked about so many things on the return trip, and he really exemplified the type of professional service I have come to expect whenever I call CAA Niagara for help.

So to whomever you are, thanks for being so efficient yesterday getting me back home again.  Your service was greatly appreciated and worthy of a shout-out in this space this week.

If you have not taken out a membership with CAA, I suggest you think seriously about doing so.  They have always been there for me over the many years I have lived in Niagara, and many years before that in Toronto.  It is money well spent even if you get a tow very occasionally as I do.

As for the Buffalo Auto Show, it was fun and worth the visit.  In fact, I plan to write more about Buffalo in a future column; the city is on the upswing in a big way and truly they are "Talkin' Proud" with good reason.

So, that was my was yours?

Enjoy the week!

February 9th, 2015.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Primavera Concerts Celebrates 10 years with music

This afternoon I ventured out in the snow to enjoy the first concert of the New Year by Primavera Concerts, the little concert series with big ambitions.

Primavera Concerts is celebrating 10 years this season, and it is nice to see them continue to grow and expand their reach in Niagara.  That being said, I was a little disappointed by the rather sparse turnout at St. Thomas' Anglican Church on Ontario Street for the concert this afternoon.  Could it be the change of venue for this one concert?  Perhaps.  The nasty weather outside?  Could be, especially for seniors venturing out today.  Could it be the big football game today?  Possibly, but two different audiences and the actual game was still a good couple of hours away.

So what's the problem?  Here in Niagara we have such a wide array of choices for classical music of every description and size:  Niagara Symphony; Chorus Niagara; Choralis Camerata; Gallery Players; Niagara Concerts; Mercredi Musique, Brock's Department of Music and the list goes on and on.  But often, there are plenty of seats to be had even at the door prior to the concert.

I find this a troubling prospect given the fact in less than a year we have a big, shiny new Performing Arts Centre set to open and it will not be the most inexpensive venue to rent for a concert, I would imagine.  How many of these smaller ensembles in Niagara will forsake their customary homes at fine old churches in the area for the new space downtown is open to conjecture at this point, but I would venture a guess some will and do their best to sell more tickets to these concerts at the PAC.

But if people are not supporting them now, why would they next year?  I mean, the new venue will bring in more people initially due to the nature of the new space, but the performances will have to attract a wider audience and yes, a younger demographic than many of them presently do in order to survive the transition.

Classical music is at a crossroads here:  the ensembles have to reinvent themselves while still remaining true to their core clientele that has been with them from the beginning.  Not an easy task, but creative minds can come up with some pretty clever ideas at times, and they had better get at it if the growth they need to see in the future is to materialize.

And that brings us to today's concert by Primavera Concerts, now headed up by new Artistic Director Guy Few.  Guy is enthusiastic, talented and knowledgeable about what works with concerts such as these, and his slightly wordy description of what's to come with Primavera Concerts in the coming weeks and months was encouraging.

It is up to the Artistic Director to come up with ideas and sell them not only to the board but to the audiences at large, and I get the feeling Few is preparing the faithful gathered at St. Thomas' Church today for a more dynamic, creative and inventive mix of musical performances in the future.  Let's hope so, because the future of classical music concerts everywhere depends on those winds of change.

Today's concert, entitled A Soft and Golden Fire, blended more contemporary music with some traditional selections, so audience members would not have to wait long to hear something else they might like if the present piece was not their cup of tea.  It's a fine balancing act, and the three musicians performing today were certainly up to the task at hand.

Featuring mezzo-soprano Patricia Green, Lisa Cella on flute and the ageless Judy Loman on harp, the concert ranged from music by Andre Caplet and Maurice Ravel, two late 19th-century/early 20th-century composers to modern composers such as Adam Greene, George Crumb, Canadian composer Harry Freedman, and Timothy Sullivan.  Rounding out the concert was music by Benjamin Britten and Carlos Salzedo featuring Judy Loman giving a masterclass on the harp in the solo spotlight.

The calibre of all three soloists was first-rate, with Ms. Cella especially impressive on a host of flutes ranging from very large to quite small.  Her performance of Greene's Ripples, written to commemorate the Japanese tsunami of 2011 was especially breathtaking.

Patricia Green has a lovely, rich and expressive voice, and ably handled her song-cycles with authority and impressive control.

But it was Judy Loman I watched closely from beginning to end.  I have enjoyed her performances for years now, and still treasure some of her recordings made on the Marquis label years ago for their utter virtuosity, including a tribute album to Carlos Salzedo.  Judy owns the harp, plain and simple, and watching her performance today made me almost wish she were doing a solo concert this afternoon.

Two rather odd occurrences marred an otherwise enjoyable afternoon of music-making, and both out of the control of Primavera Concerts.  About halfway through the first half of the programme, the air conditioning in the church unexplainably kicked in, sending most of us reaching for our winter coats as the temperature in the church quickly dropped as a result.  The harp being a very difficult instrument to keep in tune at the best of times presented some tuning challenges to Loman due to the fluctuating temperatures, I suspect.

But the most embarrassing moment came in the finale when the trio performed a song cycle by Timothy Sullivan that gave the concert its title.  After the first song, Ms. Green sensed someone was recording the concert and politely yet firmly asked them not to do so.  The response from the person in the audience was they were recording it for Mr. Sullivan himself and nothing more.

As I understand it, clearance was obtained by Primavera Concerts to record the piece privately, but somehow the lines got crossed resulting in a rather awkward moment for all concerned, as the musicians were clearly not pleased with the recording of a live performance.

Other than that, it was a great afternoon of music making, and everyone in attendance appeared to be more than pleased with the talent and musical selections chosen.

The next concert, as Mr. Few enthused prior to today's concert, comes up in just a couple of weeks on February 15th at Silver Spire United Church on St. Paul Street.  Entitled Sonic Escape, the concert features what are described as "daredevils with instruments", so we'll have to see how that plays out.   But it does sound intriguing...

Tickets to that concert can be purchased in advance by calling 289-990-3630 or online at  You should also be able to pick them up at the door.

If today's concert is any indication, the future looks bright indeed for Primavera Concerts.

Have a great week!

February 1st, 2015.