Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hieronymous Bosch "In the Gallery," Cineplex broadcast series

The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1495-1505
Fascinating overview of the oft-mistaken character of the artist and his other-worldly works. The comparisons I found between him and William Kurelek were astounding. Both thoughtful but not insane prophets of their times and the messengers of the need for self-reflection and restraint in this life. As John Franklin wrote in the Fall 2016 Imago newsletter, "...artists have the capacity to see what is coming in a culture and their work indicates the mood and values of a society." {Quoted with permission.} The details shown in this broadcast allowed for viewing just not possible in a book, even with a magnifying glass. Weirdnesses like his frequent depictions naked bodies with birds flying out of bottoms (!) and of owls; the interviewed historians noted them as harbingers of something ominous but here is a more nuanced suggestion:
Owl: the owl has a double meaning: 1) the perfidious Jews who, preferring darkness to light, reject Jesus, and 2) (from the Aberdeen Bestiary), "In a mystic sense, the night-owl signifies Christ. Christ loves the darkness of night because he does not want sinners - who are represented by darkness - to die but to be converted and live... The night-owl lives in the cracks in walls, as Christ wished to be born one of the Jewish people, saying: 'I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. But Christ is crushed in the cracks of the walls, because he is killed by the Jews. Christ shuns the light in the sense that he detests and hates vainglory... The night-owl flies at night in search of food, as Christ converts sinners into the body of the Church by preaching. In a moral sense, moreover, the night-owl signifies to us not just any righteous man, but rather one who lives among other men yet hides from their view as much as possible. He flees from the light, in the sense that he does not look for the glory of human praise."   (from

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Theremin Concert at the Music Gallery

Saw Carolina Eyck play the theremin at the Music Gallery. Guests Gregory Oh (piano and Hammond organ), James Mason (oboe) and composer D. Andrew Stewart (karlax) with the Penderecki Quartet! New pieces by Stewart and Omar Daniel. All ridiculously cool. No haunted house music here—I was amazed at its versatility.

The karlax is about a hundred years older than the theremin. Da Fact makes the digital instrument that can reproduce recorded speech, sound effects and music that is affected by gesture. Very interesting development of this century's musical landscape.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

La La Loved It

While a musical, it is set for our times, with some nods to Hollywood of the past. There are some loose ends, but there's an interesting use of colour and treatment of light. I hope it will be a catalyst for more musicals. My only complaint is that there weren't more musical numbers in it. Good fun!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

La Grande Bellezza è molto bella!

Far l'amore! Music includes Lang, Pärt, Tavener and Preisner.  *swooning* Finally gave in and got the DVD to go with my CD.

Mind Blown. Again.

Like Arrival, there are so many levels to this film. And Matt Damon.

Hans Zimmer masterpiece

It's not often that I buy soundtracks but this one's use of the pipe organ is incredible. 


"One felt nothing at all from the dead. They died, and then they were gone, and one's heart ached from the sudden absence of feeling more than from any surfeit." (pg. 247)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lots to digest from this

photo by Guntar Kravis 
Daniel MacIvor

Daniel Brooks

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Constellations at CanStage

Choice and destiny collide in British theatre luminary Nick Payne's startlingly original play about the infinite possibilities of love (and the quantum multiverse). A man and a woman's chance encounter sets off a singular chain of events where each path they might take shapes an entirely different future. Their sweeping and spellbinding romantic journey will defy the boundaries of the world we think we know. Director Peter Hinton brings his award-winning vision to this five-star West End and Broadway hit. 

Graham Cuthbertson
Cara Ricketts

Courtesy CanStage.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dollhouse at CanStage

Prolific Canadian dancer/choreographer Bill Coleman (Older & Reckless) confronts a series of almost biblical challenges in this eye-opening spectacle about a man out of sync with his surroundings. Objects fall, shatter and move of their own accord creating a unique soundscape that accompanies one man's descent into chaos. Coleman, a master performer, plays the role of modern fakir as he navigates through situations, at times verging on the comic, culminating in a hypnotic symphony of sight and sound created and performed in collaboration with celebrated composer Gordon Monahan.  Courtesy CanStage.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Realistic Joneses at Tarragon Theatre



directed by Richard Rose
Nov 9 – Dec 18, 2016 in the Mainspace
Opened Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Meet the Joneses – Bob and Jennifer, and their neighbours, John and Pony – two couples who have even more in common than their identical homes and shared last names. With compassion, great humour, and a fine eye for the quirks of contemporary life, The Realistic Joneses dives deep below the surface to expose the extraordinary heroism of the everyday.
★★★1/2 (out of 4)  “Eno’s is an original theatrical voice; a poignant and pitch-perfect production; superb cast” – The Globe & Mail 
“That [Broadway] production, with a starry cast, was good, but the Tarragon one, directed by Richard Rose, is better. It’s certainly much funnier, the four actors feast on the wrong-footing and second-guessing with which these Joneses strive to keep up with one another.” – National Post
★★★ (out of 4) “[Eno] is a master of dialogue; this isn’t a disease play, or an infidelity play, or a language play – its beauty is how it shimmers between all of these.” – The Toronto Star 
NNNN “Weird, funny and unexpectedly poignant” – NOW Magazine
“Plays as funny and moving, as wonderful and weird as The Realistic Joneses, do not appear often on Broadway; a pleasurable rush virtually unmatched by anything I’ve seen this season.” – Charles Isherwood, New York Times (Broadway production)
The running time of The Realistic Joneses is approx. 1h 40minutes with no intermission.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Private Viewing with Imago at the AGO: Mystical Landscapes

One of the best exhibits I've seen at AGO in recent years. Closes January 29, 2017.
How do you find a spark of light in the midst of darkness? CBC’s Tapestry radio show takes an intimate look at the mystical impulse in great art created during turbulent times much like our own and reveals the spiritual side of great painters such as Monet, van Gogh, and Gauguin.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Men and Their Work

I never read reviews before I go to see or hear something. I want to form my own opinions, uninfluenced. So I'm surprised to see all the hoopla about a documentary and the less enthusiastic reviews about a story (that might as well be a documentary) which I saw this week.
La loi du marché or The Measure of a Man (Brizé, 2015) is a current tale of a middle-aged man sent for retraining as part of his employment search plan after being laid off. Vincent Lindon is again wonderful (as he was in Toutes Nos Envies or All Our Desires, Lioret 2011), playing the frustrated and humiliated Thierry Taugourdeau with incredible yet affective restraint. This poignant character study and damning social commentary is top-notch film: nothing's Hollywoody-obvious and the viewer is left to decide the ending's result based on what they have judged Taugourdeau to be, when he is faced with a moral dilemma. The supporting cast is excellent, as are the untrained actors used to fill out the story. But if you're underemployed at the moment, you might want to skip it.

Fuocoammare or Fire at Sea (Rosi, 2016) seemed like it would be an interesting review of the current migrant crisis: it focuses on Lampedusa, a small island which receives waves of "boat people" from countries in crisis. The stark realities of the refugees' plights are gripping (e.g. hearing their mayday calls via ship radios), the immigration-industry's employees are shown treating them with respect (don't know if that was for the camera's sake), and the rescued masses are whittled down to a few portraits which put the viewer uncomfortably close to their private griefs and stresses: an interesting premise. But this is not just about the immigrants, it's also about the Italian inhabitants of this quaint community and their everyday lives. Which is fascinating: the near-PTSD doctor, the radio station host/producer, the fishing widows and the ridiculously charming yet ordinary 12-year-old, Samuele Caruana. However, ne'er do the twain meet. This struck me as two documentaries stuck together with hope and perhaps good intentions, but the two worlds just don't intersect on the screen. There's no comment made about the two disparate groups; there's no interaction between them. The best that can be said is that the discrete film lines are intriguing sociological studies. I don't get why it has earned awards and nominations, and it was the first time I'd ever felt somewhat ripped off by a documentary. Okay to catch on Netflix, but I wouldn't recommend hauling yourself to a theatre to pay for entry and popcorn.

If you're in the mood for a good disaster movie, I highly recommend the Norwegian box-office hit Bølgen or The Wave (Uthaug, 2015) which is currently on Netflix and has excellent performances by Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp and Jonas Hoff Oftebro, who plays their son. The suspense is killer! 
Off to a private viewing for Imago members only of the Mystical Landscapes exhibition at the AGO tomorrow eve, then Tarragon Theatre next weekend to see The Realistic Joneses, which my friend is assitant director of. Ciao-ciao.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

CD Review of Arvo Pärt's The Deer's Cry

Arvo Part - The Deer's Cry           
Vox Clamantis; Jaan-Elk Tulve    
ECM New Series               ECM 2466

A mixture of the new and old recorded here by Estonian choir Vox Clamantis, this CD includes the world recording premiere of Habitare fratres in unum and the largely plainchant And One of the Pharisees, which had its world premiere in California in 1992. There is a variety of Pärt’s music here: from the innocence-evoking Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima to the ode to a gittern, Sei gelobt, du Baum. (Read the info about the latter here.)

Serendipitously, I started my day reading St. Patrick’s 4th-century prayer, The Deer’s Cry, and the title track contains a purity comparable to Lang’s I Lie. The Alleluia-Tropus is different than my recording by Vox Clamantis with Sinfonietta Riga: at a decade’s distance, this a capella version is 25 seconds longer and less dance-like, perhaps the liturgical pace being more fitting for the intercession of St. Nicholas of Myra. Most notable to me, however, was Summa, a tintinnabulist piece containing the Apostle’s Creed in Latin. While it is recorded here a capella, as originally written, I only have the string versions of it, which convey swells of movement (indeed, I made a little film with it as accompaniment); the choral is more plodding and deliberate in its affirmation of belief—I could picture Joan of Arc reciting it defiantly, atop her pyre as she awaited the lighting of the wood. The CD ends with Gebet nach dem Kanon, a fitting closing prayer to the collection.

The liner notes are Pärtesque: sparse, multilingual and presuming knowledge of his work and liturgical music history. There is no text about the work and lyrics are in Church Slavonic, Spanish, Latin, German and English, with no translations, as is the usual case with such releases these days. But if you enjoy looking up information (e.g. the Russian scriptures have different versification at times: Drei Hirtenkinder is about the West’s Psalm 8:2, not 8:3), there’s a wealth of enlightenment available. Artistic director Jaan-Eik Tulve has translated the 81-year-old composer’s personal tutelage faithfully and Pärt devotees will be enraptured, the faithful and secularists alike. 

CD Review of Artyomov's Symphonies

Vyacheslav Artyomov - Symphony Gentle Emanation; Tristia II  
Russian National Orchestra; Teodor Currentzis; Vladimir Ponkin
Divine Art            dda 25144

Vyacheslav Artyomov - Symphony on the Threshold of a Bright World; Ave Atque Vale; Ave, Crux Alba 
National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia; Vladimir Ashkenazy 
Divine Art            dda 25143

I hadn't known about Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov until I was asked to review two of his records for an upcoming magazine issue. To get aquainted with him, during my first listen I employed a drawing exercise from a book I use, pictured above, which suggested drawing the sounds of a piece of music. I think the result (this is Tracks 3–8) is accurate.

In my research about him, I heard that he also has done some film scoring, notably the 1995 short B&W film, Koza (Cocoon in English), which is a Dreyeresque piece that includes his work; you can find a clip of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's film here.

Artyomov was preparing for a life in astrophysics, but these two symphonies (parts of a tetralogy) are unlike The Planets, unless you think of them as über-Holst: they cause a visceral reaction and suggest a metaphysical cri de cœur. My initial reaction to them was that they sounded like the soundtrack of some 1940s film noir or an original-series Star Trek episode, which is apt since they embody mystery and the unknown. In his essay, Musica Perennis, the composer said, “Serious music is created by the spirit for the Spirit,” and these twin-released CDs reflect his view of music as a mediator between God and man, but also as science. While I find the Threshold of Bright World symphony more arresting than the Gentle Emanation, they are both accessible and, while Artyomov is often compared to Arvo Pärt, I hear a little more of Rautavaara.

The orchestration in Ave Atque Vale and Gentle Emanation is a little jarring due to the highlighting of the percussion parts. But Ave, Crux Alba, a choral (Helikon Theatre Choir) and orchestral setting of the Hymn of the Knights of Malta, returns to the majesty and mystery Artyomov is known for in his musical quest for spirituality. Tristia II, based on the 19th-century poems of Nikolai Gogol and with spoken parts read by Russian actor Mikhail Philippov, carries on the potential-soundtrack feel and allows us non–Russian speakers to hear the cries of the artist to God for inspiration, and the suspense in the middle tracks suggests Him mulling the petitions over.

Both CDs are in memoriam of the composer’s friend and colleague, Mstislav Rostropovich, and both have expansive liner notes.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

All But Gone

A contemporary musical exploration of the absurd and evocative imagery of Samuel Beckett, All But Gone follows the sold-out hit Beckett: Feck It!, hailed as "entirely engrossing" by The Globe and Mail. Renowned Canadian director Jennifer Tarver (Venus in Fur) reunites with musical director Dáirine Ní Mheadhra for an elegiac and provocative evening of theatre and song featuring performer Jonathon Young (Betroffenheit), and Canadian opera stars Shannon Mercer and Krisztina Szabó.   Courtesy of CanStage.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Last Minute Twist and Goosebumps!

Photo by Chris Hutcheson

Norma at the COC

NormaSondra Radvanovsky / Elza van den Heever*
PollioneRussell Thomas   ❤
AdalgisaIsabel Leonard
OrovesoDimitry Ivashchenko 
ClotildeAviva Fortunata
FlavioCharles Sy
Conductor:  Stephen Lord
Director:Kevin Newbury
Set Designer:  David Korins
Costume Designer:Jessica Jahn
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master:Sandra Horst
With the COC Orchestra and Chorus
*We saw Elza van den Heever ~ wonderful!
A Canadian Opera Company co-production with San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona)

Bellini and his operas are synonymous with the bel canto era when the beauty and virtuosity of the human voice reigned supreme. In that tradition, our production features two of the most sought-after sopranos today as Toronto’s own Sondra Radvanovsky and South African Elza van den Heever share the title role. Courtesy of COC.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ariodante ~ These Boots are Made for Walking

One of Handel’s most radiantly beautiful scores echoes myriad emotions in this story of love, honour, and deception. Alice Coote and Jane Archibald—two COC favourites—return to head a dream Baroque cast, under the baton of Music Director Johannes Debus.

Ariodante at the COC

Ariodante Alice Coote
Ginevra Jane Archibald
Polinesso Varduhi Abrahamyan
Dalinda Ambur Braid
Lurcanio  Owen McCausland
Odoardo Aaron Sheppard
King of ScotlandJohannes Weisser
Conductor:   Johannes Debus
Director: Richard Jones
Set Designer and
Costume Designer:  
Lighting Designer:  Mimi Jordan Sherin
Choreographer: Lucy Burge
Puppetry Director:Finn Caldwell                                       Outstanding use of puppetry!
Puppetry Design:Nick Barnes & Finn Caldwell
Chorus Master:Sandra Horst
With the COC Orchestra and Chorus

Scene from Ariodante (COC, 2016), photo: Michael Cooper. Courtesy of COC.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Only in Vaughan, You Say?

Image result for concord floral
Photo courtesy of CanStage

I saw Concord Floral at CanStage this weekend and from the moment I entered the Bluma Appel Theatre, I knew we were in for something different, even by Matthew Jocelyn's standards. Billed as "a gothic urban thriller," I don't think that does this production enough justice. This is a very thought-provoking look into young people's psyches, through the medieval looking glass of Boccaccio's The Decameron. (For some background, here's an interesting project and here's the play's teaser trailer.) Written by Jordan Tannahill and directed by Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner, the work is the result of a 2012 Festival of Ideas and Creation. Four years later, it's still fresh and oh so relevant.
But it's not for the faint of heart. In other words, you need to love teenagers and understand them if you're to get past the frank talk and subjects covered. 
I found some of the ensemble stronger in their acting ability than others, but the story about a secret and its effects on the youth is intense and engaging. The audience seating, "costumes" (which I assume are the kids' own and change with each performance), use of cell phones, sound effects, music, and the creative staging and props create an intimate experience. 
Several topical themes emerge: social interaction, both IRL and online; family issues; bullying and social norms; sexuality. The plague in the play has Biblical allusions (to my way of thinking, anyway). Towards the end, the notion of mercy is verbalized, not something you hear in teen circles very often. And I won't be giving anything away by sharing a key line towards the end, "I'm learning to get better," which will give you an idea of one of the play's sensibilities and preoccupations. There are points during the production that make the audience almost squirm, and I don't mean the gothic thriller bits. You're forced to watch a girl strip to her skivvies and her vulnerability is shocking considering our porn-bloated world. The cast also lines up and looks silently at the audience for a very long time, and initially you don't know if they're waiting for end applause or if you're being compelled to really face the encounter with them. There are a lot of challenges on both side of the footlights. But it's a worthwhile experience, and it offers some lighter moments of entertainment, too (often at the expense of adults and parents).
My companion and I had a lot to unpack about it on our walk home. If you're up for some affecting theatre, buy online soon. Tickets are already limited and it closes October 16.

CD Review: Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Did Bugs Bunny ruin the Barber of Seville for you? How about Merrie Melodies’ The Three Little Pigs with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #5? I have a particular eye/earworm of The Rite of Spring: I can never unsee the gorgeous choreography of Pina Brausch when I hear this piece. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s recording is bright and clear and complements the rather dark storyline of the ballet. The First Part is a vital description of nature and leads with some urgency to the undeniable corporeality of the Second Part. The backbone of the piece, however, is Track 2, although I prefer my Augurs of Spring to be a little more heavy-handed than David Bernard’s version, such as the Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez’s take on it; I think this reflects Bernard’s interpretation, though, and does not make Stravinsky an inappropriate choice for this orchestra. (The Augurs of Spring always strikes me as a misplaced climax, though.)

The BartóConcerto for Orchestra, known as a soloistic piece, also has a pure sound, which emanates from the musicians themselves and is perhaps also enhanced by the fine recording engineering. Again, the chamber symphony easily handles the piece’s gravitas with aplomb. Apparently, the movements’ tempi listed on the back cover differ from their historical provenance and this made me curious to hear it live under another baton: fortuitously, this will be possible when the TSO performs it on May 4, 2017 in a matinée, led by Peter Oundjian.

This CD offers two excellent examples of early 20th-century eastern-European composers who still captivate us technophiles with these elemental pieces that were based on European folk song.

This review first appeared in the October 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Death and Delinquency

Photo courtesy of

Zachary Wadsworth (composer) - The Far West        
Lawrence Wiliford (tenor); Luminous Voices; Timothy Shantz (dir.)    
Bridge Records  9466

I’m submitting a briefer version of this for publication in the CD review section of a music magazine later this month but I wanted to expand on my necessarily truncated comments there. I was given The Far West to review: it’s a modern cantata for tenor, choir and instruments, written by the crazy-young Zachary Wadsworth, an American composer who’s already internationally known and respected. This work won the 2016 Choral Canada’s Outstanding Choral Competition Award.

Recently, I reviewed the stunning Trinity Requiem by Robert Moran, and its poignancy has kept me going back to it. The Far West is going to be on my shelf of favourites, too.

Tracks 1 and 2, set to the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Christina Rossetti, are complementary introductions to the cantata. His “Come to the Road” is an invocation to live life bravely, and her “Up-Hill” seems to echo that, although offering comfort with a sense of the table being prepared for the pilgrim.

The Far West opens with music evocative of MacMillan and Brickenden’s Celtic Mass for the Sea; in fact, not since that album have I heard a choral work that captures its subject with such well-curated and gut-punching text. Wadsworth’s piece is an homage to victims of AIDS, and it’s both achingly beautiful and horrifyingly vivid in its imagery as it paints portraits of Tim Dlugos, its posthumous librettist, and stricken friends.

His Divinity training interweaves references from Bergman (in “Parachute”) to AZT (in “Retrovir,” which is Latin for man turned back—I’m sure Dlugos knew that when he included the first lines, “Turn/back oh man”). Textual allusions to liturgical music and the Divine Office reflect the different musical styles, such as the funereally resolved first movement, “October,” the expansive choral chords of “Note to Michael,” and the baroque-ish “Heaven,” latterly with lyrics from the renaissance by George Herbert[1]. “G-9” reflects Dlugos’s curiosity and hopeful view of death as a “great adventure.” I’ve underlined several lines of text in the liner notes because of their impact.

Several times, the work evokes English staples, such as Parry’s “I Was Glad” or Fenton’s “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” and makes me want to run back to my days of church choir with Tom Fitches. Themes of reconciliation, despair and resignation are conveyed alongside word play with homophones and synecdoche. If this review is all more about the texts than the music, it’s because the poetry absolutely slays the listener but, while the words are the stars in this piece, Zachary Wadsworth has composed a votive in The Far West, and Wiliford and Luminous Voices shimmer throughout.

[1] For a great take on Herbert, see Herbert Sucks. Donne is a Pimp.” Reminds me of when I taught Rossetti compared with the lyrics of songs by My Chemical Romance to grade 9 and 10 English students.

Cantata text excerpts posted with permission.


I think I'm officially in love with Ellen Page, who executive produced Tallulah (2016, dir. Sian Heder). I was bowled over this winter by Into the Forest, too. Guess I'll have to finally check out Juno!
This is a gem: it's quiet but packs a punch. Page plays Lu, a girl who's a little uncentred (although she thinks she's grounded) and who is led to take toddler away from an unfit mother (Tammy Blanchard is terrific) while finding a surrogate mother for herself (Allison Janney) and being tracked by OITNB's Uzo Aduba. 
Page does everything with quiet reserve (must be those Canadian genes)—she can even sell lemonade in a way that breaks your heart! The story is one of redemption, one of my preferred themes. I won't say much more about it and will let you discover its worth on your own. There are several sub-plots around self-discovery, especially in the face of unwanted change, and the final scene allows the viewer to decide what one of the outcomes is: perfect for us non-Hollywood-y Canucks. Ignore the stuff: it's neither a comedy nor a romance and, as usual, the comments are from people who don't know about suspension of disbelief. Haters.

Mr. Morgan's Last Love (or Last Love on netflix; dir. Sandra Nettelbeck, 2013) is a largely quiet film about the noisiest parts of life: family relationships. It opens with Michael Caine's character clearly shuffling through widowhood, the length of which is demonstrated by the height of the stacks of unread-newspapers at the front door of his Parisian apartment. He meets Pauline Laubie (Clémence Poésy) and eventually he opens up a sealed window in his flat, the symbolism of which is obvious. While perhaps not the most original storyline, it is lovely to watch Sir Michael—I certainly never thought I'd see him doing country and western line dancing! 
The title is not only a double-entendre, it becomes an enigma. Essentially the story is about the nature and mistakes of parenthood and parenting, which I suggest are not the same thing. There are a couple of nice moments, especially for me as someone who has been thinking a lot about death these days (these years). One is when Caine says:
Giraudoux said, you can miss a single being, even though you are surrounded by countless others.
Not exactly profound, but it's a helpful grounding thought when you think you're going mad, that others understand that feeling. Another moment is when there's a nod to Canada: he is naming all the American states with a place named Paris, and he adds that he thinks there's even one in Canada (which is Paris, Ontario).
Michael Caine often takes on films about people without the teary stuff. Not a bad way to unwind with the 'flix.