Saturday, March 30, 2019

News & Notes on the Arts in Niagara and beyond this week

It's been another busy week keeping up with all that's happening in the local arts community, as well as significant happenings elsewhere in the province as spring has sprung.  So this weekend a short roundup of news & notes that have crossed my desk and computer screen I thought would be of interest to you...

First off, the renowned Elora Singers present J.S. Bach's glorious St. John Passion, conducted by new Artistic Director Mark Vuorinen tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 pm.  The concert, designed to usher in the second half of the Easter season will take place at the acoustically wonderful Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate on Norfolk Street in the heart of downtown Guelph.

The St. John Passion was first presented in Bach's Leipzig in 1724 as part of a Good Friday liturgy that was to last several hours.  And as was Bach's custom in Leipzig, the Elora Singers will conclude the singing of the Passion with Jacob Handl's unaccompanied motet, Ecce quomodo moritur.

Tickets to the performance of St. John's Passion are available by calling 519-846-0331, or pick them up at the door prior to the performance tomorrow afternoon.

Meantime the Elora Festival, of which the Elora Singers are very much a part, recently announced the lineup for their 40th anniversary season.  We'll look more closely at the season in a later post, but to whet your appetite in the meantime I'll let you know the Opening Night Gala comes up July 12th at 7:30 pm in the Gambrel Barn.  The concert, to conclude with the requisite fireworks, will highlight the always-popular Carmina Burana by Carl Orff along with a variety of other choral favourites.  Performances at the Gala include of course the Elora Singers as well as the State Choir LATVIJA, members of the Grand Philharmonic Children's and Youth Choirs as well as soloists and the duo Piano Six.  Once again Artistic Director Mark Vuorinen will conduct along with Maris Sirmais.

Both Piano Six and the State Choir LATVIJA are featured later in the first weekend of the Elora Festival.  Tickets are now on sale to the general public by calling 519-846-0331.

Locally, the Brock String and Wind orchestras will hold their final concerts of the season with popular repertoire and world-premiere performances in two upcoming recitals.

Presented by Brock University's Department of Music, the Wind Ensemble under the direction of Zoltan Kalman will present their spring recital, A Touch of Latin, this Tuesday evening in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  The Orchestra's spring recital, entitled A Spring Serenade, takes place the following evening, Wednesday April 3rd in the PAC's Recital Hall conducted by George Cleland.

Both of these concerts demonstrate the connections between the community and the breadth of talent and creativity at Brock's Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts.

The Wind Ensemble will present works ranging from George Gershwin's Cuban Overture to the high-energy Redline Tango and the grandiose Music for a Festival.  The Orchestra, meantime, will present Tchaikovsky's Serenade For Strings as well as Vaughan Williams' gorgeous Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Tickets to either concert are available through the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office by calling 905-688-0722 or at the door on the night of the performance.

Over in Stratford the big news this week was the announcement The Stratford Festival's 2018 was both an artistic and financial success.  The longest season on record, 2018 produced a $1.9-million surplus, with an increase in attendance of 10% to over half a million visitors.  Total revenue for the 2018 season was $65.8 million, up 8% from the previous season.

Ticket sales were the highest in a decade, resulting in revenue of $33 million, the third-highest in the Festival's history.

The surplus will go toward the TPT campaign to build the new Tom Patterson Theatre and the Artistic Excellence Fund.

It was also announced by the Festival Board that Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino's term has been extended a further two years, meaning he will be at the helm of the Festival through 2014.  Cimolino became Artistic Director six seasons ago and has been very successful in broadening the appeal of the Festival as well as spearheading the construction of the new theatre centre.  He's been at the Festival for 32 years now, beginning as an actor in 1988 and rising through the ranks as administrator, General Manager, Executive Director and General Director.  He has also continued to direct numerous productions over the years as well.

The 2019 Stratford Festival runs from April through November and includes Othello, Billy Elliot the Musical, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Private Lives month other performances.  Tickets are available through the Festival box office by calling toll free, 1-800-567-1600.

Finally, next Sunday afternoon the Juno Award-winning Gryphon Trio, celebrating 25 years of music making, will perform in the Recital Hall of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  The Trio, made up of performers James Parker on piano, Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin and Roman Borys on cello have made 20 CDs and have performed more than 2,000 times world wide.

The Gryphon Trio will return to St. Catharines a week from tomorrow to perform Haydn's lively Trio No. 33 in G minor, Love Triangle by Canadian composer Dinuk Wijeratne and Brahms' Trio No. 1, Op. 8.

The concert is the latest presentation by the Gallery Players of Niagara and tickets are available at the door on the day of the performance or in advance through the FirstOntario PAC box office by calling 905-688-0722.

Have a great weekend!

March 30th, 2019.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

News from the Guelph Chamber Choir this weekend

It's been awhile since I've written in this space, and even longer since I wrote about my almost adopted city of Guelph, so let's remedy both this weekend with some news out of the Royal City regarding the ever-talented Guelph Chamber Choir.

The Choir and I go back a fairly long way, truth be told.  I remember driving to Guelph many a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon for one of their regular concerts at one of the area churches before the River Run Centre opened its doors in the fall of 1997.  Most often it would be at the nearby St. George's Church which featured a wonderful atmosphere and acoustic.  On a couple of occasions I recall attending a concert at the large Church of Our Lady on the hill as you enter the downtown core on Gordon Street.

On one of those occasions, I attended a spectacular performance of the Bach B-Minor Mass, which was especially moving for me as it came shortly after the untimely passing of my mother in February of 2000, and this was the first major outing I had undertaken following a difficult mourning period.  The concert, timed to coincide with the coming Easter season, was held on a rather cold Sunday afternoon at the Church of Our Lady; if I am not mistaken it was March 31st or thereabouts.

It was about a year or so prior to that I attended the second of two performances of Handel's oratorio Messiah in a single Sunday one Christmas season.  I still can't believe I actually did this:  I attended the Chorus Niagara matinee performance here in St. Catharines, and then hopped in the car and after stopping for a quick dinner enroute, I attended the Guelph Chamber Choir performance that evening at the River Run Centre.  It might have been their first Messiah at the River Run, but it was a memorable evening following an equally memorable afternoon.  Those were the days I would do such things...ah, the spirit of the youth!

About 15 years ago when I spent many a Saturday helping out my good friend Paul at his music shop Twelfth Night Music on Carden Street, in walked the choir's founding conductor Dr. Gerald Neufeld and his wife, Patricia Eton-Neufeld.  Gerry had no idea who I was at that moment, but Patricia did.  She had often reached out to me to invite me to the next performance of the Guelph Chamber Choir, which in those days I gratefully accepted.  I drove a lot more and further distances in those days, so it was nothing for me to drive up to Guelph to catch a performance and then return home that same night.

Anyway, Gerry and his wife were doing what many other enlightened Guelph residents did on a sunny Saturday afternoon:  browse the latest releases in classical recordings at the shop.  It was a slice of musical heaven in downtown Guelph in those days.

So yes, there is a history between the choir and your humble scribe and I hope it continues for many years to come.  Mind you, Dr. Neufeld has moved on to other challenges and it was announced just today the new Artistic Director and conductor of the Guelph Chamber Choir will be Dr. Charlene Pauls.

The search was an extensive one, but Dr. Pauls brings impressive credentials to her new post.  Her extensive background in choral conducting is paired with her experience as a recognized international soprano soloist.  She also holds degrees in Early Music and Vocal Performance, and just last fall Dr. Pauls was awarded the 2018 Leslie Bell Prize for Choral Conducting by the Ontario Arts Council.

Dr. Pauls will take the podium of the Guelph Chamber Choir for the 2019-2020 season.

In the meantime, the annual spring concert will feature not one but two choirs, the Guelph Chamber Choir and the Elora Singers.  Christopher Dawes will be the organist and founding Artistic Director Gerald Neufeld will return to conducted a programme of choral masterpieces for two choirs and organ at St. George's Anglican Church.

On the programme April 6th will be Parry's I was Glad and Durufle's Requiem along with Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir and selections from Rachmaninoff's divine choral work, Vespers.  The concert begins at 7:30 pm April 6th and tickets should be available in advance at the River Run box office or at the door the evening of the performance.

There was also some sad news this month, as it was announced Dr. Dominic Gregorio passed away on March 3rd in Regina, Saskatchewan.  Dr. Dominic was born and raised in Guelph, completing his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music at the University of Guelph, before moving on to Temple University in Philadelphia where he completed a triple major Master of Music degree (voice, choral conducting and music history).  As if that's not enough, he also completed a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, earning as well the prestigious The Order of Arete medal in 2012 for his brilliant work as a doctoral student.

A proud Filipino-Canadian, Dr. Gregorio made his mark not only in his hometown of Guelph but also his adopted city of Regina, where he was both Director of Choral Activities and an Associate Professor in the Department of Music at the University of Regina.

The memorial service in Guelph for Dr. Gregorio was held earlier today at Dublin Street United Church.

I would not be surprised if mention of his untimely passing will be made at the Guelph Chamber Choir's upcoming spring concert, a concert I imagine he would have loved to attend if he were back home in Guelph.  It would be a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much to the world of choral music, both in his home city and beyond.

I really have to get to Guelph again soon and rediscover a city with such a vibrant arts community.  On April 6th, it would be even nicer to rekindle those great memories of concerts past conducted by Dr. Gerald Neufeld too.


Have a great weekend!

March 16th, 2019.