8When the Globe and Mail first broke the story last October that there was going to be an opera film about Brian Mulroney, an astonishing 58 readers wrote comments on the website, and all of them were pure vitriol. Clearly, Mulroney, Canada’s 18th prime minister, may well be the most hated politician in modern Canadian history.

Well, Mulroney haters (among whom I include myself) can take heart. When I watched the screener, I started to laugh from the very first frame, and was still chortling after the fade-out. In truth, Mulroney: The Opera is absolutely delicious political satire, with every character of every political stripe coming in for a drubbing. On a more serious note, opera lovers will appreciate composer Alexina Louie’s clever pastiche score and librettist Dan Redican’s hilarious rhyming couplets. Louie is one of Canada’s most important composers of new music, while Redican is a revered comedian.

In a real coup, the 75-minute Mulroney: The Opera will be shown in Empire movie theatres across Canada as a special presentation of the Metropolitan Opera’s wildly popular “Live in HD” series. The program also includes the 26-minute Behind the Curtain: The Making of Mulroney: The Opera. The first screening takes place Saturday, April 16 at 1pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, April 27 at 7pm. Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, even gives the tongue-in-cheek introduction from the opera company’s broadcast truck.

Read more: Mulroney: The Opera - Guess Who’s Not Coming For Dinner




IT WAS A BIT COLD, I grant you – one of those crisp January Sundays that gets called “twenty below” because it’s windy. If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought the sign saying “Isabel Bader” must be for a hockey rink, what with all the minivans rolling up, full of kids and gear. And who else in Canada but a hockey parent would sacrifice their day of rest like this, on the coldest Sunday afternoon of the winter? Who else indeed?

One of the dads of the seven musicians assembling for the hastily scheduled photo shoot comes up to me. (My standard issue cherry-red Quest Nature Tours Arctic expedition Gore-Tex windbreaker must make me look like I know what’s going on). “So whose bright idea was this one?” he asks. His shivering son or daughter is huddling with the other six young musicians, while WholeNote photographer Air’leth Aodfhin explains the shot we are looking for, and Toronto Sinfonietta music director Matthew Jaskiewicz looks on.

Read more: Bader-Bound... and Then? Toronto Sinfonietta’s Fifth Annual Concerto Competition

Naturally we like to hear from readers who like what we are doing, but more importantly we like to hear from musically engaged readers who like what they are doing – especially when they have good ideas to share!

52_art_galleryA recent call, inquiring if The WholeNote might be able to provide circulation to a group in the Orillia area, was especially interesting in the wake of Ori Dagan’s December story about Marg Cameron and The Toronto Music Lovers. We are increasingly aware of the groundswell of people getting together for the particular pleasures of enjoying live performance in the diverse company of other music-loving companions.

Elsie Leskew’s call gave me the opportunity to chat with an interesting new reader, and she followed up our conversation with a letter.

…I have been involved in music my entire professional life, and only in the last year discovered your magazine through Albert Greer director (soon to retire) of the Cellar Singers here in the Orillia area. I was absolutely thrilled and amazed to find this gem, full of information about concerts, reviews, and so many articles about all aspects of music and musicians….

Pianist Elsie Leskew studied with Clifford Poole, Mona Bates, Reginald Godden in Hamilton and Toronto; and Edith Oppens in Aspen, Colorado and New York. As well as performing in recitals, she was also involved in chamber music. Eventually music education in the school system became a part of her life, and she studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, graduating with a Masters degree in Music Education. She taught high school music in Bracebridge and was Music Consultant for the Muskoka Board for several years before retiring in1989.

I continue to be involved in music here in Orillia, with many friends who have been part of the Orillia Arts Group which I created, in a rather informal way in 1998. It was the result of my offering a “music appreciation” series of evenings to introduce classical music to a handful of non-musician friends...

Their desire to attend a concert in Toronto led them to a TSO Beethoven concert back in June of 1998, and the rest is history. Today Ms Leskew co-ordinates a list of over 90 names from Orillia, Barrie, Gravenhurst, and Bracebridge, and concert expeditions are a regular event. A concert is chosen and The Arts Group hires a small bus accommodating only 22 people each trip  – first come first served – and there is usually a waiting list. They get together for an evening, share some wine and hor d’oeuvres, and Ms Leskew talks about the music they are going to hear. They listen to recordings. On the day of the concert they have their own driver, provided by Hammond’s Transportation in Bracebridge, who delivers them to their concert venue, and returns them safely home again at the end of a wonderful evening. Often they plan an art gallery visit or restaurant meal before the concert.

…For your interest and information I include a list of the performances we have attended in the last 12 years. Reading in your publication about all the events surrounding the GTA, I am sure we will expand our musical horizons and discover other delightful events…

The Orillia Arts Group’s list of concerts over the past 12 years includes concerts at Roy Thomson Hall, operas – first at the Hummingbird and later at the Four Season Centre, performances by the National Ballet, and most recently the September 2010 TSO concert with guest pianist Lang Lang. Where will these intrepid music lovers and their trusty bus venture next?

…Many are eager to hear some music in the magnificent new Koerner Hall. I think we may attend the Mozart Mass in C Minor, on May 11, but I’m going to listen to it again before we decide… My first experience of this wonderful music was singing in it, when I sang I attended The Aspen School of Music in Colorado one summer, as quite a young person. Walter Susskind was the conductor. It was the first time in my life I experienced that shiver that goes right down your spine…from music. I heard the Mozart Mass again years later at the Salzburg Festival and it thrilled me all over again.

The last part of my conversation with Ms Leskew was about the many opportunities to hear magnificent live music beyond the GTA, which previously her group might not have known about. These are becoming increasingly visible in the WholeNote’s listings and advertising. We agreed that getting sufficient copies of our magazine to the Orillia area was a really good place to start.

p8Tafelmusik is a busy orchestra for the next few months, with big programmes in December, January and February. But in late November the tireless Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik’s artistic director, found time to sit down for an hour and talk to The WholeNote. In a wide-ranging chat, I talked with her about about her orchestra, the early-music movement in general – and Jeanne Lamon in particular.

I thought we’d begin by talking about Tafelmusik’s current status – both in Toronto’s musical community and in the world at large.

Curiously, the answers to those two questions are not the same. I think in the international early-music world we have a very prominent stature, because of the huge amount we’ve recorded, and because we offer a kind of regular employment that no other orchestra does. Every other period orchestra is pretty much a “pick up” group, with freelancers rather than a fixed personnel. And they don’t have anywhere near the size of season that we have: we have a season that’s comparable to a modern symphony orchestra, which makes us unique. If you’re a student studying baroque performance, Tafelmusik is the logical place to want to be because we offer something special.

Read more: Tafelmusik’s Jeanne Lamon, One on One

istock_000013226437mediumMY FRUSTRATIONS WITH trying to buy classical recordings in stores in recent years prompted me to write this article. In the few remaining retail outlets with their dwindling supplies there is hardly any stock other than the latest issues which are not necessarily the best. If you are looking for something from the past, highly rated in the Penguin Guide, you’ll encounter blank stares and perhaps a waiting period of nine weeks and top prices for special orders. Fortunately, there are now a number of alternatives for the savvy shopper.

➊ ONLINE SHOPPING: Biggest and best of these is the giant Amazon.com of Seattle, Washington and its Canadian counterpart Amazon.ca. Amazon started in 1994 as an online bookstore but soon expanded into CDs, DVDs, MP3 downloads, software, video games, electronics and what have you. They have an amazing catalogue of new and used classical CDs and DVDs. Anything you are looking for is easy to find with the site’s simple search function which will provide you all the different issues for the piece you want. As Amazon is a large blanket for many sellers all over the world, called the Marketplace, the prices are very competitive and the item will arrive within two weeks or so in perfect condition. Although shipping is extra, there are no taxes and generally you’ll pay less, not to mention the satisfaction of getting something you cannot find elsewhere.

Another alternative is Ebay which operates on the same principle except it is an
auction site. Here you can submit a low bid on a set of discs and if there is not much interest, you can wind up paying next to nothing. Or there can be a real battle at the end for the item and it can be quite exciting. They also have a tremendous selection of CDs and DVDs and generally you cannot lose.

A good local option is grigorian.com. Harmik Grigorian founded his Atelier Grigorian in 1980 with the flagship store on Yorkville Avenue and later opened branches in Oakville, London and Montreal. L’Atelier is noted for excellent selection and service and dedication to classical music and jazz. The company has now expanded into online shopping with a user friendly website which includes CD reviews from WholeNote, Gramophone and the New York Times (“In the Press” on the menu bar) and a direct link to the Canadian Opera Company with recommended recordings to preview the COC season. The extensive selection of recordings is easy to browse, but understandably not as large as Amazon and digital downloading is not available.


➋ DIGITAL DOWNLOADING: Taking full advantage of that marvellous machine now in everybody’s household one can realize the computer’s full potential by not buying any physical product but obtaining the content electronically, directly from the recording company. No expensive warehousing or store inventory is required, as the company need only put its entire catalogue on one giant computer. Their affiliated download site will set up a system for the customer to buy and download a disc or individual tracks onto their hard drive. My favourite one of these is classicsonline.com which is run by NAXOS. They represent many labels, not the most famous ones, but Profil, Delos, Ondine, BIS, Chandos, Hungaroton, Analekta, ATMA Classique, Centrediscs and many others, plus the entire NAXOS catalogue, can be found here. Prices are usually US $9.99/disc, $6.99 for NAXOS. Individual tracks are $1.99 each and you can make your own CD mix if you wish. And the quality is excellent not to mention the product is in your hands instantly, no running downtown, no HST, no parking or tickets and no aggravation. Downloading is a simple step by step process with the program supplied by the site. You register and pay by credit card then download to a specific directory e.g. “My Music.” A word of caution though – be sure you know where you are saving the file, otherwise you may never find it. The final step is making the CD with a burner program such as Nero or Windows Media and out comes your brand new recording. You also get bonus points that can be applied for the next purchase. Record cover and booklet are supplied and can be easily printed out.

From my investigations I found out that the labels under the Universal umbrella – DGG, Decca and Philips – have something similar going at universal-music.co.uk. Again the entire catalogues are offered and although the prices are presently in British pounds, soon they will accept US and Canadian dollars.

Latest news is that Sony Music Entertainment has also joined the flock under the name of ariama.com. No details are available at the moment, but I do know that they own RCA Red Seal, Columbia and Sony Digital Classics, which were previously unavailable for downloading.


➌ STREAMING DVD RECORDING FROM TV, INTERNET VIDEO, INTERNET MOVIES AND RADIO: Recording from TV and radio has been with us for a long time by tape and VHS, but now one can record digitally using a DVD recorder. And what do people do with the saved video? Some put it on YouTube.com, a video sharing site now owned by Google. What this does to classical music performances cannot be overestimated. We can see great pianists, orchestras and famous conductors from the past and present performing, rehearsing, giving masterclasses in streaming video with excellent picture and sound quality. Entire symphonies and operas can be presented at no charge to you. A good search engine will find the artist, the composer or the piece you wish to see/hear. Unfortunately each segment is limited to 10 minutes and that can be irritating when watching a longer piece, but I am sure this will soon be improved. There are limitations for the upload: no copyrighted material can be uploaded (e.g. commercial videos) which is understandable. Many excellent videos have been removed for this reason, but a wealth of exciting material remains. Much could be written, but I don’t want to spoil your fun of discovering this marvellous territory yourself.

The latest thing in this field is from berlinerphilharmoniker.de called Digital Concert Hall. The idea was initiated by the orchestra members of the Berlin Philharmonic and they are putting all the concerts on streaming video in High Definition and state of the art sound. The concerts are simulcast onto your computer and you can watch the entire concert interruption free for the price of a ticket. Tickets are available on the site for 9.99 Euros per concert which is charged to your credit card. The programs are of the highest quality. Current front ranking conductors like Abbado, Rattle, Boulez, Haitink, Barenboim, Janssons, Järvi, Thielemann and soloists like Schiff, Uchida, Grimaud etc. Programming is adventurous and there is an emphasis on modern and new music like Berio, Ligeti, Kurtág and even jazz, Sir Simon Rattle’s great specialty. I urge you to look into this site seriously. You won’t regret it.

In conclusion if I may include the final lines of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail: “Wer zu viel Huld vergessen kann/Den seh man mit Verachtung an!” which roughly translates: For whom all these blessings are not enough, let him be held in contempt!

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