Saturday, May 1, 2010


It’s been a musical month of April for Ponczka and I. Earlier in the month we saw Baaba Maal, from Senegal, with a very lively, up tempo mixture of pop and traditional sounds. Then we took in the Toronto Symphony doing a program of Sibelius, with the violinist Pekka Kuusisto. But let me tell you about the last two evenings.

On Thursday, we went to Koerner Hall, the very modern, venue attached to the Royal Conservatory on Bloor West, to see Steve Reich, the minimalist, contemporary classical composer. He had a program of percussive works, performed with the group Nexus. There were grand pianos and electronic keyboards, one composition featuring electric guitars and bass, a hand-clapping duet, and a quintet of guys banging wood mallets. But the best piece, to me, featured – along with the six keyboards, timpanis and cymbals – three massive wooden marimbas and two vibraphones.

The pieces were very rhythmic and repetitive. Trance-inducing in a way, certainly moody and full of rich and shifting soundscapes. I liked it a lot more than Ponczka did. She – always a people watcher – took advantage of our perch, in the single row of the second balcony, high above the stage and the main body of the audience, to study the crowd. Lots of the artsy and the intelligencia were on hand – among them, Atom Egoyan and Adrienne Clarkson. It was an enthusiastic and interesting looking audience, some stylish, some rough, quite a number of music students on hand, some packing their instruments.

Then, last night, we took the drive to Gananoque, to the Thousand Islands Playhouse, to see Stuart McLean with his Vinyl Cafe. Traffic from T.O. was horrendous – it must’ve taken us an hour and a half to clear Pickering. We arrived more than 45 minutes into the show, and wondered if there was any point in going in. Turns out that Stuart gives a full evening’s entertainment. We arrived about halfway through one of his Dave and Morley stories, missing the set-up, but catching enough of it to get the culminating situational hilarity he works his characters into. And we got to enjoy a set of tunes by his regular accompanists and the guest singer-guitarist. And a routine his did with two young kids he called up from the audience, around the giving away of cds to the youngest and oldest members of the audience. Hilarious. McLean's rapport with his audience is so natural, affectionate and light. And this was all before intermission.

The best of McLean’s evening was saved for last. It was something new, he said, being performed for the first time. He said he didn’t quite know what to call it...something like a rock opera, but not that at all. It was a telling of his early life, accompanied by a performed sound track of music he’d grown up on. Wonderful, Touching, Evocative. He spoke of his parents, growing up in West Montreal, discovering Rock & Roll, his almost first kiss, and finding his way to a career in radio with the CBC. All told with humour and more than a hint of nostalgia. We remarked to each other afterward that we were surprised to learn that McLean grew up in Montreal and lived in Toronto, because the entire event felt like a small town, community gathering, just like his on-air weekly show. There were lots of families; the streets around the lake-front venue were middle-of-the-night quiet when we left, the crowd dispersing as much of foot as by car.

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