Provocative TSO program: a glimpse of Gimeno

It’s fun getting to know the new music director of the Toronto Symphony, Gustavo Gimeno. I’m excited both by the programming and the performances.

Assembling concerts involves a curating process, picking & choosing pieces for performance.

Forgive me for repeating myself, as I again quote Gimeno’s bold statement, resembling a manifesto. I’m excited by what Gimeno has told us they would do. It’s “they” because a team books soloists & assembles the TSO season; it’s not something he does alone. He is leader giving direction not only to the orchestra from the podium but also the whole TSO team.

His stated goal is very exciting.

“The creation of contrast is at the heart of what I believe about concert programming—the coming together of past and future, masterworks side by side with new commissions, old friends and new faces on the concert stage: all manner of refreshing or startling juxtapositions.”

I’ve seen musicians promise before. But when I saw the music the TSO are giving us next, the concerts on October 12, 14 & 15, I was really eager to hear. Let me explain. Here’s what they’re playing (the number with the ‘ is the length of the piece).

Volpini Celebration Prelude World Première/TSO Commission 3′
Ligeti Atmosphères 8′
Wagner Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin 9′
Haydn Symphony No. 39 “Tempesta di mare” 16′


Chin subito con forza 5′
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 34′

It’s exciting for at least two reasons.

First off, it reminds me of some of my best experiences tasting food. Notice that we’re not getting meat & potatoes, but instead a series of aural appetizers, provoking our ears, prodding us with a big variety of different flavors. In a word: “contrast.”

Five items, mostly short, set us up for the sixth, the big finale.

And the pieces themselves? an intriguing mix to make you sit up and take notice. What grabbed my attention? First, seeing György Ligeti’s Atmospheres programmed at all, music you’ve probably heard in Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey, arguably one of the pieces of music most closely associated with modernity.

Ligeti composed in a style we call “modernist” although wonder of wonders, the next piece on the program is from the composer who arguably began modernism, Richard Wagner. In fact the first piece of his we might call “modernist” is Tristan und Isolde (composed years later), yet the Lohengrin prelude is a work of great importance.

That prelude from Lohengrin was influential. Baudelaire wrote a celebratory essay about hearing this piece, describing its impact, and no wonder. The composition seems to describe a host of angels bringing the Holy Grail down to earth. While the musical methods between Ligeti & Wagner are different in the extreme, yet both pieces have been used (at least when we factor in Kubrick) to suggest a journey of the spirit.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger contrast than that between Ligeti’s Atmospheres and Wagner’s Lohengrin Prelude.

The TSO follow those two with an example of something known by musicologists as “sturm und drang” (storm and stress), the 18th century precursor to the romantics like Beethoven. It’s intriguing that this short symphony by Haydn is actually understood as a suggestion if not a literal depiction of a storm, titled “Tempesta di mare”.

We move with each piece from the present further into the past, with Volpini’s prelude (2022) followed by Ligeti (1961), Wagner (1848) and Haydn (1765). The sequence is counter-intuitive, the way Godfather II probes the young Vito Corleone we met in the first Godfather movie, also reminding me of the sequence of essays in Sarah Polley’s Run Towards the Danger. We’re digging into the past, finding the origins of what follows, or at least playing with the way we hear. Wagner will sound edgier after Ligeti, and Haydn in turn will seem more provocative seen in context with what he started.

Following intermission we have a fascinating pair.

Before the Beethoven Piano concerto #3, we hear Chin’s subito con forza (Italian for “suddenly with force”), a remarkable piece full of allusions to Beethoven.

It still sounds like a 21st century composition, but there are unmistakable traces. We begin with something resembling the opening to Beethoven’s Coriolan overture. A solo piano cadenza reminds us of the opening to Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto. We get a pattern of repeating notes that build suspense something like the way it works in Beethoven’s Leonore overtures (overtures plural because Beethoven wrote more than one version).

Why not quote /or refer to other music? We do it in literature: but of course there have been periods when allusions were okay, other times when they weren’t in fashion. I love when Bruckner quotes Wagner or when Richard Strauss quotes his own pieces. Inter-textual references can be fascinating.

And then we come to the Beethoven 3rd piano concerto, from 1800. I think it’s under-rated. The first movement has the usual pair of contrasting themes, one dark & majestic, the other serene & melodic. But Beethoven also has a rhythmic motif going throughout the movement. I remember playing some of it long ago for Clark (a friend), who said it reminds him of the human pulse. It’s uncanny once you notice it. Clark thought the magical passage coming out of the first movement cadenza, when the orchestra softly resumes, with its soft insistent pulse motif, leading to the big conclusion, resembles waking up from a dream or coming down from being stoned on LSD. Or in other words it’s very cool.

The second movement is a sweetly melodic departure from the intensity of the opening movement, before the finale. Where did Beethoven get this tune, so unlike anything he wrote before or after? It sounds vaguely ethnic (Hungarian? Slavic?), and an excuse for wonderful pianism.

There’s of course a whole other side to the curating of a season, namely the talent. When it was Scheherazade we could bask in the warm tones of concertmaster Jonathan Crow, who works for the TSO. For next week we’ll hear Yefim Bronfman. I don’t know him, but look forward to finding out how he plays Beethoven. I wonder how they set this up? It’s complex I’m sure. Which reminds us of the team-work in programming. I wonder, did they start with Bronfman, ask him in 2021 or even before that “what do you want to play in 2022”?

And maybe he (or his agent) said “let’s do Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto.”

At that point perhaps the TSO team began assembling the hors d’oeuvres to introduce their concerto, filtered through Gimeno’s goal of contrast…? It’s a fun thing to imagine assembling the meal, even more fun to have my mouth water in anticipation of the feast next week.

I’m looking forward to tasting / hearing it, and in the process getting a closer look at Gimeno.

TSO Music Director Gustavo Gimeno
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Sarah Polley – Run Towards the Danger

I have just finished reading Sarah Polley’s Run Towards the Danger, a book like none I’ve ever read before.

It might be the most authentic autobiography I’ve ever encountered. Except that it’s not an autobiography.

I notice too that while Polley’s book has some celebrities in it –herself included– and tells us a fair bit about a life making film & TV & theatre content, the book does not contain the usual pictures, no photos of the famous. She doesn’t seem to exploit her fame. Indeed she seems kind of shy & reserved.

I like Polley for that.

Sarah Polley

Run Towards the Danger is a series of essays. Each pertains to a different period of Polley’s life. They’re not in chronological order but so what. I’m still trying to make sense of the first tumultuous decade of my life (when my dad died, when my mom tried to cope as a single mom with four kids), so this makes lots of sense to me. Doing things chronologically might work for a history book, but surely this is better.

You may recall that William Wordsworth said of poetry that it’s “a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, and also “emotion recollected in tranquility”. There’s a gap or even a contradiction between the two: the action (overflow) and the passion (emotion), somehow reconciled by writing.

I’m thinking of this after reading Polley’s book. She’s still so young but she’s seen and felt a great deal already. It’s not a poetry book but it’s full of a kind of poetry.

I’ll give the titles of each essay but prefer not to say too much in the spirit of being spoiler-free. They’re inter-connected by the life of the author, her work in film & television, her family dynamics. There is a great deal going on under the surface, suggesting connections & additional layers. I delighted in the richness even as I sometimes paused, as though gaping at an abyss opening before me, pondering the enormous depths of feeling.

I’m looking forward to re-reading the book, knowing and enjoying the knowledge that a story –like a Beethoven concerto or a Shakespeare tragedy –reads differently when you know the outcome, when you can anticipate where it’s leading you, when you know the character and can guess where the underlying motivations will take the storyline.

It helps too if you’re captivated, trusting the sensibility of the author.

There are six essays.

In “Alice, Collapsing”, a young Sarah Polley played Lewis Carroll’s Alice in an adaptation for the stage at the Stratford Festival, and dealt with the physical ailment scoliosis. Sarah and Alice are both discovering aspects & attributes of a life and a physique that is changing, sometimes due to the normal process of a young body that’s maturing sometimes due to something else. Polley’s prose conflating the text by Lewis Carroll with her own life experience is wonderfully rich with overtones & resonances.

The Woman Who Stayed Silent refers to the time when Jian Ghomeshi was in the news, leading me to a brand new appreciation of the word “consent”. Yes there are the legal complexities, but I’m thinking more of how it feels. I did not expect to be changed by what I read. Men especially should read this.

High Risk is about pregnancy, meaning Polley’s. I’m suddenly remembering Molly Shannon’s book, another memoir of a young woman who lost her mother in childhood. Forgive me if I’m over-simplifying in seeing parallels. But Polley & Molly are two of the bravest people I’ve encountered lately, possibly because of the problematic aspects of their relationship with their father. In this essay Polley is boldly jocular in strolling to the ambulance & chatting about labour negotiations (no pun intended) rather than her health. I’m also reminded of one of my favorite sayings, that denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, it’s a pain management strategy. Polley is full of wit & humour while dancing around some very serious topics.

Mad Genius is about Terry Gilliam, director of The adventures of Baron Munchausen: I wrote a bit about this already. Every essay returns to the key themes of her book, at least a little bit.

Dissolving the Boundaries seemed to be an interlude, a departure from the tone of the rest of the book, including a trip to PEI. But here too we’re talking about some serious subjects at least obliquely. Polley is older, now a mom recollecting her childhood acting rather than describing the experiences as in previous chapters, also looking back at the experience of her mother’s death and how it was filtered through her performances. This isn’t the first time in the book that I’m struck by how much life Polley has had.

Run Towards the Danger, the final essay, concerns a concussion. The title is subtle yet profound as a kind of directive that could apply to every essay at least a little bit. It’s much more than just the mantra of a brave person, but that works for starters.

Polley has a gift, writing prose that grabs you. Sometimes she’s telling simple stories, sometimes unfolding something complex. But I found the book so compelling I’m re-reading parts already, enjoying connections between the essays, between periods of her life.

I recommend this book without reservation although some people especially need to see it. People who don’t get the idea of consent. People who let the famous live by different rules than the rest of us. I’m a father who thinks every dad could stand to read this.

I tried not to give too much away, forgive me for being a big mouth. But I do love this book.

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Tear-drop garden

Of all the photos on my iphone, half are pictures of Sam, the dog whose life ended in the spring. When I look at her I feel connected to her even if she’s gone. No wonder I hesitate to delete them.

The ones that seem most accurate are the ones where she’s looking into the distance. I have no idea what she sees now, but it might be like this.

She seems so alive in the gif.

We have a garden that is a kind of memorial to her. Yes a new garden reminds us that there’s a cycle, life following from death, but it’s not just dead leaves fertilizing the soil.

There was a place in our yard where the grass wouldn’t grow. While there had been dead spots before, it was especially concentrated this winter. Because we had lots of snow with a narrow doggie corridor I’d shoveled, Sam would always pee in the same place.

It’s uncanny that she created a kind of dead zone due to her regular trips out, a lot of yellow snow in winter, followed by a dead zone in spring & summer.

The shape of the area, once it was delineated into the lawn bore a curious resemblance to a teardrop.


We have now planted hydrangea and rose of sharon.

Someday her ashes may go here

The denizens of the yard now seem bolder. We see chipmunks, foxes and even skunks, fearless because the usual territorial predator is no longer prowling her territory, no longer scaring them away. It smells different.

Three baby skunks, to be joined later by a fourth

I have my memorabilia. From Midtown Mobile veterinary hospice services, we have not just Sam’s ashes but a pawprint, some of her fur, to go with my many photos. I’ve printed some.

Life goes on.

Posted in Animals, domestic & wild | 3 Comments

Gemma New, Kerson Leong and the TSO: “allez grand ou rentrez chez vous”

Last night I heard the first of the Toronto Symphony’s weekend of romantic works, responding passionately to their guest conductor, the New Zealand-born Gemma New.

Gemma New

I noticed her intense display of commitment, yet so respectful of every collaborator in this rather large exercise in team-work. She shook hands with concertmaster Jonathan Crow at least three different times.

Then I remembered her brilliant work three years ago at the Toronto Summer Music Festival alongside Crow leading a reduced version of Mahler’s Song of the Earth.

At the time I said this: “It was a great pleasure watching New’s direction, her body language so articulate as to seem to paint the music in the air before her.”

Gemma New (Fred Stucker Photography)

And now the TSO have brought New in, likely with Crow’s encouragement.

Gemma New leading the TSO (photo: Jag Gundu /

I should explain what I mean when I speak of romantics on the program:
-Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture (1830)
-Moussa: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra “Adriano” (2019)
-Chausson: Poème for Violin and Orchestra (1896)
-Saint-Saëns: Symphony #3 (1886)

While Moussa’s Violin Concerto dates from an entirely different century than the other works, its objectives in depicting Mount Etna belong perfectly with a work such as Mendelssohn’s Scottish mood-painting.

Two of the four items featured young violinist Kerson Leong, who also offered a lengthy encore to reward us for our enthusiastic response to the Moussa Concerto. I couldn’t hear him name the piece but it featured his fabulous tone, perfect intonation and confident personality, much as we heard in both the Concerto and the Poème.

Gemma New with Kerson Leong violin (photo: Jag Gundu /

New’s interpretations all seemed to favor something more subtle than what we usually hear. For the first part of the Hebrides overture I was reminded of my childhood favorite, Klemperer: whose slow thoughtful readings exposed every nuance. While the ensemble did build to climaxes there was still a great deal of restraint and elegance. Similarly the Poème probed gently rather than blatantly, in keeping with the symbolist ideal (“symbolist” being a better epithet to hang on Chausson’s short life than “impressionist”).

New’s leadership always seemed to be lucid as far as musical objectives. When we came to the big finale, namely Saint-Saëns’ 3rd Symphony aka the Organ Symphony, I think everyone knew this was to be the payoff. Again we were treated to subtle and soulful readings until the last movement.

Jean-Willy Kunz, organ with TSO (photo: Jag Gundu /

The last five minutes of this work I imagine if Saint-Saëns had written into the score words to the effect of “allez grand ou rentrez chez vous” : “go big or go home”. Naturally that’s not how they would write in a score in the 1880s. Yet the orchestra and the organ soloist need the big bold gestures to finish the half hour work. If they’re done crisply & coherently the statement is that much stronger. It can be, must be, theatrical magic. Fun, thrills, glorious music-making.

Yes. New and the TSO came through for us. The audience went crazy immediately after the conclusion, thrilled by what we’d heard. I was moved to google dates. Those overplayed opening measures of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, with organ, brass fanfare and timpani, were first heard almost a decade after Saint-Saëns’ 3rd Symphony premiered. Of course the resemblance is between Strauss’s opening & Saint-Saëns’ conclusion, but I wonder…

Strauss knew a good thing when he heard it. So did we (the audience).

The concert program repeats Saturday night Oct 1 and Sunday afternoon Oct 2nd.

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Questions for Marilyn Gronsdal

Marilyn Gronsdal is an opera director whose work we’ve seen with the Canadian Opera Company, reviving productions premiered in earlier seasons. In 2019 the COC brought back Atom Egoyan’s 2015 Cosi fan tutte. I liked that 2019 version much better than the one seen in 2015, which led me to ask
“was assistant director Marilyn Gronsdal the real genius behind this incarnation of the opera? (and the reason I like it so much better).”

Marilyn Gronsdal

For the 2022 fall season Gronsdal is back, as the revival director of Christopher Alden’s take on The Flying Dutchman, opening Friday October 7th.

I asked her some questions.


Are you more like your father or your mother?

My parents were both influential, in that they both gave me the love of music, but I think I am more like my mother. She was a can-do person, loved to travel, loved to try new experiences, loved my friends.

What is the best or worst thing about what you do?

Other than the experience of great music and theatre?

The best thing about the work I do are my colleagues – everyone who is contributing to the show. The other best thing? The moment where you see the big picture of a production in your head and know it will work.

Worst thing about directing? Waiting for the big picture after the research and thinking. It always comes, but I find it a very difficult time. I invest a lot.

The best thing about teaching fitness online, other than seeing the people in my classes, is the opportunity to get out of my head and pay attention to how my body is working.

Who do you like to listen to or watch?

During Covid, when I started teaching online fitness, I was always looking for interesting music for my classes. I listened to everything – I had the time!

I love drumming, world music, electro-pop, blues, jazz, Brahms piano music, Martha Argerich, Hiromi, Oscar – and, I love silence. I must say, that I love most types of music – my musical training didn’t make me a snob; it made me more discerning within forms.

What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

None. I’m fine with what I have.

When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?

Living a day without a schedule is delicious.

What was your first opera?

It was a bel canto opera in Edmonton with Joan Sutherland and Huguette Torangeau. It was probably Norma, but I cannot remember….

Of the operas you’ve done with the Canadian Opera Company which was your favorite?

The Ring Cycle when the opera house opened was the most exciting.

I still love this production of Dutchman and Robert Lepage’s Bluebeard/Erwartung will always be with me.

(l-r) Mark Johnson as the Psychiatrist, Krisztina Szabó as the Woman and Noam Markus as the Lover in the Canadian Opera Company production of Erwartung, 2015. (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The COC credits for Dutchman say “Original Director: Christopher Alden, Revival Director: Marilyn Gronsdal”. How do you do that? What sources do you work with to recreate / revive the production?

Christopher is a great director, and this show is very special to me. So, of course I spoke with Christopher and we discussed different remounts of the opera in other places since we last did it in Toronto. He has very strong ideas and I’m good with that – but a revival is also about new people and what they bring to the story.

Parts of the opera are highly choreographed and they work. Other parts of the opera are shaped similarly, but the individual singers make it new. Reviving this show is, to me, an extremely creative, challenging and positive experience.

Do you have any career advice for someone wanting to be an opera director?

Sure. Lots.

Come openly into the world of opera with your own life experiences. Who you are matters.

Be musically literate. Understand the form. Learn the history. Study languages. If you love it, take the time to learn about it.


The Canadian Opera Company’s Flying Dutchman opens Friday October 7th at the Four Seasons Centre. For further information click here.

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The Drawing Room from Confluence

The Drawing Room is “a dialogue for three voices and a messenger,” Music by composer Ian Cusson, Text by André Alexis. Its 20 minutes of words & music concluded Confluence Concerts opener to their fifth season.

Composer Ian Cusson

It’s something like a prequel to King Lear, but in modern English.

First, recall the big scene, when Lear sets up the action of the play by saying the following:

Tell me, my daughters,–
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,–
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge.

Now imagine a scene putting Lear’s three daughters together in a drawing room (as in the title) before the action of the play begins, which is why I’d call it a “prequel” to King Lear.

It’s a fascinating concept imagining this moment, digging beneath the surface of the play. I loved what they did with it even as my gut resisted the concept. In fairness diverging from Shakespeare is normal in operatic adaptations (setting aside the question of whether to call it “opera”). When one recalls the omission of the whole first act from Verdi’s Otello, the choice to omit soliloquys from Matthew Jocelyn’s recent Hamlet libretto, or the way Meredith Oakes completely altered the ending of her Tempest libretto, I probably should just enjoy the ride without quibbling. 

The setting by Cusson includes some beautiful music. At times they’re singing an arioso (or that’s what I’ll call it even if the word “arioso” is so vague as to be almost meaningless), the text moving very quickly for opera, which is usually slower. There were ensembles (two duets, one trio), that for me were the highlights, the most artificial creations, but containing some lovely music. Cusson often relies on his accompaniments for musical expression while the singers are usually singing very clearly, without much in the way of music to show off (as opera will sometimes do). Words & music function mostly to unfold a dramatic situation for us, to tell the story rather than hit us with vocal display. It’s very effective.

I did not object so much to the setting nor to the way the text is written, but their chosen path of the story. So we watch Goneril, Regan and Cordelia speak with a fair amount of civility & openness to one another, sharing their plans & strategies. With what I’ve seen of dysfunctional families I don’t believe this is how it would unfold, not from what we see of the sisters in Shakespeare’s play. I do think Alexis wrote great dialogue. Alexis’ scene between the sisters is so very powerful, especially when they recall their mother, so well written. I love that Alexis doesn’t simply give us the darker extrapolation that simply follows the arc (backwards) of their bad behavior, digging for something much subtler & deeper.

Please put that into context with the rest of the evening, a series of wonderful songs & musical numbers, an impressive night of musical performance. That appears to be what Confluence Concerts do best. The relaxed and intimate tone at 918 Bathurst made everything accessible. On the drive home I called Erika, who’s out of town for the weekend visiting cottage country with a friend to tell her she would have liked this. They’ve fixed much of what can sometimes seem to be wrong with classical music and opera. Confluence are unpretentious, completely intelligible, entertaining.

It’s especially apt for me this week, when I made reference in reviews to both the Toronto Symphony & Tafelmusik offering programming with promises that seem to echo what Larry Beckwith is doing, with Confluence Concerts.

The TSO’s conductor & music director, Gustavo Gimeno said:

“The creation of contrast is at the heart of what I believe about concert programming—the coming together of past and future, masterworks side by side with new commissions, old friends and new faces on the concert stage: all manner of refreshing or startling juxtapositions.

And Friday night’s concert, “Handel’s London” from Tafelmusik, exposed us to familiar & unfamiliar baroque composers of Handel’s London.

When we heard Mozart alongside Kate Bush, Neil Young and the new piece by Cusson we experienced something truly fresh. My ears felt cleansed, the audience often silent in wonder. I think the TSO & Tafelmusik have the right idea, although perhaps they need to commit more fully to the concept if they’re to create the kind of magic we had tonight.

You can find more about Confluence Concerts at their website.

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Handel’s London

The concept of Tafelmusik’s latest concert, titled “Handel’s London” channels some modern ideas through the baroque composers. It’s also a good excuse for listening to lovely baroque music.

Keyboardist Avi Stein, who was both the curator and guest director, explained the rationale in his elaborate program notes, one of the things I always love about Tafelmusik concerts.

We may think of Handel coming to London, without recognizing that many other musical figures also came there, for instance Joseph Haydn (who’s not in the group we heard tonight).  It was a crossroads for composers coming from many different Eurpean countries. By placing some unfamiliar composers –such as Johann Kusser, Francesco Geminiani or Pieter Hellendaal—alongside more familiar ones—such as Henry Purcell & George Frideric Handel, we get a new understanding of their context.  At times one notices similarities (to be expected in a concert of baroque music), but there were exciting moments when we heard something new.

Hellendaal? New to me, and sounding like a complete original. I swear at one point he seemed to employ a call & response that sounded like a baroque take on what we hear in spirituals. 

Kusser reminded me of Purcell, very French sounding at times as he employed winds to add brilliant colours & an effusion of melody.  I wish I could hear more.

Tafelmusik also included a short piece composed by Allen Whear, who passed away earlier this year.

Allen Whear, 1957-2022 (photo: Sian Richards)

As the program tells us:
In 2006, Music Director Jeanne Lamon asked Allen to compose a short piece for the orchestra. He titled it Short Story,… Allen refers to musical memories, and in playing Short Story we hear his voice again, and the music inspires memories of our dear friend and colleague.”

Here is his program note:

When Jeanne Lamon first approached me about writing a new piece for Tafelmusik, we had just finished touring a program that ended with Purcell’s Chaconne from The Fairy Queen. This is one of those tunes that sticks with you as you leave the concert hall.  We all process musical memories in different ways; melodic fragments can repeat themselves endlessly in your mind (sometimes annoyingly), or else they can be encouraged to evolve into something quite different as they merge with music of diverse styles and influences. This was the starting point for my piece, Short Story. While it is not a theme and variations per se, certain motives from the melody or from the bass line of the Purcell—some only two or three notes long—are the basis of a fantasy which explores this fragmentation and synthesis of musical memories.

Keyboardist Stein, who led every other performance, stepped away while Tafelmusik played Short Story.  The blank space (a harpsichord without its player) seemed apt considering that we were celebrating an absence. I was reminded of the practice of the riderless horse in funeral processions (as in JFK’s funeral), even if the missing cellist was not a keyboardist. And it made sense because this was really a personal connection to their missing player.   His piece picked up on a famous Purcell tune that we heard just before , now explored in variations, deconstructed and reframed in the new piece.

The ensemble brought their highest level of commitment to the performance, in effect celebrating their colleague. This was for me the highlight of the concert.

Concept or no concept, it was great to hear Tafelmusik, sounding marvellous.

The concert repeats Saturday September 24 at 2pm at Jeanne Lamon Hall.

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Electrifying opener for Gimeno and TSO

Tonight’s concert by the Toronto Symphony was a fitting beginning to their centennial season, a genuinely celebratory evening.

The program message from Music Director Gustavo Gimeno is very promising:

The creation of contrast is at the heart of what I believe about concert programming—the coming together of past and future, masterworks side by side with new commissions, old friends and new faces on the concert stage: all manner of refreshing or startling juxtapositions.”

Tonight for example they put Chopin’s lyrical 2nd piano concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov’s epic Scheherazade, alongside two new pieces, namely Kevin Lau’s The Story of the Dragon Gate, a brief prelude to open the concert and Lera Auerbach’s Icarus.

And while the music was exciting there’s the remarkable discovery I made, that I was completely surrounded by persons younger than myself at Roy Thomson Hall. Need I mention: this is the goal, to bring a younger crowd to classical concerts. You have no future when your subscribers are all seniors.

Clearly somebody is doing something right.

Kevin Lau grabbed the stage fearlessly for three minutes of enthusiastic melody that sounded a bit like a John Williams film-score, his heart on his sleeve employing the full range of orchestral colour. It’s a bit hard to follow, although Auerbach’s Icarus took its turn, syncopated and even more energetic than what Lau gave us, seguing to something more subdued, sweetly lyrical.

Pianist Bruce Liu gave us an understated reading of the Chopin, often playing notes softer than usual with perfect clarity. Liu has an original approach, sometimes teasing us with his rubato, while articulating every note. As his encore we were treated to the Etude Op 10 #5 in G-flat, the so-called “black – key” Etude, a perfect exercise for showing off his flawless technique.

After intermission we encountered Rimsky-Korsakov’s vibrantly ethnic Scheherazade, a brilliant study in story-telling. The work has been a TSO signature piece, especially with Jonathan Crow playing the violin solo passages, as he did on the 2014 Chandos recording conducted by Peter Oundjian. If anything Gimeno seems to be pushing this orchestra to greater heights, taking some sections faster, bolder than before. I think the climaxes seem bigger because Gimeno carefully restrains them to begin the crescendos, super soft building inexorably. They sound like a virtuoso ensemble, offering a series of eloquent solos from every section, ready for anything Gimeno asks of them. The chemistry is palpable. The Chopin-Rimsky program repeats Thursday and Saturday nights.

The anniversary season exploiting contrast continues Thursday, Saturday and Sunday of next week, mixing Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture, Chausson’s Poème for violin & orchestra, Saint-Saëns’s Symphony #3 and Samy Moussa’s violin concerto.

TSO Music Director Gustavo Gimeno
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Mary Trump’s Reckoning

The title of the book is The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal.

It’s to be understood as a reckoning for America, but perhaps also a personal one for the author.

After watching the Royal Funeral today, September 19th 2022, I want to connect the personal & the political, the macrocosm seeming to reflect the microcosm. Just as Elizabeth’s dutiful vow expands outward from her family to the myriad contacts she made, shown in the worldwide outpouring of love for her, so too in the two ways of understanding Mary Trump’s ongoing project (within her family and writ large for her country).

But of course there is a huge contrast between the two. The past ten days since Elizabeth’s passing have been a constant affirmation of the rule of law, and dare I say it, a transfer of power so orderly that the protocol can be planned long in advance. As a Canadian I rejoice in these serene & peaceful rituals, even as I recall recent transgressions such as the convoy in Ottawa or January 6 in Washington DC, reminding us of the fragility of the American experiment in democracy.

I raced through The Reckoning, this latest book from Mary Trump, within a day: unable to put it down.

Her previous book Too Much and Never Enough was a careful dissection of her uncle’s personality, laid bare as only she could do, a psychologist writing about the pathology of a family member.

Back flap photo of Mary Trump

This time? I was surprised to discover that she was writing much less about her uncle and more about his context. It reminds me of the second Godfather movie, when much of the film resembles a prequel to show the history that led Vito Corleone to become the Godfather. Similarly Mary Trump gives us a brutally honest history of America: to explain the background context for Donald Trump.

I should caution you that reading the first 50 pages hits you like a blunt object. This is a history of America pulling no punches, while explaining how her uncle fits into the ongoing project of white supremacy. I will give you one tiny safe sample.

By the time I was a sophomore in college, I knew more about the Holocaust than I did about the genocide of Native Americans and the complete oppression of enslaved Africans and their subsequent generations in my own country. The message I’d received through most of my years at school, and my life in general, was that Black American history was not my history, and it was not “our” history, but something separate, other. Toni Morrison wrote “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” (Trump 140)

But it isn’t really telling us how that reckoning will happen. I say this having breathlessly raced through Mary Trump’s book, hoping for some glimpse of redemption or salvation. Nope. Perhaps I need to recall how therapy works, that the therapist listens, while the patient figures it out & hopefully grows, heals, reckons with who they are. While we’re given a fair bit of history there isn’t anything to explain how we can get from here, our current mess, to some kind of solution or reconciliation. There is more diagnosis of the problem(s) than any idea of a prescription, a pathway to healing.

Indeed, I’m not sure whether she understands her title to mean the resolution of historical injustice by righting wrongs or in the destruction of democracy itself and the ripping away of the illusion of American exceptionalism. I did not finish with any sense that Mary Trump’s book could lead us to “finding a Way to Heal,” as the title seems to promise. In fairness the first step must be recognizing the problem, so in that sense I suppose that it’s a step in the right direction.

But when I finished I felt lost.

Let me repeat, I’m glad to be in Canada.

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A Window To A Dream

A Window To A Dream breathes new life into opera favourites

Unprecedented program brings fresh Farsi translations of opera essentials to the stage at Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts September 23rd, 2022


Richmond Hill, Ontario —  Although Cultural Interchange-360’s upcoming production A Window To A Dream features a program consisting of some of the most famous and beloved music of the past 400 years, this event is the very first of its kind. 

The event, supported by Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council is coming to the Richmond Hill Centre For The Performing Arts on September 23rd, 2022 and includes a stunning collection of arias from the Baroque era to the 20th Century. The crucial catch: everything has been translated into Farsi. 

Top-tier vocalists Abdolreza Rostamian (tenor), and Farshid Tabloie (baritone), alongside CI-360 co-founder Golrokh Aminian (soprano), will be performing a selection of classic opera arias accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra and 16-member choir conducted by JUNO-nominated composer Saman Shahi. Shahi has also re-orchestrated the music to accommodate these instrumental forces. Meanwhile, director Kamran Aminian, storyteller Arianna Aminian, and the stage & costume designers Amir Rahbar and Morvarid Alinejad will bring the unique worlds of each opera to life, while tracing a cohesive journey between each of them. 

Golrokh Aminian, in addition to serving as co-director and vocalist, has put her multilingual background to work for this production, crafting poetic, musical translations of each song. The songs are woven together by a dream recounted by our young narrator, who is confused about the notion of love.

Listeners will be treated to stirring, evocative Farsi renditions of important works such as Dido’s Lament by Purcell, Puccini’s O Mio Babino Caro, as well as excerpts from Verdi’s La Traviata, Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s the Magic Flute, and other cornerstones of the operatic repertoire. They will also include a rare performance of Saghi be Noore Bade, an aria by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885-1948), from his 1937 opera Koroghlu.

Under Iran’s Islamic Regime, opera became a heavily politicized artform—banned, in fact. The 1979 revolution brought an end to the nascent opera community which had only been active for 18 years. Opera’s secular content (depictions of earthly love, for instance), and the participation of female vocalists, were deemed objectionable by the regime, opposing its strict religious-derived laws. Even prior to the 1979 upheaval, the European languages of opera libretti and art-song texts had posed an obstacle for these genres in terms of reaching a more mainstream status among the Iranian populace.

A Window To A Dream will indeed broach the history of opera in Iran, but its primary purpose is to offer an opera primer to Iranian audiences and other Farsi-speaking communities. It’s at once a celebration and reclamation of this cherished body of work. 

A Window to a Dream

Presented by Cultural Interchange-360

Friday, 23 September 2022, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM

at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts: 10268 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill, ON L4C 3B7


Soprano: Golrokh Aminian

Tenor: Abdolreza Rostamian

Baritone: Farshid Tabloie

Conductor & Arrangement: Saman Shahi
Director: Kamran Aminian

Narrator: Arianna Aminian

Stage & Costume Design: Amir Rahbar & Morvarid Alinejad.

Tickets: $48.12 – $79.80


Over the past five years, Cultural Interchange-360 has been mounting elaborate musical presentations  throughout the Greater Toronto Area, all of which have situated music within broader thematic frameworks that merge various artforms, languages, and cultural elements. Featuring the work of local musicians and composers their past productions have fused the classical traditions of Europe, with those of the Persian/modal lineage. Co-founders and co-directors, Golrokh Aminian and Amir Rahbar are both of Iranian descent and each one’s artistic practice is informed by thorough training in European idioms. Aminian, a vocalist, was a soprano in the Roudaki Hall of Tehran, before coming to Canada and studying at the Royal Conservatory and under several renowned sopranos. Rahbar, a pianist, started his music training on accordion and tonbak, and subsequently studied piano and the language of European classical music with a host of notable Iranian scholars. 


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