Fury: Life, love and loss on stage in Blyth

2 Aug

 

Fury at the Blyth Festival.

Fury at the Blyth Festival.

By Diva Shari Parsons

BLYTH – Though waves may crash, this play doesn’t.

Having never before attended any production of the Blyth Festival, I looked forward to the opening night performance of Fury, along with a girlfriend who had also never attended.

The Blyth Festival is summer theatre that celebrates original Canadian theatre. The professional productions are held in the cozy and comfortable theatre housed in the historic red brick Blyth Memorial Hall.

Fury is a thought-provoking and, in the end, heart-wrenching look at the effect of The Great Storm of 1913 on the lives of five different people from various walks of life in the Port of Goderich.

I found that the script, written by playwright Peter Smith, was intelligent, sensitive, witty and even humorous at times.

Jeff Irving did an excellent job playing the boyishly handsome Michael Grey, a young farmer from Carlow with a mischievous grin, a twinkle in his eye and a devil-may-care attitude.

Michael’s love interest, the slightly repressed yet opinionated Margaret Mackey, niece and ward of Judge Cassidy was given what I felt was a somewhat wooden performance by Rachel Cairns.

Comedic relief and camaraderie was wonderfully provided by Keith Barker in the character of somewhat simple-minded and kind-hearted Bernard Smoke, the offspring of an Aboriginal mother and a Scottish father. Bernard may seem simple, but his “mind roads” can lead him to some profound places.

David Fox was a very convincing autocratic Judge Cassidy. His speech and mannerisms exemplified the character of a crotchety old man who was more concerned about public appearance and his standing in the community than he was about his niece’s happiness. But he is hiding a painful past and his frosty reserve thaws slightly in the end.

The young and up-coming lawyer, David Cooper, was well portrayed by Jason Chesworth. David, who comes across as slightly, annoyingly, obsequious and ingratiating has struck a bargain with the Judge that will give David career advancement and increased standing in the community. Margaret is the unwilling pawn in this agreement.

The stage setting, designed by Ronnie Burkett, was simple but very effective. There were four separate sections constructed to resemble a wooden pier. These sections were moved around to create the various settings, including what I thought was an ingenious rowboat. A large structure in the background served as both the stone balcony of the Judge’s house and the bow of the ship, the Wexford. The effective use of lighting and sound created the necessary changes in atmosphere and mood. The storm scene upon the Wexford was particularly well done.

Fury literally explodes upon the scene, pops up unexpectedly in the audience, makes you think, makes you laugh and if you are sentimental like me, may even bring a tear to your eye. My girlfriend and I both really enjoyed it.

Fury runs until Sept. 12 at the Blyth Memorial Hall. Tickets are $30 & $34 for adults and $15 for youth. Tickets for preview performances are $22 & $26. Tickets may be purchased at the online box office; by phone at 519.523.9300 or 1.877.862.5984 during box office hours: non-performance days 9am-5pm, evening performance days 9am-9pm; in person at 423 Queen St., Blyth; or by mail with cheque or credit card information and including a $4 service fee to Blyth Festival, Box 10, Blyth ON, N0M 1H0

Snow White: The Panto – Happily ever after in Huron County

1 Aug
Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season. Photo by John Sharp.

Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season at Playhouse II. Photo by John Sharp.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GRAND BEND – If you like corn on the cob slathered with butter, then you will like this play – Corny with a capital “C” and slathered with silliness.

Having never attended a “panto” I did some research before setting off to see this production. Unlike the name may suggest, a panto is not made up of actors in white face going through strange silent routines. It is, in fact, a very British tradition of winter musical comedy theatre based (somewhat loosely) on well-known fairy-tales and children’s stories. A panto is filled with slapstick, Vaudeville routines, risqué innuendos, contemporary wise-cracks and, of course, lots of music, singing and dancing. It is also famous for its noisy and cheerful audience participation.

The opening night performance of Snow White: The Panto at Huron Country Playhouse fulfilled every one of those British panto traditions.

The scenery was painted to look like those wonderful illustrations in my childhood fairy-tale books. The staging, though simple with just painted backdrops and a prop or two, created the necessary atmosphere but also allowed for the maximum amount of movement – of which there is a lot!

As a person who enjoys history, fashion and fabrics, I greatly appreciated the design and detail of the costumes as well as the designer, Rachel Berchtold’s, decision to create costumes that are reminiscent of all those wonderful illustrations in our favourite childhood stories, but with the occasional modern flavour, such as glittery shirts for the dwarfs or maids uniforms reminiscent of early Hollywood musicals. I must confess to being somewhat envious of Queen Diabolica’s wardrobe – sassy and sexy  with form-fitting designs created using luxurious fabrics and lots of bling, although I don’t think it would look quite the same on me!

I was very interested to learn that the musical accompaniment was performed by a live band. The four musicians and Music Director Scott Christian  did a wonderful job performing a wide variety of musical styles from hip-hop, to Broadway, to R&B.

No musical would be complete without dance numbers and this play did not disappoint. Routines included tap dance, ballet, ballroom, jazz and hip-hop. Choreographer Gino Berti put together an absolutely brilliant routine that required precision timing on the part of the dancers or some serious whacking of heads and thwacking of shins would have taken place. A nice touch to a number of the dance routines was the inclusion of a troupe of 14 children   of various ages and sizes (extremely cute in animal pyjamas.)

The characters in the play were exaggerated versions of many of those we know and love. Snow White, played by Sarah Higgins was predictably sickeningly sweet while Prince Justin of Timberlake portrayed by Jamie McKnight was youthfully handsome, in a pale vampire kind of way.  Sexy Queen Diabolica, portrayed by Jackie Mustakas (who has great legs by the way), reminded me a bit of Bette Midler dressed for the Oscars. Cutie pa-tootie Tim Porter played the Queen’s hapless woodsman, Woody, with an almost perpetual grin on his face (made my cheeks ache) and restless energy in his movements. The portrayal of the dwarfs was both surprising and amazing. Stephanie Pitsiladis stood out as Grumpy, complete with Bronx accent, attitude and a voice that could fill a stadium.  Another favourite of mine, performed by two members of the Ensemble, was Prince Charming’s white horse , Avalanche, who had attitude, could tap dance and wouldn’t let anybody ride him.

While all the actors did a great job, hubby and my favourite character had to be buxom and flirty Nurse Tickle, who was brilliantly portrayed by Justin Bott. This continues one of the old British theatre traditions of having male actors play female parts.

While I am not sure that panto is exactly my cup of theatre tea, I did enjoy many aspects of the production and my hubby thoroughly enjoyed the entire production.

When you go to see this performance, be sure to bring your best booing, hissing, and cheering voices along with your waving, clapping hands because they are sure to be busy.

Snow White: The Panto runs to Aug. 29 at the Huron Country Playhouse II.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

Family friendly fun in Blyth

28 Jul
Brodie Nesbitt, 10, sold railway spikes to raise money for a 4-wheeler.

Brodie Nesbitt, 10, sold railway spikes to raise money for a 4-wheeler at the Blyth Streetfest this past weekend. Photos by Shari Parsons.

By Diva Shari Parsons

BLYTH – It was with some nervous excitement that I set out Saturday afternoon for my first assignment as an Ontario Travel Diva, which was to report on the Blyth Streetfest. After reading a number of the other Diva’s posts, I felt that I had some pretty big shoes to fill.

Blyth is a picturesque village about 27 kms east of Goderich. From Goderich, it is an easy and relaxing drive along Blyth Rd. 25 through rolling countryside dotted with farm fields reminiscent of Gramma’s crazy quilts.

Once in Blyth, I found a shady parking spot beside the Blyth Public School and then walked two short blocks to Queen Street where all the action was to take place. As I approached, I could hear the skirl of bagpipes and the rat-a-tat-tat and boom-boom of the Brussels Legion Pipe Band. I arrived shortly after the noon start time and a number of the vendors were still in the process of setting up their booths. This gave me some time to wander the length of the Fest, before it got crowded, to scope out what was available. A cheerful gentleman in a bright tropical shirt was strumming little ditties on his ukulele as he wandered up and down while a budding young artist was busy creating a welcoming message on the road with pastel-coloured sidewalk chalk – ‘Blyth Streetfest “hear”’ (artistic licence perhaps?).

I stopped in to the Blyth Streetfest Headquarters and spoke with Connie Goodall, Economic Development Officer for the Township of North Huron. She told me that the event was started three years ago as a Busker Festival by the Blyth Business Improvement Association in partnership with the Township. It was created as an event that would bring people into the downtown core as an adjunct to a large camping festival that was taking place in Blyth at that time. Two years later, the event has changed dynamics somewhat and now features a performance stage and vendors. Connie said the focus of the Streetfest is to have an affordable, family friendly event with something to interest all ages.

For vintage car buffs, there was a variety of models of vintage cars all buffed and polished with chrome trim sparkling in the
IMG_2252 (2) (640x439)bright summer sun. You definitely needed your sunglasses on to look at those babies! My favourite was the 1958 Pontiac Chieftan with its shiny jet black body, brilliant chrome trim and crisp white sidewall tires, owned by Ed Becker of Clinton, ON. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone who would take me for a ride in it!

Summer festivals always mean food vendors and there was no shortage of choices to be made. You could try a basket of deep-fried pickles at Gator’s Grub (my tummy wasn’t brave enough). If you wanted something more traditional, the Lions Club had hamburgers and hotdogs. For those with a sweet tooth, there were a number of vendors offering a wide variety of delicious, home-baked goodies. Although those baked goods called to me with their siren (as in mermaid) voices, my burgeoning waistline convinced me to just look but not taste. The most interesting and entertaining food choice was the Tatostix and the Appostix. The Tatostix was made from a potato that was placed into a cylindrical machine that turned the potato while slicing it into one, long corkscrew. This was then threaded onto a long wooden skewer and placed in a deep-fryer. When cooked, the buyer then had a choice of a variety of flavours and spices that could be sprinkled onto the Tatostix. The Appostix was made from a Granny Smith apple that was sliced in the same manner and then threaded onto the skewer. The Appostix is not cooked but you could choose to have it sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or drizzled with chocolate sauce. In keeping with my desire to eat something “healthier” I chose an Appostix, but seeing as I am a bit of a chocoholic, I broke down and had mine drizzled with the chocolate sauce. The tart, crisp apple with the bittersweet dark chocolate was quite the taste sensation. It left me with sticky fingers and a paranoia that my face was covered in chocolate.

If you enjoy shopping, street vendors offered cosmetics, handicrafts, home decor, baked goods, fresh produce, spices, scented candles and even 3D Fibre Eyelashes! Many of the vendors are local folk but there were also some from Brussels, Mitchell and IMG_2279 (2) (640x480)_1Chesley. One lady from Stitches with a Twist in Blyth offered the most darling selection of tiny, hand-knit sheep, chickens, hedgehogs, rabbits and gnomes. Another lady sold soft-sided toy boxes, the colourful fabrics reminding me of a Turkish bazaar. Whitefield Farms had an artistic display of wonderful fruits, veggies and flower arrangements. Roslyn Cook of Goderich made lovely, brightly coloured mosaics. Vendors, David Hafner and Nick Buri, from Maple and Moose in Blyth sold quality wooden bird houses, feeders, game boards and cutting boards. The Wonky Frog Studio created pottery and other art. Their business mascot is the endangered Lemur Leaf Frog from Costa Rica.

My favourite entrepreneur was 10-year-old Brodie Nesbitt who was selling rusty rail road spikes for the bargain price of $1 each. Brodie and some friends have been busy collecting the spikes from the nearby Greenway Trail. He told me that he is hoping to earn enough money to buy a four-wheeler.

For the children, there was face-painting, a bike rodeo and a Corn Box filled with corn kernels and toy farm equipment, which was IMG_2293 (2) (480x640)very popular with the younger crowd, all farmers-in-training. The North Huron Fire Dept. had its Safety House to teach the children home fire safety. The volunteer firemen took me through a tour, which included smoke filled rooms, hot doors and fire alarms. There were booths where children could enter their guess as to how many coins there were in one jar or jellybeans in another. The CIBC had a bean bag toss and gave out little bottles of bubble solution.

Entertainment for children was provided by Dickie Bird – the fellow in the bright Hawaiian shirt. He played guitar and mixed humour with upbeat songs while a bubble machine filled the air with rainbow coloured bubbles. Dickie Bird was not one to hog the limelight so he quickly had the stage filled with young participants who clapped, honked horns, and jingled and jangled while others tried to hulahoop in time to the music. Dickie followed his music with magic tricks to the delight of the children.

The children’s entertainment was followed by a display of ballroom dancing performed by the East Side Studio Dancers from Blyth. I wanted to get up there and rhumba with them! 1-2-cha-cha-cha. Waiting in the wings ready to “swing your partner” were the Wheel’N’Dealers Modern Square Dancers from Clinton with the ladies wearing their brightly coloured skirts over puffy crinolines and the men in their western shirts and coloured neckerchiefs.

I have been considering getting a tattoo but I am not crazy about needles. Luckily for me, Dr. T was there with his airbrushes. He used to have a venue on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls and also travelled with carnivals. I chose the design with 2 hearts (for me and my hubby) bordered by delicate leaves – and of course I had to have a healthy sprinkling of sparkling pixie dust to finish it off.

Another booth that I found interesting was a display of handcrafted items made by students at the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity located in Blyth. You could sign up for a wide variety of courses. I chose photography, photojournalism, wire jewelry, and fabric marbling.

If you were hot and needed a quick cool down, you could try bobbing for apples at the North Huron Community Foodshare booth where you could also learn just how little the amount of food that a family of four can pick up for one month.

IMG_2312 (2) (480x640)As I was leaving, some young men were performing skateboard jumps. The occasional jumper landed on the ground sans skate board – I was glad it was their bum and not mine!

I would like to acknowledge all the young volunteers who were present throughout the event, many of them high school students earning their community service hours. One student, Kaila Nesbitt, (older sister of the intrepid railroad spike entrepreneur) modelled the vivid, lime green Blyth Streetfest backpacks that were available for purchase. Kaila lives in Blyth and likes to support her community through volunteerism.

I enjoyed my time at the Blyth Streetfest. Everyone was very friendly and parents felt safe letting their little ones roam. I think that it is a pleasant, inexpensive, family friendly activity that can easily be enjoyed for a couple of hours.

I am telling my friends: Go cut Footloose!

27 Jul
Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

I am feeling a flashback after enjoying another stellar musical at the Huron Country Playhouse near Grand Bend yesterday.

From the neon coloured clothing, teased hair with scrunchies, acid washed jeans and large wads of chewing gum, the cast of Footloose: The Dance Musical in Sunday’s opening performance had me looking through old photos from my childhood and reminiscing about what growing up in the 1980s was like (even though I was very young when the original Footloose movie was released).

Having the pleasure of taking in several of the offerings so far this Drayton Entertainment season, I was excited at the opportunity to see another hit.  This time I was up in the balcony and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the view was. The rows were staggered so that even if the person in front of me shifted a lot in his seat it would not affect my view of the stage. Definitely worth considering getting tickets up there the next time.

As soon as the curtains open, the audience starts to feed off the high energy of the ensemble of “Footloose” and it allows us to get the feel for Colin Sheen as the defiant outsider, Ren McCormack. Sheen oozes talent (who can rollerskate like that anymore?) with his vocal talents, dance moves and looks the role of the teen heartthrob. I enjoyed Sheen as Gilbert and Danielle Wade as Anne in Anne of Green Gables earlier this season. The chemistry between Sheen and Danielle Wade, who plays Ariel, is evident in the pair’s rendition of “Almost Paradise” although my theatre companion thought it was a bit corny…that was the traditional love ballad of the ‘80s! Wade is able to portray the multiple sides of Ariel with ease and belts out one of my favourite tunes “Holding Out for a Hero” with passion.

I found that as good as Sheen and Wade are in their leading roles – and they are both excellent – my favourite scenes are the ones with Nick Settimi as Ren’s dancing challenged friend, Willard and Jade Repeta as Ariel’s friend, Rusty. The number of one-liners that Settimi delivers has the audience cheering for him and Repeta’s rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” had me dancing (and very quietly singing) along in my seat.

Director and choreographer Timothy French has put together a solid cast filled with amazing talent and backed by a great orchestra led by the incredibly talented Craig Fair. The ensemble was great as well with some very talented dancers. It was easy to hate David Cotton’s character of Chuck Cranston, Ariel’s abusive boyfriend. I was hoping that Ren would knock him out at several points.

Victor A. Young delivers a very moving performance as the Reverend Shaw Moore. In his song near the end of the show, “Heaven Help Me,” Young wrings every ounce of emotion out of it he can. Susan Gilmore as the Reverend’s wife, Vi, Rebecca Poff as Ren’s single mother, Ethel, and Wade come together beautifully for “Learning to be Silent”.

Once the cast kicks off their Sunday shoes for the finale, the audience was all up, clapping and dancing along with the ensemble. I can almost guarantee that you will leave the theatre dancing and singing too!

Footloose: The Dance Musical runs until August 8.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

Workshops explore working with fabric, textiles

16 Jul

blyth1419paintbrushesBy Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH -A blank canvas of burlap lay on the table. Surrounding it were small pots of coloured paint, a handful of brushes, bits of sponge and even a couple of toothbrushes.

Various painting techniques yield varying results.

Various painting techniques yield varying results.

“Do you do any fabric painting?” asked Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston, a university fashion and textile arts instructor who is leading two weeks of classes created for Blyth Arts & Cultural Initiative 14/19 Inc., an ambitious arts and culture endeavour taking root in this small community.

“No. I do absolutely nothing,” I replied, with a sense of déjà vu, recalling that just last month I stood in front of a canvas in an art shop, preparing to paint my first masterpiece.

And so we started at the very beginning, my painting companions and I. We each chose two colours of paint and began to experiment on a scrap of burlap. We dipped and dabbed, wetted and flicked, sponged and sponged again. We tried watery paint, viscous paint, and even spray paint. We took aim at our canvases with toothbrushes then ran our thumbs across the paint-laden bristles, drops of paint raining down on the fabric. We sprayed paint from bottles, sometimes finding a dud bottle that squirted paint to the left or right of where we aimed. We tinted and shades.

A trio of stencilled patterns  adorn a book bag.

A trio of stencilled patterns adorn a book bag.

While we played, Jennifer gently guided us through various fabric painting styles, sharing stories from her days as costume designer for the Blyth Festival and her experiences teaching. Conversation about careers, grandchildren, clothing and other topics in which strangers find common ground filled the moments when we weren’t engrossed in our projects.

When our burlap canvases were crowded with our experiments, we started again.

Lorraine Brophy, of Goderich, pulls back the stencil to reveal her handiwork.

Lorraine Brophy, of Goderich, pulls back the stencil to reveal her handiwork.

We played with store-bought stencils and patterned doilies, layering colours and experimenting with brushes, then carefully lifting the stencils, never knowing what the final results would be. We tried stamps in the shape of flowers and stars. We oohed and aahed at each other’s work, comparing styles and admiring techniques.

And for the finale, we each completed a project – a burlap book bag with a trio of red stencilled damask-like pattern for me and an apron adorned with stamps of pretty Dutch-blue flowers for my class companion.

I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished and plan to go back next week for a rug hooking class.

This diva tries her hand at stencilling.

This diva tries her hand at stencilling.

Other classes include fabric dyeing, pattern drafting, rug hooking, lace knitting, millinery and jewellery. There is also a sustainable fashion workshop that will involve a clothing swap and alteration and styling tips with sewing machines on hand for re-designing.

Prices range from $10 to $25 for a class or workshop, or $45 for a day pass or $100 for a weekly pass to unlimited classes. (Materials are extra).

There are also Open Artist Studios with experts on hand to answer questions and offer advice and demos. Open Artist Studios are free to anyone who wants to drop by and work on their own projects, continue working on projects started in class or just visit.

For a complete listing of classes, workshops and open studios and signup details, visit online.

 

 

History comes alive Behind the Bars

16 Jul

barshallBy Diva Karen Stewart 

I detested static history lessons with a passion. Thankfully we have many ways to learn about the people and places that shaped our world, including interactive experiences like the Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol’s Behind the Bars program. This event had been reviewed for the Ontario Travel Divas before (Aug.15/2014 Review), so on this evening I took a different approach and chatted with one dedicated volunteer about her participation.

Colleen Maguire, in character as Mrs. Dixon.

Colleen Maguire, in character as Mrs. Dickson.

About five years ago, Colleen Maguire, semi-retired from her job as a medical radiation technologist at the local hospital, was looking to volunteer in a meaningful way at the Huron County Museum. Having participated in historical reenactments many years earlier, she enjoyed interpreting history through the costumes.   She particularly finds “ah ha!” moments expressed by members of the audience as most rewarding … like when children realize that everyone bathed just once a week, and that they all shared the same bathwater, or like when women recognize postpartum depression in a young “lunatic”.

The Behind the Bars program has taken place each Tuesday and Thursday, all summer long, for approximately 12 years, and Colleen has been involved for five. This year, as for the past two, she plays the role of Mrs. Dickson. It’s 1890 and she’s been the gaol matron for the full 14 years her husband has been the Gaoler. Mr. & Mrs. Dickson were also referred to as the Governor and Governess. 24/7, they lived on the property in the tiny room Colleen performs in on the second floor of the goal and in a detached cottage on the property.

Mr. Dickson was the Turnkey when the prior Governor died of a typhoid at 42. Mrs. Dickson, who had married Mr. Dickson, widower and father of four small boys, automatically became the Governess as it was inappropriate for a male at that time to spend so much time with anyone other than his wife. Her role included caring for the female inmates, sharing skills like cooking and sewing, tending to the ill and infirm, and preparing food for the inmates and for her family. And, together she had another five children with Mr. Dickson – three daughters and two sons.

Tragedy struck the family twice – once when 21-year-old (step)son James, editor of the Huron Signal Star, died in a sailing mishap off Port Albert. The boat came ashore quickly, but it took approximately six weeks for the bodies to drift in. He was said to have had the biggest funeral ever in Goderich at that time (1878). Then, in 1884, another 22-year-old-son died of typhoid. He was a pharmacy student in Toronto.

The Dicksons’ other children were well educated and successful in their careers – youngest son Alex became a lawyer/judge; one son became a doctor; another son was a hugely successful merchant in St. Marys and one daughter married William Proudfoot – a barrister who also became a member of the senate.

Mrs. Dickson was a woman of deep empathy and caring. She was a Social Worker of her time. She championed for a proper House of Refuge to be built, and although she knew the facility was being erected, sadly she died of a stroke at the age of 72, just weeks before it opened. Her husband continued as the Goaler, with his eldest daughter as Goal Matron, for approximately two years more, until he was no longer able.

Find out more about the Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol events here.


When you arrive for this event a gaol staff member will greet you. She invites guests to take photos, to ask the inmates questions and to enjoy the self-guided tour at their own speed.   She cautions, “just remember our inmates are stuck in time and may not have all the answers to the questions.” You’ll see by the photos below, the inmates were terrific in their roles and gave us a brief glimpse of times past through their stories.   Behind the Bars is appropriate and affordable for children and adults of all ages.

 


 

Behind the Bars

Where: Huron County Historic Gaol, 181 Victoria Street North, Goderich, ON N7A 2S9

When: Tuesday & Thursdays till Aug. 27, 7-9 p.m.

Cost: Adults, $10; Children, $5; Families, $25

Contact: 519-524-2686

 

Musical masterpiece opens Bach Music Festival

15 Jul

bachaudience

By Diva Karen Stewart

EXETER – As I left my car on a side street in Exeter on Monday night, the bells in the tower at Trivitt Memorial Anglican Church were ringing a melancholy welcome.

A few minutes later, South Huron’s third Bach Music Festival of Canada was opened by the chair of the board, Friedhelm Hoffman, with greetings from South Huron’s mayor, Maureen Cole. What followed was nothing short of splendid – an evening of exceptional music presented by the wildly talented Spanish pianist Leopoldo Erice.

The concert began with Erice presenting a short lecture on his career, his appreciation for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his introduction to the musical part of the evening – the 32-part Goldberg Variations. I so appreciated this opportunity to learn more about Bach and his music from such a passionate and charming performer.

Leopoldo Erice

Leopoldo Erice

Erice began by saying “a concert without an audience is not a concert at all” and he thanked the nearly sold-out crowd for attending the performance this night. “The audience is the receiver of the composer’s message,” and is, therefore, a key part of the event.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician (1685 – 1750). He created the Goldberg Variations, an iconic 32-piece aria once described by NPR Music blogger Tom Huizenga as both “simply beautiful keyboard work, and a Rubik’s Cube of invention and architecture.”

A stately grand piano from D & S Pianos filled the stage so it was interesting to be reminded that in the time of Bach the piano had not yet been invented. The aria had been created for playing on a harpsichord with two manuals (or keyboards).

Erice described the translation to the piano to be quite demanding as the crossing of the hands would become somewhat chaotic, “like Tom and Jerry running back and forth across the keys” (he was quite funny in his delivery.) At one point in the aria, on the piano, both hands play the same note so the musician gets to decide which works for him/her.

Eric told the audience that the Goldberg Variations are said to have exquisite craftsmanship inspired by Bach’s devote Lutheran faith. It was created as part of Bach’s lifelong search for perfection. Further, Erice described the Goldberg Variations having much significance in its numbers. The 32-part Aria was created in 10 groups of three (with two parts repeated to reach the 32). There were nine canons or musical techniques employing a specific melody. And there were three parts presented in minors – #15 – (15/3 = 5) with the five having fear and sadness relating significance to the Virgin Mary; #21 (21/3 = 7) … relating to the seventh day when God rested and # 25 (5/5 = 5), a large homage, again to the Virgin Mary. The last variation #30 was celebratory.

Finally, Erice felt honoured to have the opportunity to explore Bach’s music in depth and feels that the piece often sends the audience into a meditative and contemplative state of mind. Most of all he felt the Goldberg Variations “have some of the most beautiful magical moments in music.”

After a brief break, the concert began … approximately 90 minutes of un-interrupted, technically complex but none-the-less splendid piano music, presented by a consummate professional. Some pieces were easy-listening, some were delivered with more aggression and some with rapid staccato.   The pieces created in minor keys definitely changed the mood as Bach has intended per this lecturer’s research.
The triple standing ovation indicated everyone in the church that evening agreed this was a wonderful way to kick off the 2015 Festival that continues all week with evening concerts and Bach’s free Brown-Bag Lunch Series.   The grand finale is St. Matthew Passion on Saturday night.

Full details are available on the website.

This piano originally belonged to Diva Karen Stewart's grandmother’s.  Karen donated it to Bach Music Festival in 2011 and an art class at South Huron District High School painted it.

This piano originally belonged to Diva Karen Stewart’s grandmother’s. Karen donated it to Bach Music Festival in 2011 and an art class at South Huron District High School painted it.

 

 

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