Ronan Mattin, 9, and his grandfather, Stephen Mattin.It was the exclamation heard round the world.

On Sunday, May 11, at the end of a performance of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music performed by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, Ronan Mattin, age nine, after waiting a few seconds to register the music’s close, breathed out an astonished and appreciative reaction.

“Wow!” he exclaimed, out loud, to no one in particular, other than the gods and goddesses of Music, who were surely listening to Ronan in delight. So were the other patrons in the audience, who broke into the laughter of wonderment at Ronan’s spontaneous outburst of musical joy. And now, thanks to the social media tribal drums that encircle the planet, millions of other people have also shared Ronan Mattin’s pleasure.

There is much to say about Ronan’s “wow.” The first is to note that it was not a shout of excitement, if you listen to it, but a contoured exhalation of wonder, a bit of music itself, matching quite exactly the swelling and receding of the final crescendo and diminuendo of the Mozart Funeral Music. It was as though Ronan had added a hidden few bars to the score, finally completing the piece properly for the first time. It’s not impossible to imagine the composing Mozart reacting in exactly the same way as he put the final notes on the manuscript of his work. Ronan joined himself to the music, letting it invade his senses, as we all do, making us part of the music we listen to, our minds and spirit being the instrument on which it is actually played. Most of us observe and feel this swell of sympathy in silence; Ronan, perhaps because he is nine, did not.

And there’s more to say about Ronan’s “wow.” Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music is six minutes of grief and travail, the resigned beauty of darkness illuminated sharply here and there with patches of barely alleviating light. You can hear prefigurations in the Funeral Music of the temple music, the music surrounding Sarastro and his acolytes, that Mozart wrote for The Magic Flute.

And then, at the very end of the piece, having carefully cycled through an immense chord sequence preparing us for a final grief-stricken cadence in C Minor, Mozart pulls a rabbit out of his musical hat and surprisingly ends the piece with one final swelling chord – in C Major, not C Minor, one chord only in this heavenly key. That was the chord that Ronan Mattin reacted to so evocatively. A journey though grief ends with an impossibly beautiful single ray of sunlight, a hint of peace and joy, with a suggestiveness that only music can provide. This is no Tierce de Picardie, a convention that ended minor pieces in the major, that had long passed out of fashion by 1785. This is the divine Mozart making a statement, a hint, really, a whisper, a hint of a whisper, as only he could, about a world he so incompletely understood.

But it was a sentiment that Ronan Mattin, who, we are told, lies on the autism spectrum, (as surely did the composer whose music he was listening to) responded to in a blinding instant. It was not simply the beauty of the music but the surprise and perfection of that last chord that I’m sure forced that exclamation from Ronan Mattin’s lips. Ronan, we have since learned from his family, is essentially non-verbal. He lives his complex and exacting life within an orbit of his own. But music, which so often drives the rest of us into contemplative silence, drove Ronan in the opposite direction – into speech, into the world. A more perfect realization of music’s power would be hard to find – its power to link the internal and the external, the world we share with no one but ourselves and the world we long to share with everyone else. Who can measure the power of recognition, the power of congruence that forced that “wow” from Ronan’s lips. We know, if he does not, that he was speaking that word for us all. And who can imagine how Ronan’s spirit reacted to the main work on the program for which the Masonic Funeral Music was just an appetizer – Mozart’s Requiem. One can only imagine what transpired in his inner world during that kaleidoscope of sentiment and emotion.

So, you might ask, what was Ronan doing in Symphony Hall in the first place that Sunday afternoon? Well, we’ve learned that Ronan was there with his grandfather, who often takes his autistic grandson on musical outings. The Mattins live in New Hampshire, north of Boston. Which leads us to our last question. What manner of man drives an hour and ten minutes on a Sunday afternoon to take his autistic nine-year-old grandson to an authentic instrument performance of Mozart’s Requiem?

A man in a dark age who believes in light, that’s who. A man – and there are so many of us, you know, so many of us – who remembers that the meanness and pettiness with which we are surrounded these days is only one side of the story, however raucous it may be. Who realizes that there is another reality in the world, a reality like the one Mozart created 200-odd years ago, a reality that his grandson must encounter, the sooner the better. Little Ronan Mattin spoke for all of us that Sunday in Symphony Hall, all of us who have been jolted by the discovery of unexpected beauty in the world. It’s shocking when it touches us – it makes us cry out in pleasure, or would if we had the innocence and courage of a New Hampshire nine-year-old. Let’s be thankful Ronan reminded us of what this music business is really all about. It’s not that without music life would be a mistake. Its more that without music, life wouldn’t be life at all.

Robert Harris is a writer and broadcaster on music in all its forms. He is the former classical music critic of the Globe and Mail and the author of the Stratford Lectures and Song of a Nation: The Untold Story of O Canada.

Rear-viewMore and more these days, I do my music listening on YouTube. YouTube, rather than CDs, or ITunes, or the radio, or live concerts.
And I’m not alone.

YouTube, although intended as a video platform, has become the prime music-listening service on the planet. With 300 million daily users, 400 hours of content uploaded to the site every minute, and an enormous wealth of archival material hidden in its nooks and crannies, subterranean depths and byways, YouTube, without meaning to, has become the most important music-listening service the world has ever known. While music companies, tech entrepreneurs and record labels were viciously jockeying for position for two decades to determine what format would replace the CD and reap its multi-billion dollar profits, YouTube just snuck into predominance – a position it will never relinquish. It is just too rich as a music service to ever be challenged.

For me, what makes YouTube so delicious is the wealth of unexpected and one-of-a-kind treasures it contains. Because it is a crowd-sourced platform, with literally millions of people worldwide contributing content to its astonishing archive, basically anything that’s ever been recorded – from film, TV, radio, recordings, cell phones, piano rolls, 45s, 78s, you name it – has been uploaded by someone somewhere to YouTube. That means with the touch of a few keystrokes, you can access piano rolls of Scriabin playing his own music, and Scott Joplin, and Mahler (an amazing performance of the entire first movement of the Fifth Symphony). You can watch and listen to close to 100 years of the most famous performers and performances in the world. A TV feed of an impossibly young Pavarotti singing La Traviata live from La Scala – check. Dozens of videos of the greatest conductor ever placed on the earth, Carlos Kleiber, dancing his way into the heart of the music of everyone from Strauss, Jr. to Weber to Brahms – check. The single greatest performance (to my ear) of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater performed by Christophe Roussel and Les Talens Lyriques, not available anywhere else – check. The ability to quickly compare a dozen performances of Brahms’s enigmatic Opp. 117 and 118 late works, simply and effectively – check. Documentaries of Glenn Gould from European television unknown to us here – check. An absolutely riveting hour of Murray Perahia discussing Bach for Israeli television – check. Masterclasses from everyone from Andras Schiff to Joyce DiDonato to Scharzkopf to Leon Fleisher – check. And on and on. Whatever your taste, whatever your musical interest, whatever your curiosity, YouTube can endlessly satisfy it.

And that’s just in the world of classical music. When it comes to pop, or Broadway, or jazz, or any other world music, YouTube is as valuable a service, if not more so. Not to mention the thousands of really fine instructional videos available on the service – all for free – did I mention that? I taught myself the chords and voicings for the opening of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps the other night thanks to a fine YouTube instructor. I can honestly say that some of the most moving and illuminating musical experiences of my life have been occasioned by a YouTube video.

Of course, the service is not perfect. It’s owned by Google, so who knows to what nefarious purpose my viewing and listening history is put (although what someone thinks they can sell me because I listened to Marguerite Long and Ravel perform the premiere recording of his G-Major Piano Concerto is beyond me)? The quality of the sound is often weak, even terrible. The cataloguing system is non-existent, because each uploader gets to call his or her entry what they choose. (If you want a uniquely 21st-century exercise in total frustration, try refinding a YouTube video you once saw and loved, but can’t now remember how it was titled.) Because it was never intended to be a music-delivery system, noone at YouTube seems to have given much thought how to make it a better one – except for the billion-hit pop videos that make the channel a ton of money.

But it’s precisely the bumbling, unintended, poorly organized, haphazard nature of the service that I love. Wandering through YouTube is like wandering through an amazing maze of a great musical city, with corners and alleyways and treasures beckoning you from every quarter. You may start down an intended path, but you won’t stay there for long. And that’s because, even though it’s only 20 years old, more or less, the Internet has gone through many distinct phases in its journey from light to darkness. We’re deep in the dark Web today, with fake news and hate-filled belchings eroding the central foundations of this astounding information device. But it was only just a few years ago that the Web was a place of enlightenment and human development, unparalleled in human history. This is the Web of Wikipedia, still an astounding free, crowd-created source of knowledge. And it’s the YouTube created in that spirit that I value, the YouTube motivated by a simple and sincere desire to share things that are loved. To me, it’s the rare recording that someone has uploaded (that has 612 hits) because they wanted others to hear it, or the lovingly created analysis of a Bach fugue that someone has laboured over that make YouTube so special and wonderful, such a beacon of hope in an increasingly hopeless world.

And that’s why the question of copyright has so little relevance in the world of YouTube sharing. It’s a topic for another time, but copyright and music are, or should be, mortal enemies. That’s because the essence of music is to be shared – the very nature of its production, waves freely transmitted through the natural air, proclaims that truth. Music is about connecting people, and copyright is about disconnecting them, denying people valued and valuable experiences through force of law. All you have to do is revel in the intense joy of a YouTube discovery to realize how irrelevant copyright is to your experience and the discussion about the economics of music in the 21st century. Yes, of course, musicians have to be paid, but the notion that you or I might be denied the deeply powerful experience of watching and listening to Kleiber conduct Beethoven 7 because some uploader doesn’t have the rights to the material truly makes me recoil in disgust. Music was made to be heard. Anything that furthers that goal is divine; anything that hinders it is demonic.

And by that measure, YouTube is divine. Long may it, and the millions of its fans, and the sharing values we represent, prosper.

Robert Harris is a writer and broadcaster on music in all its forms. He is the former classical music critic of the Globe and Mail and the author of the Stratford Lectures and Song of a Nation: The Untold Story of O Canada.

Eduard Hanslick offering incense to Brahms cartoon rom the Viennese journal Figaro 1890 bannerNineteenth-century music critic and Brahms champion, Eduard Hanslick, offering incense to the bust of Brahms [Viennese Figaro, 1890].For the past month or so, I’ve been involved in a wonderful and fascinating writing endeavour, the results of which have been published online by The WholeNote as well as other arts publications (The Dance Current and Opera Canada magazine). The Emerging Arts Critics project, begun by the National Ballet of Canada, now expanded to include the Toronto Symphony and the Canadian Opera Company, selects eight promising arts critics, all people in their 20s, and provides them with reviewing assignments, professional mentoring. and guaranteed publication in major journals. The WholeNote is the venue of choice for TSO reviews, which have already appeared online. I was asked, and was delighted, to be the mentoring individual for the symphony reviewers.

What was stunning about this project was not only that someone recognized that arts reviewing was a discipline that needed mentoring, expertise and development, but that such support would be given to an enterprise which has virtually disappeared from the day-to-day lives of most North Americans. I don’t have definitive figures, but I’m guessing there were more than 100 classical music reviewers employed by Canadian and American newspapers 20 years ago. Today there are probably no more than a dozen left, and it seems half of them work for The New York Times. Here in Toronto, as I know well, having worked as the classical reviewer for The Globe and Mail until just a couple of years ago, the National Post has done away with all classical reviews, The Star employs the redoubtable JohnTerauds on a freelance basis, and The Globe’s musical offerings are almost exclusively devoted to opera. That leaves in the city publications like WholeNote, the website Ludwig Van Toronto and assorted (and very fine) individual bloggers and websites such as OperaRamblings, Schmopera and Barcza’s Blog.

But individual bloggers are no substitute for reviews in a major metropolitan daily, for reasons that are not immediately obvious.

It’s not about the quality of the writing. There’s probably more good writing about classical music today in the world than ever before. And it has nothing, or less than you might think, to do with maintaining the health of the the classical performing scene in the city and region, which seems to me to be exploding with vitality these days, reviews or no reviews. I remember, with great pleasure, actually, one Canadian Opera Company publicist sheepishly admitting to me that my reviews of her company’s productions had no impact on her box office at all, positive or negative.

She was embarrassed to tell me, but I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Because my feeling always has been that my reviews aren’t and shouldn’t be for the people already going to the classical events. Just do the math. A sold-out run of a seven-performance COC production results in about 14,000 patrons in the Four Seasons Centre. About 7500 for three sold-out Roy Thomson Hall TSO concerts. The Globe and Mail’s daily circulation is about 300,000; the Greater Toronto Area has a population of 6.4 million. A remarkably small percentage of Torontonians in general, and Globe readers in particular, are interested in attending classical music events.

So why devote precious space to a review of them? Because reviews of art events are not just for the people who go to them. They are for everyone. They are for all the citizens of a healthy society concerned about their communal life. They are for everyone because they offer an opportunity for a society to train a critical lens on itself. Going to a concert is not just another hobby, like joining a bridge club or a ballroom dancing class. It is a public expression of fundamental values, central to a society, even if hidden beneath a polished and slightly off-putting surface of formally attired men and women playing music written, mostly, centuries ago.

The key to discovering the real purpose of a “critical” review is tied up in the history of the word itself. Our word critical comes from the Greek kritikos and the Latin criticus, meaning one who judges, one who discerns. Not one who constantly finds fault, by the way, as the word has degenerated to mean, but one who looks inside, evaluates, reveals. And we’ve kept a vestige of that original classical meaning of the word to this day when we talk about something being a critical feature of an enterprise or situation, meaning a component that is uniquely and vitally significant (as in the analogous medical term “critical condition”). This is the real source of the critic as reviewer – someone who analyzes the critical components of a work or a performance – the essence, the tipping point, the hidden heart of the work and the world.

The work and the world. That’s the other secret of arts, and especially music, reviewing, that newspaper editors counting clicks to digital articles spectacularly fail to understand. It’s not just the artistic world that the critic investigates – it’s the whole world. And that’s because music is such a deeply social, deeply communal activity. The move from a discussion of music to a discussion of society is impossible to avoid. That’s what a music critic does when they’re at their best – intercut and interweave musical and cultural perspectives so that the discussion of one becomes the discussion of the other. Arts reviews can then be places where a society questions and interrogates the things it believes in, the things it values. That’s why reviews are for everyone, because they illuminate issues in which everyone has a stake.

reviewsOr at least they should. That’s what I was trying to tell the young critics I was mentoring in the Emerging Arts Critics program. In the end, once they’ve mastered the elusive language with which we describe music, once they’ve figured out the structure and pacing of an 800-word review, once they’ve learned to navigate the boundaries between personal and impersonal judgments, they’re left with the task of creating a draft set of values for their readers to absorb, debate, reject, or accept. Should a performer like Barbara Hannigan be more important than the music she performs or the other way around? What can a Brahms concerto teach us about the relative value of the individual and society in our lives? What happens when a cynical, cold composer (like Dmitri Shostakovich) is performed by a radiantly intensely human performer (like Alisa Weilerstein)? Whose character should prevail? (A life issue as well as a musical issue)

Those are the kinds of questions muscial reviewers should tackle, I believe – questions that begin with notes and phrases and dynamics and expand to fill the longing space we all have for value in our personal lives.

It seems that the venues for addressing these kinds of critical questions are shrinking today. We are instead inundated, drowning, gasping for breath in a Twitterverse full of the other form of criticism – disparaging, negative, demoralizing. But we can’t and won’t stay there forever. I’m sitting here, hoping against hope, that the talents and skills that our Emerging Arts Critics are learning will once again, someday, be useful to us all.

Robert Harris is a writer and broadcaster on music in all its forms. He is the former classical music critic of the Globe and Mail and the author of the Stratford Lectures and Song of a Nation: The Untold Story of O Canada.

Aaron CoplandIt used to be.

New music in the classical past was the St. Matthew Passion, the “Eroica” Symphony, Tristan and Isolde, the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, the Rite of Spring.

It was, once upon a time, and even not that long ago.

Well into the 1930s and 40s, new music wasn’t something to be frightened of. New music was the Ravel Piano Concerto, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Peter Grimes, even Lulu and Wozzeck.

But then came the absolute zero, icy, crystalline formulations of the post-WWII generation, of the Boulezes and Stockhausens of the world, with their serialism and pointillism and extreme dissonance, and centuries of Western musical discourse was annihilated within a few years. Music that had celebrated the human spirit in powerful, communicative tonal gestures was washed away in an instant, or so it seemed, by the new purist wave of dark musical star showers and ethereal musical starlight. Music had become anatomized, and the flayed, transparent body of new musical composition was exhibited in autopsied performance spaces all over Europe and North America.

Audiences blanched in horror. Or recoiled in incomprehension.

Or so the story goes. Truth to tell, of course, the music of serialist and post-serialist Europe was actually much more interesting and uplifting than imagined. At its best, this music carried with it an astonishing vitality and freshness, a testament to the infinite possibility of the new itself, a message of hope in the end. And being confronted with the complex reality of this art was a spiritual and musical challenge; learning to navigate one’s ear through the mazes of beauty and strangeness it presented was a valuable workout for the soul.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1980. Photo by Claude Truong Ngoc.But it was difficult – it was meant to be difficult. It was music that was written as the ruins of Europe lay smouldering across half a continent, ruins that were even more damaging to the spirit of Europe than to its externalities. It was music that dared to take on the challenge of Theodor Adorno, who had famously asked how it was possible to make art after Auschwitz. Well, the post-war musical generation said, it is possible to make art – but it will sound like this, because the world looks like this. Tonality, the symbol of the world that had just rotted away to nothingness, had, they felt, rotted away along with it.

That was long ago, very long ago, but the fear of this music, and consequently of all that was new in music, lingered for many years after. For decades, despite the dizzying variety of styles in which composers were creating all sorts of musical worlds, the curse of “new” music – new defined as difficult, dissonant, and avant-garde – hung over audiences like a stinking, sulphurous, cloud. Consequently, audiences failed to notice something that might have attracted their interest – that a battle to regain something of the power of tonality had broken out within the musical avant-garde, a war between the disintegrating, acidic, centrifugality of dissonance and the cohesive binding centripetal power of the tonal. It was an aesthetic battle that consumed decades. But now, I’m beginning to think, the war is coming to an end.

And tonality has won.

It’s not your grandfather’s or your great-grandfather’s tonality, though. It’s not the key-centred, forward-moving, goal-oriented music of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s music that has simply overcome the fear of creating consonance, that’s not afraid to bask in thirds and sixths and octaves again, that’s harmonious, even – if one might dare to say so – beautiful. And, most importantly, it’s music whose form is comprehensible, whose unfolding in time matches the perceptual equipment of normal music lovers.

Of course, music like this has been written by men now in their 80s for years, by Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt. But I’m referencing a different group of musicians, a brand-new generation of composers, many American, all in their 30s – writers like Missy Mazzoli, and Nico Muhly, and especially, Caroline Shaw (who I think is the greatest of them all). Our own Ana Sokolović can join that group. Along with them are Europeans, a bit older, who have negotiated their own way clear to a personal and engaging style. blending tonality and atonality – composers like the English George Benjamin or the Austrian Georg Friedrich Haas (who can make the unfolding of a simple overtone sequence an experience of sheer terror).

What’s fascinating about these new tonal composers is that they are writing music once again that is accessible yet multi-layered, “easy” to listen to but challenging as well, music that has communication with an audience as its primary concern, not the manipulation of new compositional materials and techniques. They are composers who are not afraid of the tonal nature of their material, as familiar as it may be, but who succeed in speaking the old musical words with a new musical syntax. They are also not afraid to take on the anguish and brutality emerging at the heart of the world they have inherited, using music to comment and reflect on the world in which they and their audiences live. They are recovering for musical art the political, social and moral parameters it always previously had. They are, unbelievably, but effectively, returning music to the family of all the other arts.

It’s been so long since we approached a work of contemporary music with the same expectation of meaning and pleasure with which we routinely approach contemporary film, or visual and conceptual art, or the novel, that we’ve almost forgotten how to do so. To think that we can just simply understand a work of musical art, however new and novel it may be – be moved by it, have it speak significantly to us – is almost beyond belief. We had almost given up hope of music attracting a public and maintaining a high degree of artistic excellence at the same time. But that seems to be what’s happening with this new generation of composers. Something vital and valuable is emerging from the confusion and darkness of decades past.

Music has had its fallow periods before. The period between the dissolution of the Baroque and the emergence of the classical style in the early 18th century was similarly filled with failed experiments, wrong turns, a search for communicative power. And then we got Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. We may not achieve such musical transcendence this time around, but we’re heading in the right direction. And it’s dearly to be celebrated.

Robert Harris is a writer and broadcaster on music in all its forms. He is the former classical music critic of the Globe and Mail and the author of the Stratford Lectures and Song of a Nation: The Untold Story of O Canada.

Neil CroryGenius, if the word has any meaning at all, comes in many forms. There’s the exuberant, demonstrative, egomaniacal, smoking-hot pistol of genius – think Glenn Gould. 

But there’s also a quieter form of whatever genius is – and if it’s anything, it is originality combined with integrity, uncompromisability, single-mindedness, assurance.

And by that definition, Neil Crory had genius.

Neil, friend to so many, longtime CBC Music producer, writer, mentor, proselytizer, imp, beauty, died on January 10, after he and the Parkinson’s disease which had invaded him a decade earlier had finally had enough of each other and decided to part ways in mutual disgust. Neil, to the disease’s fury, had bent to its destructive evil, but had never broken.

Working at CBC Radio Music, as I had done for decades, meant that I knew of Neil Crory. He was the ultimate music producer, famous for his discoveries and crusades, picky, prickly, notoriously indulgent with other people’s money, hard-nosed to a fault, a bit of an elitist, slow in his projects and obsessions, not everyone’s favourite colleague. In fact, far from everyone’s favourite colleague. It always used to make me laugh that a radio department devoted to musical artists never really knew what to do when it actually stumbled across one.

I knew of Neil Crory, but never really knew him until 2007, when I was handed an unenviable assignment – to produce a single, four-hour long, weekend classical music program, hosted by Bill Richardson (another artist people were confused by) called Sunday Afternoon in Concert. Today, the program is simply called In Concert, is still four hours, and is produced by Denise Ball in Vancouver and very ably hosted by Paolo Pietropaolo. Denise and Paolo approach their monstrous broadcast time like any sensible production team – they divide their program into sections and segments and weave a tapestry of music throughout their program. They do a fine job.

However, for reasons I now forget, I decided not to follow this approach with Sunday Afternoon in Concert. I wanted instead to do the impossible – weave a single theme through a four-hour long broadcast, create a program that was not a kaleidoscope of various parts, but a unified whole unfolding over four hours, a Wagnerian opera of a radio program, different every week. It was insane, counter-intuitive (no one listens for a four-hour long period of time), impossible. Everyone thought I was crazy. Everyone, that is, except Neil Crory.

I’m not sure whether the mischievous imp in Neil was simply attracted to the sheer perversity of what I was trying to do. I’d like to think he shared my enthusiasm for trying something different. For whatever reason, he became my chief partner in crime, with his awe-inspiring ability to come up with novel programming and repertoire selections. He didn’t contribute to every program, but the ones he did contribute to were very special. Our mutual boss, Mark Steinmetz, told me once that Neil had come up to him after one of my shows – the four-hour Bach show where we played, among other things, two versions of Brandenburg 5 by two different Canadian orchestras, back to back – and told Mark he thought SAIC should be taken off the air. “Why?” Mark asked. “Because it’s too good,” was Neil’s reply.

It remains the single best compliment I’ve ever received in 40 years in the business.

But the true worth of Neil Crory’s talent, and genius, and the love and respect he inspired was in evidence when Sunday Afternoon in Concert decided to present a live Christmas concert in the Glenn Gould studio in mid-December 2007. It was one of the first things we talked about at our first story meeting in September. Neil said he’d produce it, and rolled off a roster of A-list Canadian opera stars that he’d try to convince to come perform. All the greats Neil had discovered and mentored and encouraged and inspired when they were just starting out, now regularly appearing in the greatest opera houses in the world. We all looked at each other in disbelief. A concert like that would take a normal person six to eight months to pull off, if they could pull it off at all. Neil assured us it would work. We believed him.

And then, because these things happen, we got busy and Neil got busy, and it was now the first week in November and we really hadn’t done anything at all to plan the Christmas show. I convened a special meeting where we all reluctantly agreed that we’d have to shelve the live concert idea until next year. All, that is, except Neil. No, he said, I think we can make this happen. In five weeks? Yep. Five weeks? Let me see what I can do.

And, of course, he pulled it off.

It wasn’t quite Michael Schade saying to the Vienna State Opera – sorry, you’re going to have get someone else to perform Tamino next Tuesday – I have to go back to Canada to sing Christmas carols in front of 250 people in the Glenn Gould Studio because Neil Crory asked me to, but it was damn close. Performers who are routinely booked five years in advance all showed up within a month’s notice because Neil asked them to – Schade, Russell Braun, I don’t think Isabel Bayrakdarian could make it, but many other stars were there. The green room was such a Who’s Who of Canadian vocal talent you couldn’t help but laugh in astonishment at the treasures all assembled in one place. I on the other hand, wasn’t laughing. As the executive producer of a show that came together so quickly -- was there even a dress rehearsal, don’t think so – I sat in the audience in anxious anticipation, until the first act strode on stage – I think it was two brothers from Newfoundland – and thereafter spent the entire afternoon in blissful tears. It was one of the greatest things I ever witnessed – and it was all Neil – the love in the room, the excellence on stage, the commitment of the performers , the passion behind it all – it was everything that Neil Crory represented coming to life and exploding in beauty in one tiny concert hall one December afternoon. It was special, to say the least. It was Neil.

Of course, sadly, Neil was predeceased by about a decade by the CBC Radio Music department he loved and had helped shape. It’s a tale for another day, but the destruction of CBC Radio Music remains, whether noticed or not, acknowledged or not, one of the great moral and artistic tragedies of Canadian cultural life. The organization that helped create everyone from Glenn Gould to… well, to Neil Crory, was a beacon for creativity and originality in this country, and the world beyond, and it was snuffed out in a blizzard of bad ideas, creative amnesia and Lilliputian thinking in a matter of a few months. The end of Radio Music didn’t kill Neil Crory, but it didn’t inspire him in his later years, either.

I’m told that Neil died listening to Schwarzkopf singing Strauss, a fresh yellow rose in his lapel, surrounded by friends, a true producer to the end. Those of us who were touched by him, who felt the breeze of his unique presence pass by us and change the atmosphere around us, won’t forget him, ever. A country produces few individuals with his depth of humanity, caring, intelligence and wit. Another like him won’t be coming along any time soon.

Robert Harris is a writer and broadcaster on music in all its forms. He is the former classical music critic of the Globe and Mail and the author of the Stratford Lectures and Song of a Nation: The Untold Story of O Canada.

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