The arts are alive and kicking in Niagara and like health care, their future—particularly
the notion of consolidation under one multi-purpose
roof—has been much studied by government.
Many recommendations for a performing arts centre
in St. Catharines are on the table, but the only
sod-turning lately has been for the new casino
in Niagara Falls whose plans include a 1,500-seat
More interested in practical experiences than
theory and graphs, I went on a spree of artistic
sampling. My goal was to better appreciate the
existing levels of achievement and then reflect
on what is needed.
October 27: The Niagara Symphony Orchestra’s
Masters concert series got off to an explosive
start with violist-extraordinaire, Rivka Golani’s
riveting performance of Béla Bartók’s
magnificent Concerto for Viola and Orchestra.
November 2: CBC personality, Stuart Hamilton,
merrily presided over an evening of opera’s
greatest hits in the first of two sold-out performances
by Chorus Niagara. Unassisted by the non-reverberant
Calvary Church, Robert Cooper’s full-bodied
chorus thrilled us all and provided deft support
of guest artists Elizabeth McDonald and Stuart
November 15: The highlight of David Jalbert’s
piano recital (presented by Brock’s Music
Department) was Frederic Rzewski’s North American
Ballad, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues.
Jalbert’s musical and technical skills
were the perfect match for this unrelenting soundscape
which magically morphs into Gershwin-esque jazz.
I’m looking forward to the coming CD, where,
one hopes, a piano worthy of his artistry will
November 17: Once the custodian switched off
the droning air fans at Rodman Hall, we were treated
to an extraordinary afternoon of chamber music
adeptly performed by the Gallery Players of Niagara.
Despite another piano that is well past retirement,
the Brahms C Minor Piano Quartet transcended the
printed page and, when its modality finally resolved
to the life-affirming major, there wasn’t
a person in the room who wasn’t mesmerized.
November 20: To add perspective to my survey,
I travelled to hear Orchestra London’s reading
of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Unfortunately,
Centennial Hall’s antiquated heating system
became the unwelcome fifth soloist.
Nonetheless, the combined choruses (University
of Western Ontario Singers, London Pro Musica,
Les Choristes, The Chorale) rose to the occasion
and provided the evening’s finest moments.
November 21: Now back in St. Catharines, I made
my first foray into the Old Court House (touted
as the downtown solution to the problem of providing
adequate space for the region’s professional
artists—particularly its theatre groups),
where Theatre Arts Niagara (one of our “homeless”
companies) presented Be Wearing Wolf.
Written and performed by Deanna Jones and Erin
Shields, this fast-moving, one-act comedy was
a heady mix of dialogue, mime and outrageous characterization.
Anyone who has come near institutionalized
attendant care would savour its satire.
November 24: Back to Brock’s Sean O’Sullivan
Theatre to hear guest conductor Edward Serov “play”
the Niagara Symphony like I’d never heard
Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony was the vehicle for
this pull-out-all-the-stops romp that left the
players exhausted, the audience exhilarated and
the theatre’s foundation likely in need of
November 28 and 30: The Canadian Brass came to
town on Thursday and were then to appear with
the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday.
Having previously discovered the acoustic excellence
of the Kleinhans Music Hall, I couldn’t wait
to compare the two rooms with the same musicians.
But fate intervened and I never made it to the U.S. performance. The Brock Centre for the Arts presentation revealed just how much further
these master players have evolved as creatures
of popular culture rather than (as I last heard
them a couple of decades back) advocates for classical
music. Don’t misunderstand, I like bad jokes
as much as anyone, but I put my review of their
wide-ranging performance in the theatre section
of the website.
On November 29, I was in what is, arguably, the
finest venue in Canada for music. Massey Hall,
where the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has never
sounded better, was jammed to the rafters for,
well, Lily Tomlin. But, ironically, due to the
artificial reinforcement of the electronic sound
system, I couldn’t understand all of her
And so I have learned that the performing arts
in Niagara provide an impressive variety of artistic
expression with varying degrees of success (both
artistic and financial). And, particularly with
music, I know that those offerings could only
improve in a specifically designed space. But,
as organizations such as the Calgary Philharmonic
that have been forced into bankruptcy can attest,
the arts groups themselves should not be saddled
with the exponentially higher costs that a user-pay
The leadership and cash required must come from
public demand so that our artists will have the
time and energy to hone their craft rather than
be forced, unprepared, into new careers. JWR