Set out to dazzle

You can drive, of course, and the busy people do, but I liked taking the train to concerts in Jurmala, a seaside town thirty minutes from Riga, Latvia’s capital city. On the train, you sit among grandmothers on their way to invest in ice cream, next to a teenage boy huffing into his phone about going fishing “I’ll be back tonight. We won’t drink.” And it is normal that there are people on the train going to the symphony.
“To be interested in the popular culture of contemporary America is to be interested in our popular architecture; the architecture of those buildings in which we live or work or enjoy ourselves. They are not only an important part of our everyday environment, they also reveal in their design and evolution much about our values and how we adjust to the surrounding world.” J.B. Jackson from The Domestication of the Garage (1976)
“We are living through a moment where the past is no more, but the future hasn’t yet arrived. This produces such anguish. It’s as though we are trapped in a hole in time where the past doesn’t help us, but we don’t know what lies ahead either.” Heloísa Starling

Greek Expectations

Are American presidents human? JFK, a new opera by Royce Vavrek and David T. Little, tries to convince us that John F. Kennedy was, in fact, mortal, inflating Camelot’s characters to absurdity one minute and showing how they’re just like you and me the next.

I’m coming for you, Calgary

University of Cincinnati history professor Mark A. Lause likes to rub the rough spots in American history, the places where the story doesn’t go the expected way. His previous books include Race and Radicalism in the Union Army, on the successes and struggles of mixed black, Indigenous and white army units, and The Antebellum Crisis and America’s First Bohemians, on the alternative culture and politics that bloomed in New York while war clouds gathered. In his new book, The Great Cowboy Strike: Bullets, Ballots and Class Conflicts in the American West, he looks at that mythical independent contractor, the cowboy living off the land with no social obligations and immediate access to justice in his holster.
“DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.” Umberto Eco, 1994

Here come the men

Tapestry Opera’s newest, biggest, and most complex production to date comes from that island of new opera where budgets are small and “plot” is not a dirty word. Librettist Coleen Murphy’s and composer Aaron Gervais’s Oksana G even tackles a contemporary subject. But the production, directed by Tom Diamond (seen May 28), is far better than the opera, which stumbles on its sprint to relevance. Oksana G’s cultural stereotypes could be taken from a page on Wikipedia: there’s the impossibly naive Ukrainian girl and her cartoonish small-town parents, trapped in a world where tarot card readers monopolize the distribution of news; a leather-clad gang of rapists unhinged by one or another Eastern European war, and the lone hero, a Canadian priest.
Montessori’s revenge

Why don’t wastewater plants qualify?

The story goes like this: once upon a time, in 1967, Canada was a happy place where architects were important. Even prime ministers would come to visit them and ask what the country should do for its birthday. The architects thought about it and said that Canada should build a planetarium. And Canada did, and the Vancouver Planetarium and Museum was a great planetarium, and everybody was very happy. And the architects were happiest of all.

In the bathtub, daydreaming about death

After three years of “transadaptated” and time-warped Mozart, this year Joel Ivany’s Open Space residency at Banff Centre has discovered more recent material: Claude Vivier’s intriguing and ambitious chamber opera Kopernikus from 1979, and with it a surprising comfort with the unaltered text. The slightly awed production team (Ivany: “This may be the greatest work of Canadian chamber opera.” Topher Mokrzewski: “Why qualify it?”) took an unfamiliarly reverent approach to the score. If the trombone player is written as playing the crotales, then nobody else will touch them. What they did add were new perspectives, inviting Dene singer Leela Gilday as dramaturg, and choreographer Matjash Mrozewski, who created a gestural language to unite the singers, musicians, and dancers.

Brave, Braver, Bravest

Louis Riel, the opera by Harry Somers and Mavor Moore commissioned for the Canadian centenary in 1967, was hungrily received into the national canon. Louis Riel was the first opera written by a Canadian to have its premiere at Canadian Opera Company, and its artistic merits have never been easily distinguishable from its genealogical ones; fifty years later, COC remains the only professional company to have performed it, most recently in 1975. The opera’s reappearance in Toronto this year for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations reinforced its politically charged status, which is why director Peter Hinton’s new production has faced such public scrutiny. Hinton’s debut staging with the company marked an attempt to update the musty politics of Riel.
“In the present state of architectural and environmental design, almost no problem has yet been made to exhibit complexity in such a well-defined way that it actually requires the use of a computer. The effort to state a problem in such a way that a computer can be used to solve it will distort your view of the problem. It will allow you to consider only those aspects of the problem which can be encoded—and in many cases these are the most trivial and the least relevant aspects.” Christopher Alexander

Why this? Why now?

Any overly rigid adaptation risks repeating the mistakes of its source material while adding new ones. And the new work must also justify its arrival—why this? And why now? Another Brick in the Wall, Opera de Montreal’s new opera treatment of Pink Floyd’s seminal 1979 rock album The Wall, is untroubled by such questions. Despite the flamboyant angst of its subject, the manchild rock star Pink, Another Brick In The Wall has the self-assurance of a signed merchandizing contract.
bleakout session

It’s too late to be nice

Since the 1970s, departments of the environment have been created in governments around the world; hundreds of conservation and protection acts have been passed, thousands of hectares of land set aside from development, and dozens of toxic and harmful chemicals banned. Today there are more than a thousand environmental treaties in place, and a seventh of the Earth’s landmass is officially protected in some way. And still the planet is becoming unfamiliar.
“Can’t you count, Albert?” Artur Schnabel to Einstein during a rehearsal
Hail, cretin!

Catastrophic hippophilia

Current events and opera seasons have independent orbits, so when a freakish alignment of stage story and street time occurs, it is more powerful because it feels like an omen. Attended at the end of a disastrous November, there is something portentous about Chicago Lyric Opera’s magnificent new production of Berlioz’s Les Troyens. This retelling of the Aeneid is a grim illustration of the Greeks’ belief in the implacability of fate and the tragedies bred by humanity’s struggle against it. It is also five hours of futile rage, which has recently become a familiar feeling.


War is usually told through stories of heroism and horror, but it’s also a grind, and the same can be said about opera. Tobin Stokes and Heather Raffo’s Fallujah is not a faux-filmic spectacle with blood packs and recorded explosions. It tells a story about the consequences of an ordinary act of war, about ordinary soldiers and ordinary residents of the city those soldiers were ordered to attack. It is an opera about the terror of numbness, and the fear that behind the numbness is something worse than pain.
“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” Adorno & Horkheimer

What do leaders look like

Anxiety over foreign takeovers is nothing new in the corporate world, where buyers from abroad have scooped up everything from Canadian Club to the Timbit. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the wave of high-profile outsiders who have been hired to oversee some of Canada’s largest art and cultural institutions has also led to similar bouts of nationalist hand-wringing.

Triumphantly wrong

My introduction to Jane Jacobs was completely ordinary. Like many, many architecture students since its publication in 1962, I read The Death and Life of Great American Cities for an introductory course in urbanism. Jacobs was a joy to read, whip-crack smart and caustically funny, and she wrote in impeccable, old-school sentences that convinced you with their unimpeded flow. She explained her ideas in utterly clear and simple language. Planners are “pavement pounding” or “Olympian.” There are “foot people and car people.”
Export motorcycles2

Off-shored experiments

For a week in July, the best opera in Canada was halfway up an Alberta mountain. True to its 1930s origins as an “Experimental School in the Arts Related to the Theatre,” the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity presented two ambitious workshop productions, a Mozart murder-mystery collage called No One’s Safe, written and directed by Joel Ivany, and Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, directed by Paul Curran.
Photo 2016-07-18, 22 40 48

Mother Canada

While large companies struggle to produce new works that will be relevant to new audiences, Opera on the Avalon, founded only eight years ago in St John’s, Newfoundland, has presented the premiere of Ours, an opera about one of the most important events in local history—the annihilation of the Newfoundland Regiment in minutes during the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, at the beginning of the Somme Offensive, on July 1, 1916. Over two acts, composer John Estacio and playwright Robert Chafe proclaim the glory of this sacrifice.

The dead can never die

In this cleverly Brexit-timed release, Gillingham, an emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, attempts to counter the narrative of easy and inevitable European integration by looking at incongruous moments from EU history. He assesses the present crises (refugees and economic stagnation), names the most important future one (sovereign debt) and pronounces the patient dead.

Nice box, good box

A new pavilion for the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec gleams modestly between elm trees. It was designed by OMA’s New York office, led by Shohei Shigematsu, to double the gallery spaces of the museum and get it out of a park and on to the street. Though the building is OMA’s first in Canada and the biggest cultural project in Quebec City for over 50 years, it is more helpful than heroic.
“The Great War lasted four years; the US has been occupying Afghanistan for eleven years and Iraq for nine. You cannot maintain combat operations for that length of time without fostering, both deliberately and otherwise, a militarism closely connected to a sense of personal liberation through violence. War is carcinogenic to the body politic, and the cancers it generates appear in all kinds of unexpected ways.” Jeff Sparrow


It’s impossible for a visitor to Texas to avoid clichés about bigness; the place is like a catalogue of the ways people have tried to fill a wide horizon with stuff, and statements. They seem to live on golf courses. The wide streets aren’t big enough for the trucks. Statuesque women (“the higher the hair, the closer to God,” as the saying goes) saunter through bars the size of aircraft carriers, flashing with lights, tassels, rhinestones and sequins. That is a spirit at home at the opera, and Fort Worth Opera (FWO) has earned a reputation for robustly supporting new work. Their latest commission is JFK, written by Grande Prairie, Alta.-born Royce Vavrek, and it tells the story of Jack and Jackie’s day before their drive to Dallas.
Theodor Kittelsen

How to screw up and lose friends

It was just supposed to be an opera review, but in some people’s eyes it has left the Canadian Opera Company looking mercilessly petty and the National Post looking worse. On May 3, Arthur Kaptainis, the well-known critic for the Montreal Gazette and the Post, filed a piece on the COC’s Maometto II, an opera by Rossini. When it ran, Jennifer Pugsley, a press representative for the COC, emailed Dustin Parkes, executive producer of arts and culture at the National Post, officially to correct two errors, but really to complain about Kaptainis.

Where do you get so much money that you need a bank?

To reveal the hidden potentials of buildings and cities, we need someone who sees them another way, someone who walks through walls and uses the roof instead of the front door. Though most burglars are dull opportunists who fail to live up to this promise, this book is interested in the ones with insight into architecture.

If only plastic didn’t burn so well

“Most of us now understand that architecture is the least suitable instrument with which to achieve social justice,” Museum of Modern Art curator Arthur Drexler said in 1975. That quote could be the antithesis of this book, which looks at the 1960s and 1970s as a period when governments were brave enough to experiment and architecture could claim to improve social and spatial organization.

“Nothing is too good for ordinary people.”

Architect Berthold Lubetkin’s motto still carries an electric charge, which may be why it is so hard to buy this quote on a tea towel. “Keep calm and carry on,” on the other hand, sounds like the soporific for our time, and it can be found on everything from wallets to underwear, doormats to pillows. Created by the British government for use in the event of a German invasion during the Second World War, it had a renaissance during the financial collapse of 2008.

We are totally not funded by the CIA

There have always been people who refuse to forget, and this is a book for them. The debut novel by a young Russian journalist and poet is about a journey to the Gulag, a search for history that few want to talk about, told through a search for the origins of an old man. Called Grandfather II, he grafts himself onto the narrator’s family and tries to claim the young boy as a replacement for a lost son.

A world without ushers

Innovations en concert was founded in 1994 by guitarist and composer Tim Brady. In its current incarnation under artistic director Isak Goldschneider, it presents some of the most interesting new music in Montreal. Devoted to experimental chamber music, Innovations has no permanent venue and produces events in small and medium-sized rooms (mostly bars and churches, the places where alcohol is traditionally consumed). Though concerts (or shows? The distinction doesn’t make sense with them) don’t assume a respectful hush, I have noticed they usually earn it.

Too many joints on the beach

Last week, Richard Reed Parry and Bryce Dessner’s Wave Movements had its North American premiere in the Egyptian galleries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Where? “Left, after the tomb.”) After performances in London and Edinburgh earlier this year, the composers (respectively, members of rock groups The National and Arcade Fire) heard musicians from the New York Philharmonic perform their composition accompanied with a film by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, who repurposed his famous 1980s black-and-white seascapes for the project.

A poetical review of Elektra at the Opera de Montreal

Here, Yannick could conduct anything,
For Montreal is so starved for zing;
Any opera, kind or cruel,
No matter, the seats would be full;
I’d go even if it was The Ring…


If I see three harps onstage, I will walk out of a concert hall. On Tuesday evening I tried, and I apologize to anyone I damaged in my panic, but the exits were solidly blocked by the crowd filling the Maison symphonique to the rafters for Ravel’s Bolero (1928). The demand was so high that the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal has added a third performance of the concert.

L’Amour de Too Damn Loin

A new production of Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf’s L’Amour de Loin, a joint project of the Opera de Québec and the Metropolitan Opera — where it is scheduled for a future season — had its premiere at the Festival Opera de Québec (seen Aug. 1). Called “hypnotic” after its world premiere at the 2000 Salzburg Festival, L’Amour de Loin has had several stagings since, including the first U.S. production at Santa Fe in 2002. The opera’s lack of action demands extraordinary efforts from a director: it is simply not dramatic. Saariaho’s spare musical world can be intriguing; it ranges from seductive to alien, welcoming and frightening as the sea, but too little happens.

For Shame

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world, with an endowment valued around US$41 billion—with Warren Buffett and Gates pledging much of their fortunes, it will grow bigger—and a total annual grant of around $4 billion. This puts it in the same weight category as the World Health Organization—if the WHO’s budget were controlled by one couple. McGoey’s new book is a timely criticism of a society that allows an individual to accumulate such a distorting amount of financial power; it is an indictment of unaccountable power in general and of the Gates Foundation in particular.
“The immoderate, the obscure, the tentative, the adventure counselled by the demon within.” Camille Mauclair describing what Camille Saint-Saëns was not

Like, ever

Most new music is lucky to be premièred in a beery basement, so an orchestral debut is a special thing for most composers. Not Denis Gougeon, whose note in Wednesday night’s Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’s program explained that he is “one of the few who can support himself exclusively by composing, though he also accepted a position in the composition department at his alma mater.” That was nice of them, since he seems to be a wind specialist.

Standards are low for this kind of stuff

An exceptionally stringy weekend opened with the rarity of an experimental concert at the Maison Symphonique hosted by the OSM and Pro Musica. This was violinist Gil Shaham playing Bach’s solo violin works, the three Partitas and three Sonatas to video projections by David Michalek.

More corn than gold

A cartoonish evening at the symphony on Tuesday began with Berlioz’s Corsair overture, replacement conductor Yan-Pascal Tortelier’s replacement for Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Since it was his only contribution to the program, it should not be surprising that Tortelier showed the greatest enthusiasm and attention for it, dancing on the Maison symphonique podium like a man with a new hip and throwing his arms in broad gestures while the OSM tried to hold on. It was like being tossed through time into a 1930s sound-stage recording: absurd but fun, and ten minutes of it were enough.
“The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.” Tom Waits

It’s just like Pokemon

The Brentano Quartet was one of the few pedigreed North American quartets that have not visited the Ladies Morning Musical Club. That was corrected on soggy Sunday, the first LMMC concert of the season, with a comfortable program of Mendelssohn, Britten and Brahms. Audience arrival was impeded by a gang of bicyclists who had taken over the mountain for their annual high speed ceremony.

Convincingly exhausted

The orchestral season opened with a brilliant concert performance of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande on a night that was characteristic of the best this orchestra can do under Kent Nagano, who celebrates his 10th year as music director. Where others might begin with some new music, a première trumpeting artistic vitality, we heard a canonical classic performed with impeccable detail and by mostly local talent. Tradition is healthy at the OSM.

Unusually High Survival Rate

Was there a bomb on the ship? No. Why would you need a bomb? The ship was a bomb. Yet two-thirds on-board survived, so, by Zeppelin standards, the Hindenburg disaster was not particularly disastrous—but it was the first to be filmed and widely broadcast.

I wore my worst suit

It’s easy to hear young musicians and singers in the summer, and to learn new acronyms. You can almost stand still and just let them wash over you. The McGill International String Quartet Academy began last weekend, and the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute and its festival had their first grand concert on Monday. The CVAI is a three-week program that brings together 40 singers with 15 faculty, and the festival is the public part — a series of opera performances and recitals mostly hosted by the Université de Montréal in their incredible Soviet-revival concert hall.

Rather prominent in our culture

Last week’s announcement that the Santa Fe Opera has commissioned The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs has ignited a debate about opera commissions. People either whinced at its “immediately clichéd” subject and asinine title, or they welcomed the choice of a first-time opera composer, Bay Area-based Mason Bates, whose compositions often include electronics. Do we need an opera about a dead white billionaire?

Also “emeritus” and “dead”

The McGill International String Quartet Academy brings together “junior” and “senior” quartets in residence at McGill, where they are improved and improve each other through master classes and private lessons with international faculty. The concert series is unique — a total immersion in the quartet tradition — and there’s no better way to find out what kinds of performers and composers you don’t like. It’s free, too. Roll the dice.

All looky no touchy

The original plot of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte makes leaps that may have been difficult to follow back in the 18th century when it was written. Two men bet that their fiancées are faithful, then test the women by trying to seduce them in disguise. When they eventually succeed it proves the saying of the opera’s title, “so do all,” i.e., all women are unfaithful. A nice 21st-century idea. A brand new adaptation of Cosi just premiered in Banff. A Little Too Cozy proves that a historic work can be translated for contemporary audiences without losing its soul, but it’s so good that it ends up asking another question: is adapting classics the best opera can do today?

Your commemorative hot dog, sir

About 40,000 people gathered to hear the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal through a stadium sound system Wednesday at the Olympic Park esplanade. Every year the miking gets better but this remains a terrible way to hear classical music that wasn’t written for the outdoors. As something else, it’s kind of fun, there’s a festival atmosphere — the feeling that something special is going to happen — and junk food. You can even talk. However, laughter remains forbidden.

Two men were crushed writing the pun in this headline

A piano is actually two objects: it’s an instrument when you play it and a bathtub when you try to move it. Does your piano have wheels? They only look like wheels. They were attached by saboteurs.

tldr: he’s nuts

Insomnia is a state of nervous distraction, an inability to focus and a craving for new stimuli that happens to make sleep impossible. This slim book roams through ideas about the disorder with the obsessive circular thinking of a sufferer. It is a fascinating and bleak portrait of the insomniac mind kicking against the same question one night after another, unable to stop asking: why me?

Look into my eyes not around my eyes

It’s weird to hear Scriabin played in a pastel-coloured Catholic church in rural Quebec. This Russian composer’s early music is too romantic for such a rigid atmosphere, while his later pieces are too abstract and grandiose for wooden mouldings.

It wasn’t

My neighbour arrived holding a crash helmet at the Orford Festival this weekend and I thought, good, this is going to be one of those concerts.

Smashy smashy

The Montreal Chamber Music Festival has come a long way from a few mountaintop concerts. Today, it has its 20th anniversary season introduced by the lieutenant-governor with a bewildered conscript rigid at his side. Now that’s a local institution.

Bulletproof soprano

The 2015 Montreal International Musical Competition finals began with faint noises in the woods as singers who had astonished in a little hall with piano accompaniment struggled in the Maison symphonique with an orchestra. Only one competitor made the move with her charisma intact.

I don’t want to hear the future anymore

It’s Montreal International Music Competition season, so a boxcar full of young musicians are trying to avoid our city’s carnal pleasures and focus on their performances. Good luck!

The man behind me called it “cute”

Opera de Montreal are ending their season with Kevin Puts’s Silent Night, a cinematically efficient opera about the Christmas truce of 1914. It’s easy to listen to and easy to like—like a fairy tale.

The opera points at horrors but doesn’t dwell on them; there are too many subplots to tie up, and anyway operatic stagecraft limits the reality of what we see. When it takes the audience a few seconds to find an online video of a man being beheaded or murdered by lethal injection, horror on an opera stage must be psychological to be effective—a dread made of music and completed in the mind. I’m thinking of Bluebeard’s Castle this fall at the Met. So despite it being about the stupidity of war, Silent Night is not an anti-war opera. That’s why it can be funded by Veteran’s Affairs and the American Embassy. Silent Night is like the Norman Rockwell version of war, when we need George Grosz.

Spike the coffee and banish sadness

Revolutions aren’t always bloody. Sometimes they take place in a dressing room when a conductor’s preconcert tea is replaced with a cocktail so powerful and illegal the bar goes quiet when you order it. And the pale bartender asks, are you sure?

Ravel? That’s for figure skating.

Christoph Gedschold had his North American conducting debut on Wednesday with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. It was mixed. A brave and slightly insane program contrasted two mobile pieces — Zosha Di Castri’s Lineage and Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, played by Alain Lefèvre — with Shostakovich’s strident 11th Symphony, which emerged as an hour-long hammering on a single theme.

You have survived another winter here is your reward

Arrival of good-for-humans weather was announced by two of the best string quartets in the world like harbingers of Helios’s chariot, though I was probably the only one imagining eight stooped pale guys distributing grapes and good fortune from 30,000 ft, not least because the musical mood was much darker than the sky.

Ives something crunchy Ives something salty Ives lettuce

The collaborative nature of music-making was unusually obvious at the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal’s latest event, Illusions. There were a lot of names on the program, which was one of the highest-quality new music events so far this year. It opened in Montreal on Friday before heading to Toronto for the 21C festival in May and the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival in July.

I hope that was just a bad night

I was in debtors prison near Kamchatka and missed last year’s competition, so I’ll defer to the distinguished jury — which didn’t include Norrington, who last judged in 2010 — and trust that Laporte can sing bravely and fill a room. He just didn’t do it last night.

The woolly northern people have sent us something nice, your lordship

Spring elation and derangement was interrupted twice this weekend for music, beginning with an assemblage from Quebec City: the Violons du Roy with guest conductor Richard Egarr from the Academy of Ancient Music, the Violons’ usual choir, La Chapelle de Québec, and a fine group of soloists stopped in Montreal on the way to Carnegie Hall.

goede zanger

Sunday afternoon began with the usual apologies to the barman who woke me up. Then I made my way to a club sportif in Outremont where juice boxes were served to a roomful of toddlers. This was a fundraiser for Bach Before Bedtime, an organization that introduces kids to classical instruments and the people who play them. I watched a little boy carry his baby brother closer to the stage. It’s an easy thing to like even when the room smells faintly of swimming pool.
“One person reads Werther and shoots himself, another reads Werther and, because Werther shoots himself, decides to live. One behaves like Werther, the other like Goethe. A lesson in self-examination? A lesson in self-defense? Both.” Tsvetaeva

3 kids = 1 new work

So far in 2015, the best assembly of voices in Montreal wasn’t at the opera, it was at the Maison Symphonique on Sunday for the Orchestre Métropolitan’s performance of Dvo?ák’s magnificent Stabat Mater. For the solos they somehow managed to get soprano Layla Claire, mezzo Karen Cargill and bass John Reylea. Tenor Gerrett Sorenson replaced Brandon Jovanovich, who was sick.

Kids: wear your licence plates

We have an idea in the 21st century that capitalism is the market, and that both are naturally opposed to bureaucracy, which is the state. This dense little book is an attack on that complacent thinking, and it continues some of the arguments that brought Graeber prominence for Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Both books belong to an anthropological tradition that takes approaches normally reserved for weird foreigners and applies them to Western culture, with electric results.

May he live long and not come back for a while

Lang Lang has a distinctive sound that you can like or not, but it’s remarkable how easy he is to pick out at a time when most young pianists have only technique. This week he performs with the OSM for three nights in a row: twice for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, and a recital on Friday.

True cost of concert tickets

I thought back-to-back OSM concerts this weekend would leave me thinking about music. They didn’t. I was thinking about money.

If you only had the Batman comics, would you find New York?

That’s the problem with looking for Atlantis, beginning with which parts of Plato’s fourth-hand account you take literally. He describes a city of concentric circles in a landscape near the pillars of Heracles—Gibraltar, probably—that includes man-made earthworks 10 times bigger than the Panama Canal. Then he breaks off mid-sentence. How you translate a word of ancient Greek makes the difference between a convincing argument for locating Atlantis in a national park in Spain or on the island of Malta, and a series of contradictions becomes evidence if you decide that a hieroglyph for 100 was mistranslated into Greek as 1,000. It’s that simple.
Photo 2015-03-02, 08 28 52


In addition to normal late February feelings of crawling skin and manic reactions to sunlight, I had specific trepidations about the opening of the Montreal/New Music Festival on Thursday.
“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” Kafka
Action pants
genital panic

I had other questions but the line suddenly went dead

Alexander Shelley was appointed Music Director-designate of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in October 2013 and begins his new role of Music Director in September 2015. The same year also marks his seventh year as Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra where he has played a pivotal role leading the orchestra’s education work and touring activities. On January 20, 2015 Shelley was named Principal Associate Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
“all flesh and no soul, all buildings and no architecture, all property and no land, all electricity and no light, all billboards and nothing to say, all ideas and no principles.” Peter Plagens on Banham on L.A. in 1972

How much do you like Mendelssohn?

The first half of Tuesday’s OSM concert could be summed up by the woman I saw trying to slap herself awake, but the night was rescued by a masterful performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 by pianist Emanuel Ax.

He’s a major draw, which helps explain why the hall was packed, but there are crowded winter nights when you suspect Montrealers have all gone out at the same time in a kind of unconscious group rhythm, like a hundred gophers poking out at once to find out who’s survived.
Photo 2015-02-11, 15 45 25

The other one not the pirate one

Wear a down parka to the Met in winter for a Slavic double-bill like Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle and you feel like the only caveman too stupid to club a mink. A sweet Russian lady handed me her spare with maternal concern, but if I felt any embarrassment it vanished in the dead animal’s embrace, and people stopped staring.


On Friday night, the Orchestre Métropolitain under Julian Kuerti performed everything musical written for Maeterlinck’s strange play Pelléas and Mélisande, except the most famous piece. But adding an entire opera would have been unwise even for the handful who can stand Debussy.
– Doctor, where are you taking me?
– To the morgue.
– But I haven’t died!
– We haven’t arrived yet.

Play three notes and I’ll tell you who you are

The composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg started as a piano prodigy in Warsaw under Szymanowski and might have stayed there if the Second World War hadn’t intervened. He ended up assisting at the Tashkent opera until friends put him in touch with Shostakovich, who got Weinberg to Moscow. There he wrote prolifically (200 songs, 26 symphonies, 17 string quartets, seven operas) and found success with performers like Rostropovich and the Borodin Quartet, though the Cold War prevented a wider fame. Weinberg died in 1996, still in Moscow.

Leave the bouquet at home next time

Two exuberances almost annihilated each other on Saturday when Ensemble Caprice celebrated its 25th anniversary by collaborating with Dave St-Pierre. The baroque ensemble and the choreographer are united in difficult relationships with critics, and it was easy to see why.

Iced Bartok

The MSO’s first piece of the year was Bernstein’s puffed-up Candide Overture, followed with Bartók’s incredible Violin Concerto, his Concerto for Orchestra, and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Weird choices can be signs of organizational health – the mayor was in the house Tuesday night – and a moment into the Bartók with violinist Augustin Dumay and the Bernstein was forgotten.
“We do not have to pursue the flattening-out of human experience. I invite all to shift their gaze, their thoughts, from worrying about health care to cultivating the art of living. And, today with equal importance, the art of suffering, the art of dying.” Ivan Illich
Brahmsianer oder Wagnerianer?
Real thugs wear flag pins

So positive it makes me uncomfortable

How do you bring a 188-member orchestra and chorus, their equipment and a dozen soloists from Italy to North America? You buy a ship, crew it, and like the Ark, stock two of every musician. Half are food for the journey. Though historical precedents suggest it may be unsustainable, such extravagance was worth it. To the families of the eaten: we salute you. William Tell was a triumph.

One a bit more attentively than the other

Handel’s Messiah is a glorious work of choral writing and a traditional piece of Christmas repertoire — never mind it originally premiered after Easter— and Tuesday night, chorusmaster Andrew Megill led both the OSM and the OSM Chorus in a spacious performance.
the worthy
and the unworthy poor

Pardon while we remove the boat

The OSM had its concertmaster Andrew Wan playing all three of Saint-Saëns’s violin concertos this week. Twice. Did he lose a bet?
Michaelangelo's Moses and The Dying Slave, Pushkin Museum

All the German musicians are requested to come here

The 8th season of the Montreal Bach Festival opened with a concert by one of Europe’s best-known baroque ensembles, the Freiburg Barockorchster, who performed four of Bach’s splendid violin concertos, introducing both concert halves with musical snacks by Vivaldi.

Build a city, not a building

Fort McMurray has a bad reputation. En route from Montreal, a visitor is warned about the place: “There’s a lot of booze,” a knitting grandmother says, voice dropping to a whisper, “and drugs.” Boom towns and oil sands have unhealthy associations for good reasons, too. From the air, though, Alberta’s Fort McMurray isn’t Mordor; it looks like a lush valley where two rivers meet.


The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal played Wednesday night under an ominously circling camera boom that looked like the latest in American democracy enforcement. Televising the evening was a good idea, but whoever programmed it is a damn genius. The four-part program was the finest concert I’ve heard this year. It creaked under an incredible weight in stories and symbolism, and ended with a major vocalist for dessert: soprano Miah Persson joined the orchestra for Richard Strauss’s last compositions.

Bourgeois imperialist criticism

China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra is four years old and on tour. The Maison symphonique was their last stop after six cities in Canada and in the U.S., and there were notes of both celebration and relief in their youthful performances of established Chinese classical composers Chen Qigang, Cheng Gang and He Zhanhao and Dvo?ák. Though the program was presented as “eclectic,” all three pieces were episodic, romantic and played with exuberant vitality.
you are not a loan

Shut up, Modest

Billed as an evening of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff, Tuesday’s Orchestre symphonique de Montréal concert wasn’t. Guest violinist Christian Tetzlaff made sure of that.

Technical ability is so common nowadays that a virtuoso probably made your morning coffee, but Tetzlaff comes with the far rarer appellation of “intellectual” — one of those musicians who expands music. He does this with an aura of modesty and on a modern violin, pushing repertoire like Szymanowski’s Concerto No.1 Op.35. And in a more direct sense by producing unusual sounds…

Music bad, opera good

Seven seasons of Opéra de Montreal have trained me to read a season brochure cynically and only with chemical support. I must find satisfaction in the absence of disaster rather than the chance of a triumph. Objectively, of course, this is awful; I love opera but have to travel for interesting productions. But I am much calmer now.
first thought
best thought
You have the watch
We have the time

I can help you, but you won’t like it

The organ has a startling awkwardness for those raised on piano music. Its tumbles, melodic contortions and unnerving gasps for breath can still produce a transcendental grandeur, but they are hardly ever graceful—the mechanical intrudes.

Excerpts from the Freya Grimhands Method of Piano Instruction

1. Hold Fluffy Woogums out the window. If mistakes are being made mention Fluffy Woogums has begun to wiggle.

Read all the tips at Musical Toronto
“Don’t confuse yourself with humanity!” Andrei Platanov
it's traditional
A cantankerous press
an obstinate press
a ubiquitous press

Now joke-free

On Friday, the Orchestre Métropolitain opened its 15th season with “the still young” Yannick Nézet-Séguin as conductor. Season-opening speeches are unbearable and video tributes oxymoronic, but a desire for the music usually restrains my more unacceptably misanthropic urges at these things. And in this case, the atmosphere of celebration was heightened by news that Culture Minister Hélène David had rejected the proposed closure of the regional branches of the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec. Nézet-Séguin is perhaps the best-known graduate.
the only thoughts to which a thinker is essential are lies
Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will

Hello, Isabel

I spent most of the ride to Kingston trying to control my blinking. I don’t want to scare people. They already expect weird things from journalists, but I always maintain high standards of appearance and behaviour to correct the stereotype of us as boozing half-starved apes. Unfortunately I had been up until dawn drinking and digging for beetles to eat. And now it was raining. Or I was crying, I’m not sure. Functionally non-human, I hurtled towards Kingston in a grey damp tunnel. It was hopeless—there was nothing to look forward to, the concert was Ravel and Schumann with Dvorak after for those who endured the first half. If I had been able to stand up, I should have thrown myself from the train.

A pianist of exceptional size

In 1908, a critic wrote that “New York heard a new composition called The Sea, and New York is probably still wondering why.” Today we know that amnesia is just one of the symptoms of Debussy, and we risked hearing La Mer on Wednesday only because it was on the program before pianist Boris Berezovsky. The Maison symphonique was crowded for his interpretation of Prokofiev’s 2nd Concerto, and what came before and after mattered little.

Wanna see me eat a building?

The Arte Musica Foundation began an ambitious project on the weekend with the first concert of a complete Bach cantata cycle at Bourgie Hall. The news that approximately 200 cantatas would be performed there was hard to accept. At the projected rate of 25 a year that means the cycle will finish in 2022. Until then, the architecturally sensitive must close their eyes and hope for a cosmic event.
“He felt a terrible inner resistance but could not feel what it was that it resisted.” DFW

Tartini you unconscious

The venerable Sunday matinee institution of the Ladies’ Morning Musical Club opened its season with violinist James Ehnes in recital at Pollack Hall. It was his fifth appearance for the LMMC, but that’s okay, he’s probably our finest violinist and there is something old-school about him, like the LMMC, from his determined nailed-to-the-floor stance to his tie clip and parted hair.

String player-slayer

The Montreal International String Quartet Academy runs through Saturday, Aug. 23, and it offers invited quartets an intense session of public and private classes, and concerts. Attending the latter is always a lesson in contrasts, and Thursday night began with a walloping of Haydn’s masterful String Quartet Op. 76 No. 1 that ranks among the ugliest I’ve heard. The American quartet Excelsa must have a background in that country’s style of law enforcement.

Opera comes down from the mountain

You might have to climb a mountain to see the unprecedented variety in opera today. Our major companies stick to expensive productions of classics on huge stages and survive on private donations, but getting 80 per cent of funding from fickle individual donors is insane—just ask the ghosts of New York City Opera, Opera Boston, Opera Cleveland, San Antonio Opera or Lyric Opera San Diego. Then there are the small companies.
Der Stadineurotiker
“As crimes pile up, they become invisible.” Brecht

Interview with Mauricio Rocha, March 23 2014

A reworked portion of this interview appears in Uncube. This is the full, lightly edited version. It is part of a research project on the adolescence of buildings. More »
“The capacity for imaginative reflex, for moral risk in any human being is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room. Thus there may be a covert, betraying link between the cultivation of aesthetic response and the potential of personal inhumanity.” George Steiner’s “To Civilize Our Gentlemen,” in Language and Silence

Lower-case ‘brahms’

There are few finer things than Brahms and Bruckner after an open bar, but such concurrences are rare. Since the last patron brave enough to smuggle her own—a jeroboam of Bordeaux disguised as a luxuriously swaddled baby—was throttled by an overenthusiastic security guard, we have had to rely on fundraiser concerts like Thursday’s Orchestre Métropolitain season closer at the Maison symphonique. A more progressive age awaits.
“Rem Koolhaas took Cedric Price and combined him with Superstudio without politics. I think Rem is dangerous. He is a power man.” Dan Graham

We’re just going to gloss over the whole “floating screen” thing

Trade shows might be sexier, but there’s no beating academic conferences for weird new tech. Today, at the 27th Software and Technology Symposium in Honolulu, dozens of researchers presented a glimpse into the future of UI design—here are six of the most interesting. Meanwhile, you can find me at “Beach Activities.”

Screws up, wins a prize anyway

Following young pianists through two weeks of the Montreal International Musical Competition can do weird things to a person. Once musical saturation is reached, you start to read postures as personality traits and see mysterious significance in repertoire, if you’re not straight up hearing voices while sucking down energy bars.

Kill the Liszt

The Montreal International Music Competition is a rare opportunity for gentle concertgoers to cross out names in their programs with the bloodthirsty satisfaction of a renaissance Pope signing a death warrant.

The best cruise ship piano bar

The 2014 Montreal International Musical Competition began with a new feature this week, the Richard Lupien Improvisation Prize, and six competing pianists each undertook four challenges at Tanna Schulich Hall Tuesday afternoon.

So, why do you exist?

Tchaikovsky explained his composition of the Serenade for Strings in September 1880 with: “No sooner had I begun to spend a number of days relaxing, than I began to feel somewhat restless and rather unwell.” As a psychologically representative passage, it’s hard to do better, and it’s something to think about in those moments when his lyricism curdles and stiffens.

“What style is this?” “Bad.”

Happy Montrealers wandered stunned between concerts this weekend deranged by the unfamiliar sunshine and an excess of fine music. The Nouveau Ensemble Moderne celebrated their 25th anniversary at the Maison Symphonique, a hall whose acoustic is rarely tested, and they obliged with a program of Claude Vivier, Walter Boudreau, and John Rea-arranged Alban Berg, a solidly Montréalais evening and a reminder that we have a great history of writing music, not only performing it.

Or put my head in the viola’s lap

The Montreal Chamber Music Festival began its 19th season Thursday with an invitation for the audience to “exchange” with the performers onstage. Why, then, was I not allowed to read my political poetry? But thank you to whoever let me back into the concert, which featured two beloved local stars, pianist André Laplante and soprano Karina Gauvin, and the Quebec première of the Dover Quartet, a rocket-powered American group that swept the Banff International String Quartet Competition this year.

Chew mint gum and breathe in her face

Haptic Turk is a prototype game that uses your friends as virtual robots to do immersive motion simulation at home. The research project from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany demoed a flight simulator variant at CHI2014 last week: the player wears 3D goggles and lies in two slings held by four friends—the “human actuators” or turkers. A fifth can do special effects, inventing sensations with whatever is on hand.
“we the undersigned declare that we have nothing in common with each other” Sartre & Camus

You may shit wherever you like

Attendees at a Human-Computer Interaction conference in Toronto earlier this week found toilets that claimed to analyze each “deposit” and post it online. Don’t like that idea? Then go somewhere else.

“But they told me to get lost”

Libraries have terrible maps; supermarkets and department stores have bad signage; all of them have a built-in system for navigation that we don’t use: barcodes.
“Ils ne sont grands que parce que nous sommes aux genoux.” Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud

Bre. Vi. Ty

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is on a little tour with a big program. Tuesday night we heard the Canadian première of Vivian Fung’s tone painting Aqua, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 played by Richard Goode as warmly as a hug, and Strauss’s whinging ego trip, Ein Heldenleben, which is a struggle to appreciate even with the best performance.

Fanatic Wars

Darth Maul has probably made you a coffee—at least if you’ve been to Mexico City. This is one conclusion you can draw from photographer Marcel Rius’s Fanatic Wars. He’s spent years documenting Star Wars cosplayers and collectors in Mexico, visiting their homes and putting together a visual answer to the question: how do you live with Star Wars?

Sniff me, scratch me

In a traditional biology experiment, the subjects are clueless. If someone in the maze favours left turns, researchers only care if it affects future experiments. They are not concerned with the daily lives of mice. But those daily lives inspired the “Scientists for Love” and their inaugural public experiment in Montreal, “speed-dating for the senses (and the sensitive),” which used sensory deprivation to introduce 14 men and 14 women to each other, and to themselves.
“Language is best used when most efficiently abused. Since we cannot dismiss it all at once, at least we do not want to leave anything undone that may contribute to its disrepute. To drill one hole after another into it until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping though–I cannot imagine a higher goal for today’s writer.” Beckett to Axel Kaun

A fond beating

Montreal’s reputation for loose morals has drawn generations of youth to its discothèques, where they talk unsupervised and buy milkshakes from thugs. Now it’s operas that are following the bales of marijuana and drums of cocaine rolling across the border. The latest arrivals call themselves Stu & Jess Productions, and they have already staged Menotti’s The Medium, apparently without any interference from the police.

Carpaccio Styrofoam

Even birthdays in classical music are usually about death. Unless Wagner gets kicked out of hell for berating Satan, nobody is going to be celebrating their 201st anytime soon, so I propose we remedy this sadness by giving a commemorative concert to the first baby born in the Maison symphonique each year. This will also reduce demand for hospital beds.

Get out

There are reasons for dashing to New York. Mine are hockey, opera and burgers, but perhaps you have a lifetime ban from the SAQ for price-related outbursts, yes? Whatever the desire, it is easy to overpay for the pleasure of The City, but it is unnecessary.

In retrospect three was too much

The 2014 orchestral season opened triumphantly with an ending: the OSM’s last recording of its Beethoven cycle. It will be released on Analekta in Canada and Sony internationally next fall, after some sound engineering — Tuesday’s concert in the Maison symphonique began as an elegant struggle by musicians with the acoustic upper hand against a diseased audience dying to be polite. (The ample corpse chutes hidden behind drapes on the corbeille are handy in this regard.)
“Little is known of his domestic circumstances except that his wife was also his aunt…”

Are you only one of the two NBA players in history to miss 5,000 free throws? If so, click here

What if, instead of marketing to a general demographic, you marketed to a specific individual? What if, instead of waiting for a patron to commission new work, an artist simply designed it based on someone’s psychological profile? If an online ad asked for you by name, could you resist?


A few hundred Montrealers faced winter’s first cold snap on Dec. 14 to hear Venetian choral music performed by the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, a concert programmed for the Montreal Museum of Fine Art’s “Splendors of Venice” exhibition around the theme of choral music at San Marco. It is impossible to talk about this fine evening dedicated to another building, Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, without considering the space where we heard it — Bourgie Hall, a restored chapel among the more depressing rooms in the universe. Mercifully, this veritable undertakers’ hall usually presents excellent music.

Get. Out. Of. My. Bones.

The 2013 Bach Festival ended Friday night, and it ended very well. Bach time is over and the mountaintop Bach Beacon is extinguished, for now.
“If some artists in Chicago (or elsewhere) were working in a different visual or political idiom than the New York avant-garde, it had to be—by the field’s still-current definitions—because they were behind. If those artists happened to be African American, the impression of belatedness chimes harmoniously, if unintentionally, with dominant white-supremacist narratives. If they produced works that weren’t commercial, that haven’t survived (itself anything but happenstance), then there is, further, no financial and institutional compulsion backing them up. Whether the field has unconsciously accepted racist constructions or has rather shown its discomfort with them by looking the other way, art history has often failed to recognize the challenges black artists in the 1960s and 1970s directed not just at entrenched institutions but also at the presuppositions of the white avant-garde. From this point of view, it was not just a matter of correcting biased aesthetic judgments and producing appropriate demographic representation. Rather, the critique addressed the central preoccupations with aesthetic autonomy and the avant-garde—preoccupations that, consciously or not, supported (and support) a racist worldview. Art since 1900 is recognizably an extreme, but an extreme that forcefully shapes the landscape of what is possible to think and study about twentieth-century art. What kinds of questions could students whose engagement with the century starts with this book even begin to ask?” Rebecca Zorach
“Beneath the fog is the absolute obduracy particular to capital: its character as a set of compulsions which force themselves just as inescapably on the capitalist as the proletariat.”

Using history

The new exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, in Montreal, is both strange and familiar. “How architects, experts, politicians, international agencies and citizens negotiate modern planning: Casablanca Chandigarh” is a mouthful that looks at two familiar names and asks what we can learn from them by presenting them as cities that have been misunderstood as export destinations for European modernism.

Pizza. Rating. System.

The Bach Festival is on and the Bach freaks are out with their long Bach hair tucked into the collars of their Bach leather jackets. They’re ripping churches apart. Mostly. There are other, less youth-oriented events like pianist Ishay Shaer’s Montreal première in concert with the McGill Chamber Orchestra. He came highly recommended but the evening was a disappointment.

Titles are how editors torture writers

Now what? An adjustable-size ensemble was the answer for Eli Weinberger, a recent graduate of McGill University and general director of Pronto…Musica. They are a group of recent music grads he gathered after pianist Amy Zanrosso told him careers thrive or flounder in the first five years after school. Weinberger also plays cello in the group and believes that “it’s really important that we — the young professionals — start our own initiatives and create opportunities.” There are few other choices at a time when professional positions are absurdly competitive.

A wonderful awmount of wan

This week’s OSM concert was an inspired bit of programming, as surprising as nana ambling out of her kitchen with zebra sous-vide floating on nitrogen. It featured concertmaster Andrew Wan, to coincide with the finals of the OSM Standard Life Competition, which he won in 2007. He was named concertmaster in 2008 and Wednesday night he reminded us why, while Jacques Lacombe returned to conduct in typically expansive style, and we heard the world première of Serge Arcuri’s Les mouvements de l’âme.
I wrote about Montreal’s interactive studio Moment Factory for Icon #126


I heard Falstaff on Saturday and enjoyed it. The mostly Canadian cast is solid and to the Opera de Montreal standard of one marvellous voice (Aline Kutan) and one wretched (Antonio Giueroa) per show. It’s acted well (Marie-Nicole Lemieux) and the musicians were spritely handled. But enjoying it and engaging with it are different, and I couldn’t manage both. This ex-Glimmerglass production is opera for people who don’t like thinking. More »
“The decisive fact about American history is that the Anglo-Americans who thought they had created their own place allowed themselves to become a minority in that place.” Michael Walzer in Manifest No.1


Before the OSM’s concert with cellist Truls Mørk this week, I’d been travelling. For my health, ruined months ago by a currywurst-stuffed bun at 35,000 feet, and that’s why the last concert I heard was the L.A. Philharmonic’s gleeful performance of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, which didn’t deserve such talented attention. I understand there was Zappa here, too, so at least I missed one of them, but Disney Hall’s mess and Salonen’s vigour were still in my head when I arrived for Nagano’s OSM and guests Mørk, mezzo Susan Platts, and the OSM Chamber Chorus at the Maison symphonique. These contrasts are rare and should be savoured, like being able to keep down your lunch.
“Lord come to our help yourself, and not your son for this is no time for children.” 19c Griqua prayer


The OSM’s matinee series began on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. with some audience members ramrod in their seats, by all appearances fully alert, and others sucking their first coffees discreetly from purses, shirt sleeves, and at least one hat. The rising conductor Jakub Hrša summoned an elegant performance from the OSM and soloist Vilde Frang performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 attentively and without exaggeration. Two Czech works rounded out the refreshing program.
“We have to do away with a false and misleading dualism, one which abstracts man on the one hand and technology on the other, as if the two were quite separate kinds of realities…. Man is by nature a technological animal; to be human is to be technological…. When we speak of technology, this is another way of speaking about man himself in one of his manifestations.” Daniel Callahan, 1971

No boos for you

St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Orchestra’s latest tour stopped in Montreal on Friday, thrashed the hall romantically and left with Napoleonic humility in a din of applause. It was not a contemporary concert, but what would you expect from the flagship of Russia’s neo-imperialist arts arsenal, whose commander has had the job for 25 years? Gergiev was booed in New York for his silence on gay rights, but these talented reactionaries dispatched an all-Rachmaninov program in grandly old-fashioned style, and pianist Denis Matsuev channeled golden age virtuosity.

Are concert halls the new record studios?

The National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) had released its last recording 10 years earlier when pianist Angela Hewitt approached it in 2012 with the Hyperion label on board. She had started recording the Mozart piano concertos and was changing orchestras—were they interested? She might well have come in on a white steed. Orchestral recording has suffered from the collapse of the music industry. NACO first clarinet Kimball Sykes explains, “It’s more normal not to be recording than to be recording these days.”
Godsend Oven-Ready

Alla gatta eccitata

A weekend of smiles included Ensemble Caprice’s exuberant season première and a disc launch Saturday night at Bourgie Hall. It did not lack energy.

Look, I know it’s hard to title articles. But really?

Tuesday night saw the Maison symphonique transformed into a radio studio for a performance of the comic “history” of the OSM. Comedians and radio announcers sauntered in tremendous headgear and pushed a giant radio dial from 1934, the year of the orchestra’s founding, into the near future. The OSM was arrayed behind, looming and padded with extra musicians for a sprawling program of nine works. About half were played through. The rest were talked over, smothered in a fun evening that was not about the music.

A free gift if you join today

Opera de Montreal’s season opener Lakmé is a splendidly big, whistle-able old-fashioned opera with a thumping set and a deep pool of talent, some of it local. If you’re looking for originality and the future of the art, or anything else to feed your head, then it’s not for you. But you should still go, if only to hear Audrey Luna’s thrilling voice while you read a book. More »

Reading bling

“IN BREVITATE MAGISTER EST” was written on the wee chamber organ onstage at Bourgie hall. This bad Latin is trying to say “there’s a teacher in brevity.” I don’t know if artistic director Isolde Lagacé was inspired by the device — one of a small collection of baroque instruments that I had no idea were tucked away in Bourgie — but the idea is well-reflected in a new series of 11 a.m. concerts, the Baroque Matinées, which last about an hour and include commentary by Geneviève Soly.
morose code
You will know what I am doing before I do. I promise!
die and become
Screen Shot 2013-09-09

They may still be on repeat

Preparing for the opening concert of the Ladies Morning Musical Club season, I fell hard for Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7 and Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat major Opus 130/133. I listened to them on repeat all week and arrived at Pollack Hall itching to hear them live. But first I had to get past the repetitive hamming of Ravel’s String Quartet, standing between me and my satisfaction like a border guard in diapers.
How inappropriate to call this planet “earth,” when it is clearly “ocean.” – Arthur C. Clarke
The tactile: Simulation is a poor substitute for the sensation of light, wind, and heat. The relational: Rendering programs are too easily used to hide problems, which accounts for some of their commercial success. The incomplete: Precision tends towards overdetermination and algorithms produce totalized pictures.
Ignorance is not innocence
“Another person’s narcissism has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their own.” Freud
“Every great city needs and element of disorder, or at least of the eccentric or the atavistic, to temper its arrangements.” Jan Morris
“The same Eastern ‘Scrogin’ would ask his guests if they had ever seen a mancannon; and, on their replying in the negative, a greybeard slave was dragged in blaspheming and struggling with all his strength. He was presently placed on all fours and firmly held by the extremities; his bag-trousers were let down and a dozen peppercorns were inserted ano suo: the target was a sheet of paper held at a reasonable distance; the match was applied by a pinch of cayenne in the nostrils; the sneeze started the grapeshot and the number of hits on the butt decided the bets.” from Sir Richard Francis Burton’s “Terminal Essay” in the Arabian Nights
I wrote about the Théâtrophone and other 19th century musical inventions for Cabinet #50

Hurt my piano

Hello again, I said to the piano. It’s odd they left us alone after what happened last time, isn’t it? Last week this piano came with a Dutchman who would only play Mozart, but he played him very well. This time we had Ronald Brautigam, four wind players and a more varied program at the church in Ste-Mélanie for the Lanaudière Festival.

Bikram organ

I think something like 95 per cent of the music performed at classical concerts was written by dead guys, so anniversaries of deaths are an easy excuse to construct a concert programme. There’s also a measure of safety in this — who would argue against honouring the dead? So at Wednesday’s McGill Summer Organ Academy concert, the 350th and 50th anniversaries of the deaths of Heinrich Scheidemann and Paul Hindemith were commemorated through the lovely playing of organist William Porter at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Extract of extract of

The summer classical festival season is fun. Sunday drivers hyperventilate while passengers come to and claw weakly at the child safety locks on their way to a church in St-Alphonse-Rodriguez. My phone said this Lanaudière Festival concert was 30 kilometres northwest of Joliette, but I figured that merely indicated a sinkhole that would shoot us out gently somewhere in Chile. Not so. The church dates from 1860 and bears limited resemblance to South American ecclesiastical architecture of that era, though there were paintings of such intense colour I’d swear they were made with flattened toucans. Or velvet.

Has been linked to gout

Church organs are strange machines. I don’t know anything else, not even a full orchestra, with the power to make every cell in my body demand that a chord resolve immediately. Do something, nerves scream, or we’ll have to.
“Until the gag is chewed fit to swallow or spit out the mouth must mutter or rest.” Beckett, 1932


The Lachine Music Festival opened on June 29, and the first week’s local-vocal concerts featured Étienne Dupuis, Gordon Bintner, Florie Valiquette and Pascale Beaudin. But Tuesday found us on the unfamiliar bus for an evening with violinist Alexandre da Costa and pianist Wonny Song. It’s a long ride to Lachine…
“The rich have feelings in every part of their possessions, so it was much easier to harm them.” Rousseau

Not how I expected to see you naked for the first time

A festival should cause strange things to happen. It should feel special or it’s just a short, cheap season. This weekend, the Montreal Baroque Festival opened with the premiere of Motezuma, an opera by Vivaldi and local musician Matthias Maute, in a beautiful ex-bank — if only they were all ex-banks — performed by young singers and a lively ensemble.
“Chloroform would be better, or the kick of a mule; but in their absence you must put up with a cocktail.” Mencken


New York City Opera artistic director George Steel hopped out of the rowboat and reported that “the geese were very interested in the bass section.” This is as it should have been for the aquatic sound test of R. Murray Schafer’s Music for Wilderness Lake and Credo a few weeks before their New York premiere on June 21 at the 7th Make Music New York (MMNY) festival. Based on France’s Fête de la musique, MMNY began experimenting on Central Park Lake in 2010 with Iannis Xenakis’s sextet Persephassa, written for an audience surrounded by percussionists. They performed it with the musicians on rafts and the audience in rowboats and have used the lake every year since. This year, the daylong festival presents more than a thousand events in all the boroughs.
At fifteen, Hermann Hesse was sent to an institution for epileptics and defectives in Stetten, “to put an end to his defiance once and for all.”

I did not get all the jokes

Wilfred Pelletier was a happy place Friday night — sold out, of course — but the old room hasn’t seen that many cheering young faces at a concert of classical instruments … ever? In a post-apocalyptic inversion of the normal attendance, a young, healthy body occupied every seat from the pit to the rafters. Many were costumed. All were yelling.


I arrived at Bourgie hall for the Gryphon piano trio with unusually prepared ears: my neighbours recently gave in and bought me excellent headphones, so I’ve been trying everything out on them all week, including a dozen interpretations of Thursday night’s program. (All this can be yours if you have thin walls and play the long game.)
Pleasure activist

Emerson, Emerson, Emerson, Emerson

Joints stiffen and fingers slow after 37 years of playing together, but a quartet this old can be an amazing creature, like a wild Banyan tree with many trunks and one canopy. Hard to imagine transplanting just one root, though, which is what the Emerson String Quartet did on Thursday when they premièred their new cellist, Paul Watkins, at St-George’s Church for the Montreal Chamber Music Festival. The critic then makes a tiny typo. See if you can find it!

Instant Masterpieces

It is the centennial of the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, with all the accompanying fanfare, and the reek of hyperbole can make it hard for a sober person to read a concert program. Rite was, according to American conductor Marin Alsop, “the most complex music ever conceived.” “You can hear everything in it,” the Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski said. Leonard Bernstein called it “the most important piece of music of the 20th century” and this retrospective sentiment of the instant masterpiece has gone down as smoothly and comfortingly as if Rite floated across the Atlantic like a digestive biscuit on the first merit-powered ocean crossing.

Now winners

The winners of the 2013 Montreal International Music Competition are Marc Bouchkov from Belgium, first, Stephen Waarts from the United States, second, and Zeyu Victor Li from China, third.

No winners tonight

The Montreal International Musical Competition gala concert is a celebratory pause after the semifinals, a breather for people in tuxedos to meet people not in tuxedos and realize they have classical music in common. And tinnitus.


The six finalists of the 2013 Montreal International Music Competition are: Marc Bouchkov of Belgium, Chi Li of Taiwan, Zeyu Victor Li of China, Ji Young Lim of South Korea, Fédor Roudine of France and Stephen Waarts of the United States. Some of them deserve it.

Ow, my back

Festival founder Denis Brott reunited with fellow cellist and former classmate Ron Thomas and guests from the Boston Chamber Music Society for three pieces and spine-moulding at St-George church to open the Montreal Chamber Music Festival. The program was conservatively diverse, opening with Menotti’s Suite for Two Cellos and Piano, which Brott helped première in 1973. It moves with Menotti’s typical efficiency but its hasty, crammed sounds reminded me of a study and not the work of a 62-year- old with 16 written operas. The Arioso seemed different — focused — it developed without the other movements’ sense of the exam is tomorrow. More

Nothing bad about the children

I’m not sure whether Monday night’s benefit concert for the McGill Chamber Orchestra was accidentally bumpy or just a crafty example of pity-based fundraising. Either way, I recommend printing programs next time. I have also made a list of people to be fired.

Scrape scrape scrape

How do I know this? Because I’m a professional: a preview of Sight & Sound 2013.
DSCN3890 (Large)

How I buried the first quarter century

When I first heard the Tokyo String Quartet I was a squirming child and they had already played together for fifteen years. Later on, their recordings formed the background to many family dinners and summers spent happily reading in the yard, the speakers dragged through the house and pressed against the kitchen window screen. So I headed to Pollack Hall for the Montreal concert of their farewell tour with unusually personal and not professional trepidation. Childhood is over.
“The mystagogue who has no real mysteries to promulgate…” H.F. Chorley on R. Schumann in The Athenaeum, 1852

Schumann, an allergy

The Orchestre Métropolitain’s embarrassingly titled Youth Spirit 2.0 concert on Thursday was a five-part reminder that we have two great orchestras in this city, and we are lucky that they have two different outlooks — the OSM was playing in Rio that night. Our evening, at the Maison symphonique, began with Christiane Duchesne’s poem “Lux” set by Éric Champagne to a beautiful vignette that had the Joseph-François Perrault High School choir clipping words against ringing bursts and swoons of melody from the orchestra. The four other parts.

Three symphoniezzz

The Arion Baroque Orchestra closed its 2012-2013 season with cellist Jaap ter Linden sweetly guest-conducting from the top of a box. It is difficult to conduct through a cello, especially a baroque one held away from the body and resting on the calves, but he made the struggle look elegant and the orchestra appeared to tolerate it. In this, he was helped by pianist David Breitman, who joined Arion for a fine program at least one piece too long.
NGS Picture ID:1286316

Busy eating

For some attendees of the Bozzini Quartet’s concert on Wednesday the Norwegian appetizers were dinner. And probably breakfast. But such is the glamorous life of new musicians toiling on the periphery and wondering where the audiences might be. For the curious, the evening suggested answers. Om nom nom.

No villains

I arrived damp and girded for disappointment at Monument-National on Saturday night for Atelier Lyrique’s annual showcase. This isn’t a chronic condition, whatever my friends say, and I’d give the Atelier better odds than the Opéra any night. But I expected half the evening to be bad because it was miscast. There were two operas on the program: The Old Maid and the Thief, and Amahl and the Night Visitors, written in 1939 and 1951 by Menotti. The second is based on the Adoration of the Magi and is the story of a crippled shepherd boy, Amahl, and his mother. While Menotti’s production notes make it clear that Amahl must be sung by a boy, it’s usually a female soprano in shorts. Damn child labour laws.
“Whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former.” Graeber

Good scalpels, bad scalpels

Please, oh please, I whispered, don’t play the Beethoven first, but the taxi driver didn’t appreciate my back seat prayers. “Spooky man,” he said. “Get out.” So I arrived on time to the last of this season’s Pierre-Rolland Series by Pro Musica at the Maison Symphonique. Read the clean version here
The late lamented has left me quite a mess
“In a word should the Proustian arse-hole be considered as entrée or sortie?” SB 25 August 1930
unrelieved alertness
Learning to be ignored
“Your shoulders were gripped / by the paws of epaulets” Voznesensky
“You must learn to suffer better than that if you want them to weary of punishing you, one day.” Clov
And that which governs me to go about / Doth part his function and is partly blind


For some reason, it was difficult to find company for a baroque concert called Sublime Torments, which was conducted by Bernard Labadie. I thought I had more interesting friends. The vocal program consisted of biblical stories: the sacrifice of a daughter, Peter’s denial of Jesus, meditations on mortality, and a long, earnest wail begging to feel Mary’s pain at the foot of the cross. Festive stuff. And very beautifully done. And
An eight-year old had never spoken. One day, when the whole family was sitting down for breakfast, the boy asked, “Do we have any jam?”

The family was stunned. When they’d recovered, the father said, “How come you’ve never said one word before?”

The boy said, “Well, up until now, everything’s been okay.”
“Ils aiment beaucoup à enculer des canards agonisants, à cause du duvet, paraît-il.” Alfy
Digital Capture
“But lies from which great truths may be construed.” Fontaine
“In the sense that ‘natural weather’ means cloud formations, storm systems, and precipitation which are unaffected by human beings, there has been no ‘natural weather’ since the first fire was intentionally ignited by early man.” Weather Modification Association, Some Facts About Seeding Clouds, 1977
office of recognition of errors
“You have to feel sort of overwhelmed, I think, to start.” HST
normal disaster
Digital Capture

Sister Helen, why are you in Montreal?

Transcript of a conversation in the lobby of the Montreal Shereton, where we talked while a murder of Air France flight attendants pushed us off the sofa. More »

She’s probably happier dead anyway

Judging from the sound of Wednesday night’s Requiem, the Maison Symphonique was designed for chorals with the occasional orchestral work thrown in to calm those — like botanists and children raised by wolves — who are upset by massed human voices. The evening included an appearance by Kent Nagano to beautifully conduct Brahms and Zimmermann, and to make one of his introductions. It…
It’s helpful to imagine a coterie of assistants who must coax the maestro into his luxury crate and on to the next musical directorship, wherever that might be, passing through a sorting warehouse where boxed soloists and chloroformed conductors drowsily wave from conveyer belts.

His eyes only reopen when he’s shoved through the stage door, the adrenaline from the applause wiping out whatever drugs still course in his system, and then what? oh, this again, until the final applause sees him off clearheaded into the wings where they are waiting for him with the familiar-smelling sack.

Sister, these tears are delicious

Composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally somehow wrote a time machine. Dead Man Walking is opera as it was experienced a long time ago: relevant, familiar, and with a tune you can sing in the shower (where it may make you sad.) Once, this might have meant a farce on relations between masters and servants set to a suppressed popular play, but unlike Figaro we don’t have to search for seriousness in Dead Man Walking — it drowns us with a flood of tragedy and morality. Its dry humour, like its few spoken lines, go off like magnums in the desert. Guns, at a knife fight?!
Bonanza bleeny!
Photo 2013-03-09 15 00 18
“Am I wrong in believing that not the least of the church’s contributions to the community is the provision of so many unorganized, disinterested, completely free, independent, undemanding men who move through the meshes of an ever more organized, centralized and impersonal society in this unpredictable way?” Douglas Wollen, methodist preacher, 1969

An acceptable amount of suicide

A marathon concert of early-20th-century string quartets is only for the strong and thoroughly psychoanalyzed, unless a generous donor leaves a barrel of Xanax by the door of the Montreal Conservatory of Music. We salute you, whoever you were. The audience, consequently, was peaceful and generous — at intermission a drowsy fellow with a white moustache pressed a packet of stock certificates into my hands, saying I “looked like a nice fellow.” This is simply not true, as you know. What recklessness!

Variations on the theme of a great concert

My Moscow relatives were jealous when I told them I would hear Denis Matsuev play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto at the Maison symphonique Thursday, and these are not easy people to impress. I had one cousin train an elephant to walk a tightrope between two balconies at a party — a three-ton beast, bejazzled in every way, who loped across with a triumphant teenager on top — and nobody noticed. What?
“Dearest, I am bewildered to distraction by the perplexities of maturing womanhood. I can stand the strain no longer. What shall I do? I should like to jump into a volcano.” It began in February, 1933
“Beethoven is nonsense, Pushkin and Lermontov also.” Lev Tolstoy
Pyro-Seismic Morphology

Bernstein murdered, dies horribly

Four members of Les Chœurs et Solistes de Lyon have been kidnapped. Probably mugged on the way to the airport: Perrine Madœf, Landy Andriamboavonjy, Pierre-Antoine Chaumien, and Fabrice Alibert. See them on the program? Don’t go to the concert, a gang of Eurovision rejects has stolen their identities; they will take your money and use the time to brutalize you. Take what you were going to spend on tickets and donate it to the Canadian Association of the Deaf. It doesn’t get nicer


After months of anticipation and a week of hysterical weeping from the neighbours, we left to attend the opening of Opera da Camera’s first full production, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, at the Rialto on Friday. This is not a good theatre for opera, its acoustics are as successful as Greek government and significantly less loud, but its size worked to our advantage and the evening’s wrong notes faded into a glow of joy at close range. Yep
Pentti Sammallahti

Exaggerated bowing

The biennial Montreal/New Music festival could always begin with a work by Claude Vivier, the local (adopted, kicked out of the church choir, murdered by a male prostitute — Hollywood?) and most venerated Canadian composer in the international monastic community of new music; this year is also the 30th anniversary of his death. Bid on the film options

Hotel Melancholia

La Maison Symphonique took another walloping on Wednesday night, though Gennady Rozhdestvensky was seen to apply the baton in a peaceable manner. He is a small man who moves carefully and eschews the podium to prod the air directly above the violins with a long, old-fashioned stick. And Rozhdestvensky is known for unfamiliar works of familiar composers; tonight that meant Tchaikovsky’s symphony after Byron’s poem. Damn it there’s more
“I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature.” Howard Moskowitz on junk food
We are From-here people
“The hollows inside him contracted until their sides touched and set off waves of dull apprehension. The barriers which protected him as long as he didn’t acknowledge them, knocked each other over and his mind, caught unawares again, was over run. He tried to separate the fears and deal with them one by one, rationally, but he couldn’t cope. They were all the same fear and he could not even separate the causes. He only knew that the source of it all was mass, the feeling of things multiplying and expanding, population, buses, buildings, money, all interdependent and spreading — a remorseless uncontrollable, unguided growth which ballooned around him, refusing to go bang and yet lacking the assurance of an infinity. ” Mr. Moon


McGill’s New Music Building on Sherbrooke St. W. is surprisingly full of computers, microphones and speakers, robot ears and robot mouths. This hoard belongs to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT, or Kermit to friends), and it’s scattered through the building like upsetting x-ray results. Kermit is a research group with members from McGill, Université de Montréal, and Université de Sherbrooke who play scientific sisters to the floppy-haired and excitable performing brothers next door. Of course there’s more.

I promise not to write about “The Prince of Tantrums”

I left Opéra de Montréal’s La Chauve Souris with a pleasant numbness not caused by ketamine or another stroke—a “coup attempt” we call them in our house—but probably by a lack of serious stimulation. Strauss’s operetta is as determined as an ostrich with its head in the sand to avoid anything upsetting, and that’s okay, especially in late January. Read on The Rover

I found something nice to say

If you asked me to describe a pleasant Baroque opera that had to be presented very straight, maybe because you’d lost a bet of some kind, then I’d tell you it should be short, energetic and unpretentious. Like Atelier lyrique’s one-night-only Acis and Galatea. And…
“A conspiracy of fatness and blindness, backed up by a sinister mindless kind of reasoning that is only necessary to justify what is already a fact and what will always be a fact.”
Olympic papoose board

Angry young opera

Opera fans, I have good news! If we avoid the braying void of innovation around Place des Arts, there are reasons for cautious optimism. University music students occasionally run out of drugs and begin speaking to each other, and Montreal still has less rent pressure than Toronto or New York — more than there used to be, but enough to attract all kinds of weird credit risks. So we can listen to new groups like Collectif Baroque Mont-Royal, Opéra Immédiat and Opera da Camera, the latter formed by Meagan Zantingh, Benjamin Kwong, and Kathrin Welte at McGill in 2011. Continued at the Gazette

East european drivers

It’s hard to avoid wondering why a romantic program of Shostakovich, Bernstein, and Rachmaninoff sounds better played by touring Europeans like the Budapest Festival Orchestra, who are slightly closer than we are in language and table manners to some of these composers. Isn’t it kind of fascist to think that people play “their own” music best. And so on, at the Gazette

Architek Quartet at Sala Rossa


The pretty girl at the door recognized me and showed us to a pair of rhino leather-covered stools beside the bar. You’ll need these, she said, as she tossed a handful of earplugs on the table. We stared at them: orange alien pupae, they were waiting only for an activating breath of whisky to explode like laser-guided earwigs on speed, their only thought to find an ear and get inside. More »

babystairsHoney, are you sure these new stairs are “us”?

“You still have too much. Lose it all.” from RS
“What always seems to me incredible with the reactions aroused by certain operatic productions is the fact that they are hardly imaginable in the case of other art performances, like films, videos, etc. A part of the audience and critics alike seem to be hoping that the opera might escape contemporary realities, social problems, and the violence that surrounds us. As if the opera should close its eyes and avoid looking at the audience, looking at the share of trouble, anguish and fear hidden in the soul of any of its members. But opera is not a museum of ancient art. It is a living art, which must resonate with all the energies of a given society, be they the worst.” Krzysztof Warlikowski
“Country is a concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live. But State is essentially a concept of power, of competition: it signifies a group in its aggressive aspects. And we have the misfortune of being born not only into a country but into a State, and as we grow up we learn to mingle the two feelings into a hopeless confusion.” Randolph Bourne, 1918

What was I thinking?

I was thinking about speculative work and about the potential for seductive images to be used to progressive ends. But already I see problems and that’s after just one sentence… I was thinking about problems.

It is easier to criticize concrete projects. They have passed through a process of materialization involving compromises and contingencies. It is more exciting and also safer to present speculative intrusions: proposals that are so weird or dangerous or illegal that they could never be constructed or performed. I was thinking about an investigation of illegal architecture, illegal acts, perverse inventions—I hope there is one good word for it in Italian, so far this is hopeless in English—and that this speculative investigation would say something about civil society.

Isn’t there something obnoxious about another object? Just because an advertising company or my stupid designer neighbor puts something in the street, should I? Wait, do I have to—is this a war?

So I was thinking that speculative work could also be a refusal to produce any more garbage, even accidentally. Keep it digital, I thought, and if you can get to even one person maybe that’s enough?

But that was in November 2012. Since then, a Canadian aboriginal chief has been starving herself for over 3 weeks (at the time that I write this) to protest the disrespect of our government. So I have been thinking about risk and loss and pain and politics, and not joyful, absurd, pitiless, reckless speculation… What was I thinking?

Perhaps what is essential is a way of deciding when imagination becomes action?
What is it these people need?
It ain’t necessarily so
The drowning machine
Radicals, Dopers, Traitors, Sex Fiends, Anarchists, Winos

My mother says I should “be more subtle”

Richard Wagner could have been a supervillain. Sitting in a cloud of rose oil on flamingo feather rugs, he was an egotistical dandy and a greedhead with a Rottweiler’s instinct for weakness, and he built a lair. So whatever he might have thought about the fuss for the bicentennial of his birth in 2013, we can only be certain of one thing — that it would not have been enough. The rest at CBC Music
“I’ve given up on the notion that even a ‘famous’ writer can make a decent living by means of journalism… Crime, I think, is the long-term answer.” HST
Drug workers and sex users

Group hug

Hector Berlioz’s oratorio L’Enfance du Christ comes with one of the better stories of music criticism. The chorus was premiered in 1850 as a composition of the fake 17th-century composer Pierre Ducré. It was so beautiful that “Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this,” though Berlioz just had. And on and on

Foreskin Fugue

J.S. Bach wrote the Christmas Oratorio for the 1734 holy days. Its six parts describe the birth of Jesus, its announcement to the shepherds, their warm response, the naming and circumcision of Jesus but not whether this caused additional joy, the voyage of the three kings, and general adoration of the baby. And so on
“We have access to methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth.” Russian Minister of Emergency Situations, Vladimir Puchkov

One of these was good

With my seat claimed and the ushers dragging off the challenger, I kicked away his walker and settled in for another week at the OSM. It began on Wednesday evening with Éric Champagne’s Mouvement Symphonique No. 1, a collage of sketches too brief to offend and too dull to impress that disappeared against Barber’s remarkable Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s expansive 10th Symphony. The Champagne did not appear in Friday’s repeat performance — the symphony’s programming this year is inspired. Read on at the Gazette

First report from the conference

Send money for drycleaning and batteries for the prod, which is holding up so far (tell Greg thanks for the tip but I’m using it more than expected.) They’ve gone crazy and you won’t get me to another of these things, you dirty bastards. Quiet enough when it started, a balding white man to the left, a balding brown man to the right, they seem to understand each other but to me it’s just braying. Who are these people? What do they want? What catastrophic discovery will they lay on us today? All I wanted was a flying car—maybe an electric razor that really works. Not this degenerate stomping on the virgin face of decency. Something strange and terrible happens when the labcoats are set free (get research on this). Years of celibacy and overwork smash through windows scored with the wrenched lower jaws of seminar sparring partners, the penises of scientific peers flopping like resting eels between heaving wailing piles of pale flesh. They have been trained to do impossible things. Why would they stop at the lab door? I am afraid. There is no shame in that. I’ve seen people run out of sessions holding their intestines. Mothers throw babies over railings, trying for enough distance to get to the doors. Nobody wants to eat the babies. But there isn’t time for strategy—you just run with your wits and a steady nerve. They can smell fear and it doesn’t take long for a naked pile of scientists to come to its senses about the interloper’s 300 watt photo flash. Their teeth are razor sharp, their reflexes electric, and they have no patience for interruptions. Like a shark frenzy or a rutting moose, this is not something that you want to stumble into unless you’re ready. I am, I’ve seen it before and my cattle prod swings left and right with a merciless beat, keeping the bastards away from my deerskin boots. Why am I here? After what happened at the earthquake engineering conference in Lisbon, what jangled idiot told me I could handle this heat again and survive? I’ll kill you if I make it back. Jesus—two cackling, sweat streaked Nobels are climbing the ballroom wall with the carcass of a FOX News reporter. Their feral grunting adds music to the unfolding scene. It’s supposed to be a Tutorial on Graphene for chrissakes. These slobs wouldn’t get a second look any other day. Parchment skinned and balding, they can barely hold a conversation or bring a forkful of overcooked carrot to their thin-lipped mouths, but put a few of them together in a room with unlimited coffee and a video projector… It’s impossible to interview them in this state, I can only live long enough to trap one when he’s exhausted. I’ve heard that there is a pressure point between the eyes. Grab it with enough strength and they go limp—then they’ll tell you anything you want to know. An old KGB technique. I could try to read abstracts in the bathroom, but the papers are illegible, covered in blood and other fluids. And there’s always screaming, probably a member of the public wandered in. Now they’re tearing her apart, looking for something.
“The Volga river will be Germany’s Mississippi.” Hitler
Sit in the saddle and ride mankind

Be still my racing clock

I understood it would be an unusual concert when I passed a desolate looking man holding a “ticket wanted” sign. He was right. I hope he made it. Read on at the Montreal Gazette

Acoustic Interference

Montreal has a new room. The latest home of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), La Maison Symphonique is a 1,900-seat addition to the grey, four-chambered stomach of the city’s institutional performing arts, Place des Arts. The new building occupies a narrow site on the northeast corner of the complex where Boulevard de Maisonneuve and rue Saint-Urbain meet, adjacent to the orchestra’s old home, the 49-year-old concrete beast known as the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. It has been open since September 2011 while still under construction, and it is finally complete. Read on at Canadian Architect
responsible dissent
“an anti-bug system that sprays a fine mist of ground chrysanthemums”
Her academic awards and distinctions are too numerous to list
I just got back from a quick shot in the East, and called from the airport but you weren’t home again. Who are these old crones who answer your telephone? I have a picture of some gout-riddled old slattern on her knees in your hallway, waxing the floor when the phone rings and rising slowly, painfully, resentfully, to answer it and snarl “He ain’t here.” Anyway, I called.

Hunter S. Thompson to Tom Wolfe, February 26, 1968

He scrapes

It was big man week at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Wednesday night, pianist Murray Perahia, a staple of the top tier for 40 years, and Thursday, violinist Maxim Vengerov, a world famous scrapper since 1990. The contrast between them seemed to be who knew it. Read more.
he bought his freedom with housework

Ligeti-ng Crumbs all over your clean cello

Schulich Hall was sold out for Sunday’s afternoon concert featuring Pieter Wispelwey on cello, accompanied by … I didn’t know until I arrived. This oversight was doubly odd because pianist Lois Shapiro had an unusually prominent role. The rest at the Montreal Gazette

Charlatan’s lament

Tuesday evening’s OSM concert promised sentimentality: Ravel, Chausson and Roussel. I was apprehensive — pastoral washes of feeling leave me yawning and reaching for the bottle. It is a self-preserving instinct for energetic turmoil over emotional accountancy, which seems kind of like death. Thankfully, the evening was full of surprises. The rest at the Gazette
I decided one morning to test sobriety,
to waken at dawn to sparrow chirp and dark clouds
blowing seaward from the Bultaco factory,
to inhale the particulates and write nothing,
to face the world as it was. Everything
was actual, my utterances drab, my lies
formulary and unimaginative.
For the first time in my life I believed
everything I said.

From Philipe Levine’s “Black Wine

We have eyes too, you know

Should classical musicians be allowed to dress themselves? Attendees of Wednesday’s orchestral concert with violinist Karen Gomyo and conductor Julian Kuerti will know why I ask. They led the MSO through two of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, something I cannot believe Michel Longtin was paid to write, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The rest at the Montreal Gazette
Ironic mimesis is not critique, it is the mentality of the slave.
toilets for all

Nap time in row P

When is music not about time? Time is one of the most intense experiences of a classical concert and its tradition of listening silently while sitting still. If it is not very good, then music expresses a sense of time better than everything except dentistry. Read on at the Montreal Gazette
yes, you’re absolutely white!

The pedalers have gone too far

Normally, I defend unions. They can be good for society. But, on Sunday afternoon, the Piano Pedal Manufacturers went too far in their influence over Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen. Endure the rest at the Montreal Gazette

A growing

It’s hard to believe that talent and hard work are rewarded as cronyism holds sway all around, but while the performing arts aren’t exactly a bastion of social mobility, at least success is based on real talent in public display. Read the rest at the Montreal Gazette
That hooey pleases the boobs a great deal more than sense
Acoustic teleportation, a project at CIRMMT at McGill’s school of music, in Abitare #525, September 2012.

Earn money from home!

Ten quartets participated in the third edition of Constance Pathy and André Roy’s McGill International String Quartet Academy, which closed on Saturday at Pollack Hall. Attending it is a joy and an education in group psychology. The quartets range from freshly hatched to grandfathers of strings, happy foursomes to those who grimly dispatch their stringy duty. It is a contest in public opinion without the clarity of a prize. Read on at the Montreal Gazette

Give that man some amphetamines

Kent Nagano and a SWAT team of OSM soloists arrived in Orford the night before. They had perhaps three rehearsals and knew the audience Tuesday evening would be cranky, Highway 10 being what it is (only because it is becoming better.) But the touring musician, like a moose on the highway, is not easily scared. Read the whole piece at the Montreal Gazette

But maman, I wanted to be afraid

Berlioz’s Requiem is scored for three divisions of choir and an army of orchestra, but these are only “guidelines” and more bodies should be added if there is room and, presumably, a recession on. Read the whole piece at the Montreal Gazette
come in
and be convinced
Goldberg goes into the deli. Taking his seat, he asks the waiter “How do you prepare your chicken?”

The waiter says “Oh, sir, we’re very honest here. We tell ‘em right up front ‘You’re not gonna make it.’”
Urgent orange
Waiter! I’ve raised my finger
“It is as if in losing our ideological certainties since the end of the Cold War, the Left resentfully creates a monster of the working-class people who didn’t play out the historical role assigned to them.” Christos Tsiolkas in The Toxicity of Smugness

Keep singing

The sixteen semifinalists of the Montreal International Music Competition averaged 28 years old. They come from six countries, though close to half are Canadian. They are all graduates, they have sung here and there, and they are looking for a break.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette

Quick, think of something to say

I recently came back from the MuseumNEXT conference in Barcelona. I met lots of interesting people and heard a few new ideas. But mostly I heard the things I expected to hear, because web people in museums have been saying them for a while. More »

Née Brunhilde

The concert was billed as an evening with a Met opera stalwart, soprano Deborah Voigt, and the OSM conducted by the venerable Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette

It burns so good

The Rover 19.05.2012

Two gentle people of the better sort were waiting for us at the opera. They had paid something like a firstborn for the privilege and I was not about to disappoint. I wore the gown normally reserved for Café Cleopatra and the Standard Opera Companion wore nothing at all, just a litre of burning gasoline that had to be messily replenished every forty minutes. We didn’t expect to be upstaged by the show. More »

“To see most clearly the manifestations of human instinct, it is useful to start with the rich.” E. O. Wilson

A gentle Bayrakdarian

“April comes like an idiot.” Jake Heggie puts these and other immortal words into the mouths of singers like the Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Happily there wasn’t much Heggie at the opening concert of the 17th Montreal Chamber Music Festival.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette

Confectioner in chief

Diabetics to Row N. Drop your candies in the bucket, citizen. Now form a cake. And we did, filling the parterre in one layer and looking up, we waited for a heaping of powdered piano music from the hands of André Laplante.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette
That was the trouble with not being a psychopath. Every avenue was blocked.
The book goes in the head, not on the head
“One must know how to go too far.” Cocteau


The Rover 21.04.2012

I didn’t see much of the Rialto theatre while arriving—one never does from inside a litter—but once the boys put me down and I’d got out of the awful velvet and silk swaddling, I was pleasantly surprised. What a grand place to begin something. More »

Maîtresse en titre
Ni vitesse, ni bruit
“They will understand nothing if it does not occur to them that a human society can have, just as they do, an interest in considerable losses, in catastrophes that, while conforming to well defined needs, provoke tumultuous depressions, rise of dread and, in the final analysis, a certain orgiastic state.” Bataille

A ballet

The Rover, 31.3.2012

Ding! Ding! Was not a sound that I expected to ever hear, but it happened last week when we reached the bottom of the caviar bucket. Without any opera business on the horizon, daddy was forced to improvise, and so we went to the ballet. More »

Fur in our friendliest places
Living in a global interior

Too weird

Opera McGill chose L’incoronazione di Poppea, I believe, because it requires a large cast. About twenty singers, depending on how much they double, which means a fair swath of current vocal class is happily adding it to their resumes rather than submitting FOA requests about administration salaries. More »

Would “please give, air” be better?

You pass by a man lying on the sidewalk in a sealed hemisphere. He’s barely moving and a little blue. There’s no way to get at him, only a sign nearby that says “I rely on your charity for my oxygen.” A bicycle pump is attached to his enclosure by a hose.

What do you do? And where would he have the best chance of survival?
we will now begin the burden process
Protect me from what I want

Rob Ford, the opera

Rob Ford, The Opera premiered last month in a one-off production to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Student Composer Collective at the University of Toronto. The audience had not come for opera, but for ideas and relief, and the MacMillan Theatre at the faculty of music was unprepared for the need. Ford supporters were not obvious in a line that crowded the lobby, the hallways and the bathrooms, gleefully anticipating the skewering their controversial mayor was about to receive, like a voodoo doll, in absentia. Read the whole piece at
“On the one hand, gated communities are anathema to the egalitarian ideal. On the other, gating and exclusion are the preconditions of a new civilising mission Europe now feels obliged to carry out at home.” Jeremy Harding in the LRB
a new vocabulary often masks old clichés
David Graeber quoting Jonathan Katz’s “Don’t become a scientist” “You have to spend much of your time being someone’s flunky, but even once one isn’t, he says, you have to spend your time making proposals rather than doing research. ‘And because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity. You have to spend your time and talents anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than solving an important scientific problem. It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal because they have not yet been proved to work.’ There you go. That’s why we don’t have flying cars.”

How to eat the rich

I’ve finished a little project I made as illustration and layout practice with some friends after being intrigued by the “eat the rich” signs at occupy. Yes, I thought, but how?

Well obviously the Internet knew, but the information was dispersed and badly arranged. Now it is available in a convenient and portable format.

You can download the PDF or I’ll swap you a printed copy if you can cover postage. More »

He made suggestions. We
acted on them.
Inconsistently sincere
herbivorous modernism
a valley where they have no idea
Fine buildings will look after themselves
A degree of suffering that previous generations might not have been able to afford

“CAPTCHA” for critics

A CAPTCHA is a program that protects websites against bots by generating and grading tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot. A CAPTCHA for critics…

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Apostasy comes more naturally to him

Oh Bother

The Rover 3.12.2011

The evening started with an explanation that the order of the pieces was changed so that the orchestra would only have to shuffle seats once. For Beethoven’s 1st Concerto, they were seated tightly around the piano, with its back to us, in the manner of an 18th century chamber concert, so that we might appreciate the authenticity. But why have a conductor, then? And modern instruments? And shouldn’t the 2,000 seat hall have been torn down and replaced with a ducal palace room? Even yelled as loudly as I could, these questions went unanswered.

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Rem I am always thinking of our time together, Rem
Isn’t she crazy

The suspicious cardboard box

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“If society were to outgrow the idea of an age of childhood, it would have to become liveable for the young.” Illich
Maybe I don’t really know english
“The body of the leader will serve as one of the enduring symbols of these two lost decades. Carefully and surgically preserved, mythologised for its virile strength (he reckoned he could go for hours, although the recorded conversations amongst his protégés suggest otherwise), airbrushed, the face frozen in a permanent smirk: this was our transubstantiated political body, the vessel in which we projected one last time the belief that our post-war economic miracle was for real, and lived on. But no more. As of today we wake up in a different body, which may not even be male, with a different skin, which may not even be white, and we’ll have to learn again what it means to look after it.” Giovanni Tiso on Berlusconi
Pigeons never forget a face
“What they’re learning is how to manipulate graphics in order to sway opinion and build their own myth through various forms of performance and graphic chicanery… As these people grow up, it will impact poorly on public space… There are victims here, and the victims will eventually be all of us when these mismanaged kids grow up and turn into even lighter-weight Zahas — if you can imagine such a thing. They will have trained all their lives to make pictures and never have learned anything.” Philip Nobel
Whorish materials

Try to notice the performance

The Rover 15.11.2011

Some people talk about putting on a Czech opera like you wear a lead apron to do it, but that isn’t true. It’s perfectly legal. So don’t buy the argument that a production of Dvořák’s Rusalka (containing an aria you’ll find on every best-of opera disc) means the Opera de Montreal took any risks. Not with the programming, anyway. More »

Curatorial compliance device

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Perfectly harmless if treated appropriately

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“It’s time people accepted that there’s no such thing as ‘the’ public: there are several publics who have different needs and different areas of interest, and each associate something different with art.” Ute Meta Bauer in on curating [PDF]
“Behind every rugged individual is a government agency.” Thomas Sheridan
A pair of her shoes sold for 200 rubles and was cooked and eaten by her admirers
The greater the spirit, the greater the beast

Gergiev and the Mariinsky perform Tchaikovskii’s 1st and 6th

The Rover 26.10.2011

Critical stares of Russian matrons sweep the lobby like Distant Early Warning radar stations, but their targets are their neighbours’ outfits and so I pass unharmed and invisible. I am not wearing any gold or miniskirt. Arriving at my seat, I discover the under-chair heaters have been replaced by samovars. More »
pamplemousse jews
“The thing I regret most is letting Charlie [Jencks] have his PhD.” Banham
same sort of straining nervousness that you see in overbred show dogs

I suspect Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Last week I happened to meet DDB, the “Judas of Wikileaks” who co-founded Openleaks. I asked him a question to better understand the vetting process whereby certain people gain privileged access to Openleaks files. More »

Inappropriate fragrance or aroma: fear
A new and abusive school of criticism
Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.
it’s not you it’s not me it’s my technologee
eat the rich


The Rover 5.09.2011

The gilt-edged envelope smelled of perfume and was obviously caviar-stained. A monumental footman waited for a reply with a silver tray in one hand and a gun in the other. More opera tickets, I thought. Hooray. More »

worth a skim
Honour thy error as a hidden intention
All our sockets are reserved
May I present… Ms Nutella Chutney
calamity water

Graeber on the agoraphobia of the state in “There Never Was a West”

“It is only once it becomes absolutely clear that public speech and assembly is no longer itself the medium of political decision-making, but at best an attempt to criticize, influence, or make suggestions to political decision-makers, that they can be treated as sacrosanct.”
“If there was anyone to apologize to, I would. But they’re all dead.” Paul McMullan interviewed on BBC
my teeth are caked on with other teeth
Sorry 4 leaving u in the dumpster last night
non-alcoholic oatmeal
The lack of slack

“I don’t feel enormously real: I suppose it is all in order: I suppose it is right to embark on such critical courses with no sense of drama, like opening a window.” Isiah Berlin on his impending marriage to Aline Halban, 1956
“The woman whose husband impregnates her in her bed, before sleep, is not erotic. The erotic woman is the one who, at snack time, calls her son and tells him to prepare a sperm sandwich for his little sister. That’s erotic because that menu hasn’t yet become commonplace.” Emmanuelle, page 155

“Up until about 1600, most of the world views that existed in different cultures did see man and the universe as more or less intertwined and inseparable … either through the medium of what they called God or in some other way. But all that was understood. The particular intellectual game that led us to discover all the wonders of science forced us to abandon temporarily that idea. In other words, in order to do physics, to do biology, we were actually taught to pretend that things were like little machines because only then could you tinker with them and find out what makes them tick.” Christopher Alexander
If your neighbour is suffering injustice and you can sleep, then just wait your turn
“Coriander had the feeling the boss wasn’t taking her seriously. She needed to molt the downhome caricature that had got her in the door and develop something more earthy, erotic, powerful. Cilantro. Yes.”

“Much as I enjoyed John Burnside’s poem ‘Hyena’, I must point out that he has his hyenas crossed (LRB, 30 June). The ‘giggle’ and pack behaviour referred to in the final stanza suggests the spotted (or ‘laughing’) hyena, but the first stanza (white mane, grey face, bat ears) describes the striped hyena, a solitary animal which does not ‘laugh’.” Mikita Brottman’s letter to the LRB 33.15
the city is not a spatial entity with sociological consequences, but a sociological entity that is formed spatially

Do I have an economic life?

“Greece has 800,000 civil servants, of whom 150,000 are on course to lose their jobs. The very existence of those jobs may well be a symptom of the three c’s, ‘corruption, cronyism, clientelism’, but that’s not how it feels to the person in the job, who was supposed to do what? Turn down the job offer, in the absence of alternative employment, because it was somehow bad for Greece to have so many public sector workers earning an OK living? Where is the agency in that person’s life, the meaningful space for political-economic action? She is made the scapegoat, the victim, of decisions made at altitudes far above her daily life – and the same goes for all the people undergoing ‘austerity’, not just in Greece. The austerity is supposed to be a consequence of us all having had it a little bit too easy (this is an attitude which is only very gently implied in public, but it’s there, and in private it is sometimes spelled out). But the thing is, most of us don’t feel we did have it particularly easy. When you combine that with the fact that we have so little real agency in our economic lives, we tend to feel we don’t deserve much of the blame. This feeling, which is strong enough in Ireland and Iceland, and which will grow steadily stronger in the UK, is so strong in Greece that the country is heading for a default whose likeliest outcome, by far, is a decade of misery for ordinary Greeks.” Lancaster in LRB 33.12
“He writes so obscurely that you can’t tell what he’s saying, that’s the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, ‘You didn’t understand me; you’re an idiot.’ That’s the terrorist part.” Foucault on Derrida, from an interview with John R. Searle in Reason.
management boy
It was mine to fuck and I should have fucked it.
Poverty is the invention of civilisation
Who are you? I’m your fairy godmother. Wow! So what’s with the axe? Oh, I feel a little blue.
That love is something that every man needs, not with a vegetable, but with something that looks you in the eyes.
You make my cellphone excited
Ear of the uncultivated
How many ticks to a bang?
Glass-bottomed goat
The two mounds of a foot’s pad in the light of a white sock
I write you from the Sonoran desert with the equinox looming.
Heavy in my hand.
Or snakes, sleeping where lungs and ovaries once hid.
Smelling the old air

Beyond speculative architecture

Beyond No.1: Scenarios and Speculations is a ‘bookzine’ edited by Pedro Gadanho and published by SUN. It is an unusual publication mostly full of stories written by architects, with a few photoshops and essays thrown in.

The idea seems to be that architecture’s tradition of speculation has been neglected recently in the face of ‘reality’ (too many commissions, no new Eisenman). The real-estate bubbles of the last ten years favoured physical architecture over the paper kind: theory and idealism were diluted by a money flood, and so on. Beyond is well-timed, it anticipates a return to paper as the utopias emerge from the waters of a global inundation of debt. More »

kiss me, you fishy bastard
insert your hanging flower trays into the appropriate receptacles
Did you know that you turn up in a search for “monster”?

Soirée Russe

Also published in The Rover.

I went to a weird place recently. There were a couple of hundred others there, all with healthy annuity incomes, and we were inappropriately dressed in tailcoats and spats and things. The row ahead of me passed a pair of army field binoculars around. I heard the most serious-looking one, their leader I think, mutter after Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture that “the red bastards think they can wait us out?” Then he fell asleep and I took his wallet. More »

La Bohème

Also published in The Rover.

Stage design appears in the criminal code under “manslaughter – unusual,” which is a possible label for the season premiere of Opéra de Montréal’s La Bohème, a “lavish new production” that treats its talented cast with the thoughtfulness and dignity of a garden rake to the face, and succeeds largely in spite of itself. Only the singers and musicians deserve any applause. More »


Also published in The Rover.

Goth teenagers loiter around the Grand Vizier’s shopping complex under the aqueduct, then a loopy teen wearing a dozen nighties dances in and gets them killing for her. They do it because she’s so hot. And she’s a princess. Good, right? Now get this, her father wants to get with her, she even strips for him, makes him kill a guy, and then makes out with his severed head!

Upon hearing the pitch for an adaptation of Salome, the Viennese composer Richard Strauss threw a bag of gold coins on the table. Work began immediately. More »


Also published in The Rover.

In the golden days of opera, critics wore two pistols and audiences ritually burned the weakest cast member and ate them. Or forced the director to eat them, depending on whether they were delicious. It was around this time that an important critical methodology was discovered: Drink a tincture of ships’ caulking in ether and go watch a performance. Did you feel anything?

The bartender only had a bottle of asbestos solvent, but what the hell, art is a damned fine mistress even if she cuts you sometimes. (My Standard Opera Companion never, ever does.) So three hours later, I am swimming in a lovely blue-green tidal pool I’d found in my mind and considering the Werther that we had just seen. More »

My first exhibition as an autonomous baby curator: The object is not online November 2010 to February 2011, at the CCA

“Brings together questionably digitized materials with undoubtedly material digital systems to explore the translation of objects into online representations. It uses objects from the CCA Collection to examine the shift, and to explore some differences between seemingly limitless cyberspace and the museum where presence and real space are the rule.”

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15th Gala

Also published in The Rover.

Leopard print and gold stilettos welcomed us to Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, or as it is known in family jargon, daddy’s angry place. The hall looked the same but the opera crowd was thick for a Sunday matinee and more pomaded than usual. Offstage and on, ambition was in the air.

Three hours later we stumbled out drenched in champagne, flicked the opera groupies off, and assessed: fourteen singers had performed twenty-three arias in three hours, with a long introspective pause for the audience. A convincing case was made for the depth of local talent, and two of the evening’s three stars (Julie Boulianne, Lara Cieckiewicz, and Etienne Dupius) were members of the Atelier lyrique, strong evidence for its future importance. More »

Bach Festival 2010

Also published in The Rover.

Christ Church Cathedral glows with competence as the choir enters; the pews gleam with it, and I happily come out of the rain to receive a healthful serving of Our Cultural Solids. The concert is part of the 2010 Montreal Bach Festival, a healthy-sounding machine for the production of lovely evenings, which each year fills some churches with the music they were intended for.

As churchgoers race towards statistical irrelevancy, the majority experience these spaces mostly in historical or artistic contexts, and not as chambers of mysterious power (except over hats). When seasoned with liturgical music, however, even a dingy wooden chapel can smell Roman. More »

Liveblogging Devereux

Also published in The Rover.

My continued hassling of the Montreal opera establishment has lead to bizarre countermeasures: I have been invited into the belly of the beast, its tenderest backstage bits where motors and maidens meet, and where I am liveblogging a performance of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux.

19:40 I have made it inside. It is dark and well-organized. The orchestra is warming up More »

Journeys October 2010 to March 2011, at the CCA:

“Although immigration is a dominant topic in contemporary culture, its discussion is often limited to the human experience, such as the crossing of borders and issues about national identity. This exhibition looks at how movements impact on the environment. Examples range from the coconut that can drift freely on the ocean current and re-seed wherever it finds land, to government-enforced relocation, the uprooting and rearranging of communities in a way that changes landscape and society forever.”

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Also published in The Rover.

My double-tall opera companion mortified me by texting during the overture of Opéra de Montréal’s season opener, Rigoletto. But then I looked at what she had written and it was okay. She had ordered rye delivery.

She understood, barely into the first act, the character of the night to come: a talented cast was to be sacrificed. A general loosening would be required to enjoy the lions’ work. More »

Opera at Jean-Talon Market

Also published in The Rover.

The young lady (Emma Parkinson) handed me my change and began to sing the “Habanera” from Carmen awfully well for a produce retailer. Then a fellow in a cape (Etienne Dupuis) across the aisle gave an unnervingly professional rendition of “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre”, completing the lyrical geometry begun by a La Traviata duet (Pascale Beaudin and Riccardo Iannello) a few minutes earlier. And then it was over, the singers folding back into the scenery, and I haggled for carrots. More »


Also published in The Rover.

I asked for it. I spent two seasons nipping Opera de Montreal for its turgid sets and it seems somebody was listening. Somebody powerful, with deep pockets, and an insatiable hunger for the colour pink.

Let this be a lesson: be careful what you wish for.* Massenet’s Cendrillon filled the house on Saturday, a week after its opening, and credit goes entirely to a hallucinogenic production for making the 111-year-old libretto accessible. The singing was something else. More »

Simon Boccanegra

Also published in The Rover.

In opera as in the grocery store there are the strange fruit (ugli, figli, migli). Usually they will sit in your fruit bowl and look comfortably exotic. Sometimes visiting children will play with them. And occasionally they will get eaten, almost always with surprising pleasure. Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra is such a fruit, and Opera de Montréal / San Diego Opera production, particularly its excellent international cast, makes for refreshing eating.

The plot makes my head ache and I won’t repeat it; you can read it in the programme. There was an anxious, pencil-sharpening stillness in the air when the audience opened their exam books, perforated only by the occasional doubtful exhalation. Later, my neighbour turned to me in exasperation and mutely prodded his booklet with his index finger, but I refused to help him cheat. More »


Also published in The Rover.

André Gagnon’s opera Nelligan premiered in 1990 at the Grand Theatre de Québec with a pop cast. On Saturday, the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal reprised it, twenty years on, at the Monument National. A more ambitious production than anything the Opéra de Montréal has dared at Place des Arts, it is full of talented young singers and features local tenor stalwart Marc Hervieux as insurance. More »


Also published in The Rover.

Tosca! The name has teeth for good reason. Puccini’s opera averages a death every 37 minutes. It includes 19th century Italian politics, the homicidal lusting of a Roman police chief, a jealous girlfriend, and a superfluity of hypocrites. This is distilled opera of few peers in the repertoire, and is often a final examination for companies on their way up. Opera de Montréal chose it for their first performance ever and reprised it for this past weekend’s 30th anniversary. More »

“China’s exceptional competitiveness is largely founded on the prolonged stagnation of manufacturing wages in comparison with other Asian countries at equivalent stages of development.” via New Left Review – Ho-fung Hung: America’s Head Servant?

Illustrations and an article on gypsy mansions in Romani, for Triple Canopy #6, “Model Cities”.

Intermission November 2009 to February 2010, at the CCA:

Intermission surveys the evolving relationship between speed and space, from early reactions to new technology to nostalgic ideas of an unmechanised past. It bridges the themes of the preceding exhibition Speed Limits and the subsequent exhibition Other Space Odysseys: Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan, and Alessandro Poli

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The Magic Flute

Also published in The Rover.

You can’t have opera without ridiculous plot devices, and the older the opera the worse they get. But modern audiences are used to comprehensible plots and characters that aren’t allegories, so we turn our attention to the singing or fall asleep (Mister Parterre W38). Opéra de Montréal presents The Magic Flute, and the singing is very fine.

Mozart’s penultimate operatic work, The Magic Flute combined elements of serious and comic forms while this was still relatively rare. Its serious aspect, an allusion to Freemasonry, has not aged well. Prince Tamino and birdcatcher Papageno find their true loves (conveniently named Pamina and Papagena and selected by higher, paternal powers) through gravely intoned but fuzzy tests, mostly by stumbling on from the wings singing, “Where am I now?” More »

Technomasochism or Getting spanked by INTERCAL in issue 36 of Cabinet magazine, Friendship (Winter 2009/10)
A letter from Montreal explains why we should prefer it to Calgary. In Mark Magazine #22, October/November 2009.

Pagliacci & Gianni Schicchi

Also published in The Rover.

The opening night of an opera season is an anxious bit of business. Chandeliers can fall, stage directors can quit, and it takes a few concerts to forget such things (well, not the stage directors.) So we sit in the darkened hall and cross our fingers, for their sakes. More »

A text and a few drawings on Roma architecture in Triple Canopy #6 on Urbanisms.

Lucia di Lammermoor

Also published in The Rover.

For the next two weeks Montréal sits atop international opera like Humpty Dumpty on his wall. Opera de Montréal’s Lucia di Lammermoor is the best show of the season, a triumph whose success will bring attention to the company. Unfortunately, the production does not match the strength of the cast, and I doubt I’m the only one wondering if the OdM can handle world-class talent. More »


Also published in The Rover.

Verdi’s Macbeth is a difficult early work. The premiere last week of Opéra de Montreal’s new production, a collaboration with Opera Australia, was an undignified birth. Tired and disoriented, the performance rarely glimmered with promise and never rose to the ambition of director René Richard Cyr, who proved a distracted helmsman. More »

Till Fellner

Also published in The Rover.

Kent Nagano has been Musical Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra for over a year—time enough to ask, where has he taken us? In terms of programming, last week’s concert could stand for many of that year: super-standards mixed with shorter works, and the occasional grenade. Nagano certainly understands the necessity of throwing pineapples; with this lob, he succeeded spectacularly. More »

Actions: What You Can Do With the City November 2008 to April 2009, at the CCA:

“Their actions push against accepted norms of behaviour in cities, at times even challenging legal limitations. The individuals and groups employ a range of approaches but share a conviction that the traditional processes of top-down civic planning are insufficient, and new approaches and tools must be developed from the ground level upwards.”

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1973: Sorry, Out of Gas November 2007 to April 2008, at the CCA:

1973: Sorry, Out of Gas captures the architectural innovation spurred by the 1973 oil crisis, when the value of oil increased exponentially and triggered economic, political, and social upheaval across the world.”

More »