Monday, May 21, 2018

Opera Pubs and Backstage Tours

I joined Meet Up for business purposes years ago and didn't realize there was an Arts and Theatre lovers group until Irene extended an invite to an Opera Pub.

The Amsterdam Bicycle Club was jam packed and we arrived two hours before the singing started so we could sit as close as possible to the performers.

What a fun night out, listening to professional opera singers belt out tunes in a bar setting. Sitting less than a hundred feet away, it didn't matter that the acoustics were less than ideal. We heard six highly talented singers and tunes from almost as many different operas, accompanied by one pianist. A very unique - and somewhat surreal - experience.

I joined the Theatre Lovers or Culturists Meet Up Group afterwards and am now getting offers for up to 40% off ticket prices (some of which I had already paid full price), as well as invites to unique events.

Rob and I joined a Meet-Up with 100 others for a backstage tour of Massey Hall before it closes for revitalization this coming summer. We toured the empty theatre and were given time to linger in the cramped backstage dressing rooms. I stood onstage and sang a few bars of Oh Canada! to the amusement of fellow tour-takers. Interestingly the theatre didn't seem quite as big from that vantage point, but then again, the seats were empty.

I took a photo of Herbie Hancock's signature etched into the wooden floor.

There have been great acts over the years and some of music's most memorable concerts, including The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever (Charlie Parker/Charles Mingus/Dizzie Gillespie/Max Roach/Bud Powell, released 1968); Neil Young; Gordon Lightfoot. Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould made their debuts here.

Some notes I pecked on my iPhone: seats are a bit cramped for legroom as the hall opened in 1894 when the average height was 5'5"; when it first opened there were no washrooms whatsoever, those were retrofitted and not many in number; the stained glass was covered in the 1920's as vaudeville required a black box theatre; the Queen's Box became the bar.

We will be going to see Ry Cooder here before the Hall closes - it is scheduled to reopen again in July 2020. When it does reopen I hope it retains the historical character that has made it such a Canadian icon.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Koerner, Live!!!

I think Koerner Hall may be addictive.

Just staring at the ceiling, listening to some of the best musicians on the planet. Watching and listening to the music, live. And yes, that can be pronounced in two ways, a short or long 'i' sound,  as in, being there physically in person; as in, living and breathing and experiencing the music come alive.

Adding to my playlists as I discover new sounds and virtuosos. Such a gorgeous setting and outstanding acoustics.

Many of the groups and ensembles express their pleasure of being in the hall and confirm it is one of the best venues anywhere. How fortunate we are to have this space here in Toronto!

Several of the musicians on my concert list were brand new to me. I selected most of them based on brief samplings and descriptions and was rewarded with new musical favourites. Designing your own series brings some benefits: reduced ticket prices, free drinks at intermission, and being able to exchange tickets without penalty.

I enjoy seating in the Loge but it doesn't work for Rob's long legs... it is definitely cramped. So orchestra seats already ordered here next year.


Jordi Savall and Carlos Nunez and Friends; Celtic Favourites May 10
- Reinventing chamber music! The viols played by Jordi are several centuries old, and evolved into the cello we know today. Carlos Nunez plays a mean Galitian bagpipe. What a night! I felt transported back to medieval times and magical places. Sold-out crowd. (M9/10)

Max Raabe and the Palister Orchestra April 18
- Such a dry sense of humour and impeccable timing. I can't recall laughing when the brass section played at any previous concerts, but the horns provided the punchlines on a few of the musical interludes. Faves from Germany and America. Sold-out crowd.(G19/20 aisle)

Pink Sardines, Saturday April 14
- We booked this on the suggestion of Mike P, and Laura nabbed the tickets more than a year ago. The group ended up recording a live album that night, with the lead singer teasing us that New Yorkers were dubious about whether Toronto audiences knew hot to clap.  Sold-out crowd. (F9/10)

KUNÉ - Canada's Global Orchestra 
and Odessa/Havana April 7
New Canadians playing instruments from their home countries, including: Persia, Turkey, Greece, India, Russia.
After intermission, followed by Odessa/Havanna and a crowded, noisy stage with brass and percussion and piano. Sold-out crowd.

Nicolas Altstaedt with Fazil Say, Friday March 2
- Two brilliant solists. A cellist and a pianist. Performing works by Claude Debussy, Fazil Say, Leoš Janáček, andDmitri Shostakovich. (B9/10)

Leon Fleisher conducts the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, Friday February 16 at 20:00
- Legendary pianist and conductor helms some of the best emerging international talent from the Glen Gould school. The room was electric, with this being the culmination of decades of musical study for students not yet thirty years of age. Such energy! (G19/20 aisle)

Janine Jansen, Martin Fröst, Torleif Thedéen, and Lucas Debargue 05 December 2017 at 20:00
- Chamber music Violinist Janine Jansen, clarinetist Martin Fröst, Swedish cellist Torleif Thedéen, and French pianist Lucas Debargue will perform Béla Bartók: Contrasts, Karol Szymanowski: Myths, op. 30 and Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time. (G19/20 aisle)

Yasmin Levy & the Klezmatics on Wednesday 01 November 2017 at 20:00
- Exhuberant accordions! Sold-out crowd. (A9 & 10)

Monday, May 7, 2018

J'ai trop mangé

Wow! voyage fantastique!

My friends the epi-tourists planned a trip to Montreal and I managed to finagle my way along. At first it sounded too extravagant, so I dithered. Fortunately Kaarina, Laura, and Caroline are an understanding bunch so welcomed my change of mind. Also luckily, the Via ticket agent found me a seat with them, so we were able to enjoy a picnique enroute.

Being in Montreal felt like being in Europe. Mon français est pauvre so it was wonderful to have the fully bilingual Caroline there to help us navigate and translate.

We stayed at a great Air B&B in the Montreal Plateau neighbourhood, and managed to fit side trips in to Notre Dame, the Jardin, the Marche, and even get some fashion shopping in... however the real purpose of the trip was to eat and enjoy. Which we did. J'ai trop mangé.

Breakfasts were at the Air B&B. One morning fresh eggs that Caroline had brought from her "girls," another morning St - Viateur bagels with salmon carpaccio fresh from the market.

Otherwise we were checking out the local restaurants. This trip brought lots of new experiences and tastes on the menus. I am not an epicurean, just epicurious. I am no restaurant critic but I do love food, and trying new tastes, and seeing what tastes go together well - all the better with friends. I dine at fine establishments probably one or two times a year, favouring bacchanals with foodie friends to dinners out. Mainly I object to paying too much for the alcohol.

The WoW factor for restaurants starts with great-tasting and great looking food, but it is of course, so much more. Years ago I had a friend in the restaurant business and she said when you opened an establishment, you needed to concentrate on two of three things... it was impossible to have all three of these: ambience, service, and price (or value for money). That was back in the eighties, though, and when I asked Chef Laura whether she had heard the maxim she said no. I think times have changed, and people want and expect all three.

True nourishment feeds you on many levels, so I also have another requirement - how I feel after the meal. Within the hour, and the next day.

These are my ratings, 5 stars for my experiences, based on the criteria above: food; ambience; service; value; after-effects.


Iberica ****
Loved these little tapas! Especially the oxtail croquette served on an actual oxtail. The waitress was patient with our questions and attentive; the ambience was ok but a tv was on, which although in Spanish totally detracted from the experience.  Lots of choice and a good wine selection. We enjoyed our morsels with cava.

Joe Beef *****
Number 3 on Canada's Best. Only 30 seats in this establishment! I counted myself lucky to get a reservation for a late Thursday evening, 6 weeks in advance. Definitely my favourite meal of the trip. Great vibe and a wonderful experience - the best service of any of the spots we visited, with Andie taking her time to speak to the details on the chalkboard and answer questions about preparation. The chef briefs front of house every day about ingredients and dishes which is why they are so well informed. Gorgeous plating and perfection in the preparation. I regret not having room for dessert.  We didn't go for the Lobster pasta or Beef, but throughly enjoyed the appetizers (mushrooms and pomp blanc gres champ au champions + quail besesier brelots and sauce rouge) and main (lamb brisquet). I have no idea how such a small restaurant manages to have such a huge choice of offerings, it is a magic trick! One of the best value meals, too, as Laura and I shared our plates. I will definitely return and might even be able to talk Rob into accompanying me.

Maison Christian Faure ***
We had lunch at this patisserie - of course it was the dessert we came for! The server brought a plate over for us to choose what we wanted. Talk about a tough choice! We lingered over tea before heading back out in the rain. Really delicious, great service, but a bit pricey. I also found all the hard gleaming surfaces to lack a certain welcoming.

Restaraunt L'Original  ****
Loved the ambience - very early Canadian and woodsy, complete with a canoe used for the bar. Quirky embellishments in the decor. Excellent food and fine service. My favourite thing about this meal was the original preparation of bone marrow. A bone, sliced open, with pickled sashimi and red wine sauce. Deeply satisfying. If I ever return I would skip the wine and substitute a cocktail. Aside from this, no regrets.

Caribou Gourmand ** .5
Where else could you find caribou and seal tartare on offer? Who wouldn't be curious? It was an experience however I wouldn't say the flavour was exceptional and the texture was like liver. Having satisfied this curiosity I wouldn't likely order it again. I ordered the wild boar chop with polenta as my main - it was delicious at the start, but before I had even finished the meal I was feeling over-stuffed and a bit queasy. I took my leftovers to go and was astounded by how heavy the little package was. Extremely tasty however lost marks for the after-effects (just how much butter was there??) and remarkably poor service. They also didn't have the wine on their own list, or the dessert that was on the menu (although we were on the first seating). Highly disappointing, however this was one of the most anticipated meals so perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh that it didn't live up to expectations.

Jardin Botani Restaurant ****
The lunch counter at the botanical gardens was one of my favourite restaurant experiences of the trip. The counter service was quite friendly. Not only were we able to eat outside in a beautiful setting in the sun, the salad and sandwiches were colourful, nourishing, tasty, great value, and left me feeling entirely sated. Just dizzy from a fine spring day.

Cocktail Bars
Cocktail bars do not have entirely the same criteria for me as restaurants. I don't expect great value - I want a bit of theatre + great service + great vibes/fun + lots of choice So maximum four stars.

Flyjin ***
I thought this was Flying Gin when the epi-tourists were saying the name and so was a tad disappointed it wasn't all about gin cocktails, being such a devoted fan. The Queen Bee concoction, my second drink, was the best - but that is likely because as Kaarina says, anything with Veuve Clicquot has to be good. We sat right at the bar and chatted up the bartender, who was entirely entertaining.

La Distillerie ****
Best drink menu ever! Lots to choose from: A Yoda cocktail that looked just like the master, limes placed for ears; a phenomenal Caesar. A server that suggested they leave out the sugar for someone and add it in later if required. Fantastic bartender, dressed up geisha style and rocking the cocktail shakers.  Good thing we had reservations elsewhere otherwise I could easily have overstayed my welcome.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sprouting Grass Moon - April 2018

I looked up in the sky on the way home tonight and the moon was almost full. 

... coming home from a fundraiser combined with birthday celebration for Marlene, turning 80 this year. The studio was transformed! Tables and linens, candles, wine, and all these people I have seen for years in yoga tights wearing fancy duds. A very special evening. Several of us ending up dancing to the band, a clarinet and accordion duo. How wonderful, how improbable, how unexpected. 

The April full moon is typically known as the Full Pink Moon or the full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon.

The moon is officially full April 29, 8:58 pm

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Dramatic changes

After midnight, the night of the ice storm, I looked up through the skylight expecting to see the branches of the tree swaying in the wind, and there was - nothing. It didn't make sense. "Rob, the tree's not there?!"  "It's in the ravine. It fell across the deck and took down the fence."

The next morning I surveyed the damage. It could have been worse. Thankfully we tended to the most precarious limbs last spring, so there was no tree-fall our house. I did want to remove more of the tree at the time, but the arborist said they could only trim 30% due to city by-laws. We love our Toronto trees and require permits and inspections in ravine backyards due to urban forest regulations. We'll even need to apply and pay a permit fee to have what's left of the tree removed. While I think this is a bit excessive, I do appreciate living in "the city that's in a park."

We're now sorting out details with the city, neighbour and insurance companies. 

This spring and summer I will be keeping an eye on my shade-loving natives, whose habitat has suddenly shifted. Shady corners still abound so there will be lots of transplanting this season.