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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Performances tinged with nostalgia

About ten years ago around this time of year, I was scrambling to get myself to get myself to Centre in the Square. Jean was away—canoeing, I assume—and I’d made a last-minute decision to get tickets to the introductory concert of the KW Symphony’s new conductor, Edwin Outwater.

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It was busier than I expected—symphony concerts just hadn’t been very well-attended that year—so I had to park further away than expected and made it to my seat just moments before the show started. Which was all very awkward, because my seat was front row centre.

So my first look at the young, handsome conductor from California was a close-up one. He was very personable in talking to the audience. I believe they played Beethoven’s Fifth, and he dared us to be rebels and applaud between movements if we felt like it.

We originally didn’t have tickets to the final performance of Edwin Outwater as KW Symphony principal conductor last weekend, but it seems apropos that we did attend in the end. The symphony was not in a good place, artistically or financially, when he took over. It’s been great to watch the crowds grow over the past 10 years in response to his efforts to present classical music in innovative ways that still respect the tradition.

But if we hadn’t jumped on tickets for the final show immediately, it’s because it was definitely Outwater-ian: Not just a set of classical music’s greatest hits, but something that would challenge the ears.

We made it to (most of) the concert prelude that explained what we were about to hear, which is always helpful. The first piece was a very short number composed for (and about) Edwin Outwater by Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire. That was followed by a longer choral piece by John Adams called Harmonium, featuring two full choirs singing music inspired by poetry.

It was very strange-sounding. At intermission, one Jean’s friends we ran into commented that some of the harmonies hurt her eyes. But from the prelude, we had some appreciation of how hard it was to sing. And I just found it riveting to listen to (though I wouldn’t buy the CD).

We were kind of worried about retaining focus through a 53-minute Mahler Symphony in the second half, but we needn’t have. Mahler writes beautiful and lively music. We agreed with the prelude commentary that the third movement was the most interesting, a mournful one built around the melody of … “Frère Jacques”, and interrupted by other bursts of whimsical sound that undercut the tragedy with comedy. Then the fourth movement is full of grandiosity.

There was rather a resounding ovation at the end.


As a teenager, I was really taken with the story of Terry Fox, the young man who tried to run across the country on one leg to raise money for cancer research, only to be stopped when the cancer returned. I followed the story on the news. I kept a scrapbook . I read books about him. I saw The Terry Fox Movie.

So when I heard they wrote a musical based on his life, I wanted to go. I missed the initial run in Waterloo, but we managed to get to the shorter one in Cambridge.

It was quite well done. Admittedly, the songs aren’t the sort you’re going to be humming for days—this is no Hamilton or West Side Story. But the story is just so compelling, and they found an effective way to fit it into a two-hour stage narrative. I don’t feel that any other medium, really, as well gave the sense of just what it meant to do so much running daily under the physical challenges he faced.


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The City That Never Sleeps and Québec’s Metropolis

New York is one of the world’s great cities. Montreal is often considered Canada’s best. On our recent trip, we visited both. This was our itinerary:

  • Saturday: Fly Hamilton to Montreal late afternoon; stay in airport hotel.
  • Sunday: Fly Montreal to New York. Visit Museum of Modern Art.
  • Monday: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Cruise. 9/11 Memorial Museum. B&H.
  • Tuesday: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. School of Rock on Broadway.
  • Wednesday: Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Rockefeller Center. Radio City Music Hall tour. Grand Central Station.
  • Thursday: New York Library. Fly to Montreal late afternoon.
  • Friday: Musée des beaux arts. Old Montreal and Old Port area.
  • Saturday: Mile End Local Montreal food walking tour. Mount Royal.
  • Sunday: McCord Museum. Fly back to Hamilton late afternoon.
Radio City Music Hall

Just now noticing the Canadian flag flying between the Japanese and US ones in uptown New York. No idea why.

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The view from our Montreal hotel (not the airport one)

Museums

Our last trip to New York was in 2008, and we’d bypassed a lot of the major museums to avoid line-ups, then ended up regretting that. So this time we plunged in.Lord, New York has amazing museums.

MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) was up first, where we followed the good advice to start on the fifth floor, where all the major works are—famous Picasso’s, Van Gogh’s, Dali’s, Goya, Chagall, Monet. They had an online app to use an audio-guide. The other floors couldn’t measure up, but I did enjoy the pop art section.

The Ellis Island Museum had an interesting focus on the US immigrant experience, as it is housed in the building where they were processed back in the day, when immigration rates were staggering.

A statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island

We had pre-bought timed tickets to the very popular 9/11 Memorial Museum, but still faced a significant lineup to get in. It’s located where one of the World Trade Center buildings once stood. And the layout, all below ground, is somewhat confusing—still not sure if we saw everything.

It’s definitely an emotional experience, visiting there, being vividly reminded of a “historical” event I remember so well.

911 Memorial museum .... sobering!

What remains of the World Trade Center

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is huge and just fabulous. Of course, we didn’t try to see it all. We did get a Highlights Tour to get some sense of the Egyptian, European, American collections, with a close focus on some superb works in each. We went back to visit the American collection and the sculpture garden in more depth.

Pondering the lost of a continent!

We both happen to be reading An Inconvenient Indian, which discusses art depicting Natives, such as this

The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is a maritime and military history museum. There we got to tour a nuclear submarine; get on board a large military ship (the Intrepid) and see many war planes; and have a look at the Space Shuttle Enterprise—bigger than we expected! You do get a lot of US military history and a sense of what it would be like to work on these various vessels. Very interesting.

USS Growler Submarine

Inside the USS Growler nuclear submarine

Every Young Boys Dream Plane!

Yes, it’s a war plane, but this is an admittedly gorgeous design

New York has some of the great museums of the world. Whereas Montreal can’t even boast the best in Canada. But, the Musée des beaux arts (Fine art museum) was featuring an exhibit about New York artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and that was well worth seeing. They had an extensive collection on display, and if you didn’t know at the start, you’d realize by the end what an amazing photographer he was.

The McCord Museum attracted me for its exhibit of Montreal rock photography, but it was really small. The best part was their permanent collection on the history of Montreal, told by street and neighbourhood.

Historic buildings

Jean told me I had to see the New York City Library this time, and he’s right; it’s pretty stunning. (And free to tour.)

The Amazing New York City Library!

Be quiet and admire the art

He wasn’t so sure about my idea of touring Radio City Music Hall, but that was great also—and not only because we lucked into free tickets from two ladies who’d decided they just didn’t have time to take the tour they’d already paid for. But it’s gorgeous in there, and amazing to think it was originally built as a movie theatre. Now, of course, it’s used for shows. most famously those featuring the Rockettes. The tour takes you backstage, below stage, and to special guest rooms. You also get a meet a Rockette.

Our Montreal food tour also happened to include a stop at a former movie theatre that is now being used for shows. This one, the Rialto Theatre, has had a much rougher ride than Radio City Music Hall. It has suffered some unfortunate architectural and design changes, and actually lay vacant for a number of year after being declared a heritage site. But the new owner is determined to restore it to its former glory.

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The Rialto Theatre’s future is now looking brighter

Nature in the city

Part of what makes both New York and Montreal great are the vast parklands available right in the core. After being art-exhausted by The Met, it was great to amble back to our hotel through Central Park on a lovely sunny day. (We were lucky weather-wise this trip; mostly all lovely sunny days.)

In Montreal, when we had some time to kill between walking tour and dinner reservation, we took to walking to, up, around, and down Mount Royal.(That was a high calorie burn day, I think.)

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See what I mean about the sunny days?

Both, of course, are also islands, and we enjoyed walking the Vieux Port in Montreal also—an area we haven’t visited as often. New York’s harbour, of course, offers some special views.

Lady Liberty Entertainment

We unsurprisingly failed to win tickets in the Hamilton lottery. Instead, we went to see runner-up for best musical, School of Rock. I chose that over The Color Purple for the fun, which it certainly had in abundance. But I did find a few moments surprisingly touching, particularly the “If Only You Would Listen” song by the kids.

And man, were those kids amazing musicians!

We did wish we had tried for Daily Show tickets—didn’t think of it in time. We did end up walking past their studio, though, on the way to the Intrepid.

Shopping

We did not do much shopping, but Jean was determined to get to B&H store, which has a lot of photography items along with some tech stuff. The challenge was that they were closed for several days for Jewish holidays that week. But we fit it in a visit (barely) between our 9/11 visit and downtown dinner reservation.

And you know who’s the only one who bought anything at Jean’s mecca? Me. The Huawei phone I’d been eyeing looked lovely in person, and was discounted by $50 US. Combined with my Nexus 4 showing signs of age (irritating on this trip, as we were somewhat Google-reliant), I went for it. Then found out it came with not only a case and SD card but premium ($80 US) earphones and case, and various photography attachments.

But tip: Don’t try setting up your new phone on hotel wifi. Recipe for frustration.

In Montreal, I got my hands on case for my new eReader, and also bought a tiny wallet to go with the tiny purse I’d purchased for the trip.

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Photo taken on new phone

Eating out

Both cities are great foodie destinations, but we didn’t book at any of the very top restaurants: no Toqué, no Per Se. And where we used the Michelin Guide on our last trip to New York, this time we relied on a mix of Frommer’s, Trip Advisor, and Google to find places to eat. Some highlights:

  • Our first lunch in New York was at Joe’s Shanghai, which doesn’t sound too promising, but it was very good Chinese, especially the soup dumplings, which had won some of kind of award.
  • Our lunch in the Financial District, at Southwest, an upscale Mexican place, was also quite good.
  • Forlini’s, an old-school Italian.restaurant, were quite amused I’d made reservations on a Monday, and even more so when I called to say we’d be late. “Hey, Cathy’s here!” he announced when arrived. On ordering the ravioli, I was told that was no good and they’d bring me the manicotti instead. The manicotti was indeed delicious!
  • Blue Fin, our pre-theatre restaurant, had some excellent sushi and a great cheese plate for dessert. Unfortunately the mains were a let-down; fish somewhat overcooked, mediocre pasta.
  • Despite being a chain (though one not available in Canada), Le Pain Quotidien, with a focus on nutrition and environmentalism, became our go-to for breakfast.
  • Best meal overall might have been at the bustling Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. We each had an amazing Manhattan clam chowder (best ever, perhaps), then shared a seafood plate of 10 oysters, mussels, and shrimp.
Great Restaurant at Grand Central Station!

New York has some very fresh seafood on offer

In Montreal, we were guided more by Where to Eat in Canada. We went to a quite good Indian restaurant in Old Montreal called Mirchi on our first night. The table d’hôte was a good deal there.

Our more splurge dinner was at Bouillon Bilk. A bit noisy, but very creative and nicely prepared food, and excellent service. Good ability to match wines, also.

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Liked that the mains were as creative as the appetizers: Scallops with buttery cauliflower; guinea fowl in foie gras jus with figs, bacon, and shitake

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Ricotta meringue in the forefront; chocolate mousse and cake with fig in the back

Our food tour of the Mile End neighbourhood in the Plateau area was very good, giving history of the place and its inhabitants along with the food samples. The group participating was a good mix of Canadians and Americans (including another couple from Kitchener). Over three hours, we got:

  • Falafel at an environmentally friendly vegan restaurant
  • Gourmet chocolate
  • Montreal bagel from St. Viateur (but of course!)
  • Gnocchi with tomato sauce (this is not a good tour for the gluten intolerant)
  • Charcuterie (cheese and meat) from an organic boucherie (the stuff did taste notably better than the usual)
  • Two chocolate pastries from a boulangerie

So you see why we walked up Mount Royal after.

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Unlike hot dogs, it’s just fine seeing how bagels are made

And we still went out for dinner in that neighbourhood late, at Le Comptoir, which features small plates. All very good! We had a charcuterie plate, beet salad, smoked salmon with aioli, and agnoletti with cured beef and tomato.

Logistics

Well, our flights (all on Air Canada) were short: Takeoff, get your drink and pretzels, then get ready to land. Flying out of Hamilton made for an easier drive, parking, and checkin than Pearson would have—worth the flaky wifi and limited restaurant options. But really, things were fine at Trudeau and LaGuardia airports as well. We were amazed how quickly we got through security, customs, and baggage pickup.

Neither city has particular good non-taxi airport transportation, though. We tried taking the Montreal airport bus back, but they wouldn’t accept a $20 bill—we would have had to come up with $20 in change. Really? So back to taxi we went. And the initial New York taxi ride was complicated by roads being blocked for a Columbus day parade.

Once in either city, though, we were well-served by public transit. New York’s was definitely confusing—despite Google help, it took a while to realize that more than one line could use the same track, such that getting on the first train that pulled up wasn’t always the best bet. But we got better at it. Both cities give you cards with fare loaded, that you then tap (Montreal) or slide (New York); weird that Toronto doesn’t have that yet.

We were happy with our centrally located hotels in both cities—and frankly surprised how large the New York one was. The only problem at Park Central were the elevators, which simply weren’t sufficient in number, so more than often than not incredibly crowded and slow (stopping on every floor for people who had no room to get on).

City culture

If I had to sum up New York, I think it would be “efficient”. Yes, the lineups were long, but man, they were processed fast. Even with all the extra security checks. No time for niceties; just get everyone through.

At restaurants, there’s no (or very little) wondering what the delay is, but also not much lingering over your meal. Get them in, get them out.

The streets are crowded. You have to keep moving. One night in Times Square, always the busiest part of town anyway, part of the street was blocked off for an Alicia Keyes concert. We were simply caught up in a crush of people trying to get by that part of the street. We all had to walk at the same pace. When another group filed past us in the opposite direction, Jean and I were separated and I moved ahead faster—til I finally found a small open area I could wait for him to catch up.

She is Forever 21!

A relatively uncrowded Times Square; not Alicia Keyes night

 Montreal seemed super-mellow by comparison. Spacious. Lower buildings (law that none can be taller than Mount Royal). Linger over your meal if you’d like.

And it’s good they weren’t hell-bent on efficiency, because there was construction everywhere! Main streets, middle of all Old Montreal, all over. (In preparation for a big city anniversary next year, apparently.)

And, Montreal is famously bilingual. Everyone must greet you in French by law, so we’d respond in kind, but then they might switch to English after overhearing our English conversation, but then back if we’re using a French menu…

Though it must be said we heard a lot of French in New York as well. And that Met tour we did? Tout en français, as we didn’t want to wait an extra 45 minutes for the English one.


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To the late night, double feature, picture show

Rocky Horror Picture Show and I go way back.

I read about the movie years before I actually saw it. In my small, Northern Ontario town back in the day, there were no late-night (or any time) showings, but I read about them in the rock magazines. I recall being quite taken by the photos of Tim Curry in his fishnets. (I later learned that many women found themselves surprised by how much they were taken by Tim Curry in his fishnets.)

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Attending the film itself had to wait until I went to university in Montreal.  The McGill Film Society showed it and my friends and I were there, armed with newspapers and rice, but not in costume. The audience was a mix of newbies and, fortunately, some veterans who knew what you were supposed to shout at the screen when. I wasn’t entirely sure if the movie was good (so campy!), but I found the whole experience fun.

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Not the performance I was at–back then we didn’t take pictures of everything…

I never did become a regular screening attendee, but I’ve certainly seen the movie a number of times since then. Our local repertory cinema still plays it every year at Halloween. Jean and I attended with friends at least once. We hadn’t planned for enough ahead to get fully costumed as any character, but I did aim for a sort of Goth look. (And I believe that Jean eccentrically went as a clown.)

Since then, I’ve seen Rocky Horror on network TV, purchased and devoured the DVD–including all extras–saw a very fun live performance of it courtesy of the University of Waterloo drama department (being a performance for alumni and faculty, that was a different audience than previous), and even checked out the TMN parody (more nudity, but much less gay).

So when I read that JM Drama Productions had another local version on this past weekend, it was an easy to decision to go.

Most appropriately, we had to run through heavy rain to get to the theatre, where we were confronted by a number of scantily clad Goth types. Rocky Horror is always a sexy beast, but this production really laid that on thick, aided by the many very attractive young actors cast. For instance, Janet starting panting the minute she saw Dr. Frank (and who can blame her), and the choreography ensured that you didn’t miss any of the double entendres in the lyrics.

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The JM Drama cast; picture from The Waterloo Region Record

JM Drama is community theatre, so their budgets were small. But their costumes and makeup were top-notch, and they were very creative about the props and sets. The vocals weren’t always great; but then, that’s not as important for this particular musical. (It’s hardly Les Miz.) Fortunately, some of the best singing was done by lead Dr. Frank, who gave an excellent, charismatic performance.

Appropriately, there was some gender-bending within the casting. Both the narrator and Dr. Scott were played by women, and why not? It even allowed for some fun Frank / Dr. Scott flirtation. And Magenta was played by the absolutely fabulous David Cho.

Overall, the whole thing was a hoot (to quote Jean’s post-show assessment). Of course, with a live production, the audience couildn’t (and didn’t) yell back or throw any projectiles. But, they did invite everyone on stage at the end for a reprise of “The Time Warp.” Jean promptly sat back in his chair, but I went for it! And yay me, as I got to dance near the two hunkiest members of the cast, Rocky immediately to my right and Frank directly in front. (Which is why Jean didn’t manage to get a picture; the actor playing Frank was very tall.)

This isn’t the kind of play that’s meant to be contemplated on too deeply, but this production gave rise to some thoughts:

  • They weren’t nearly as clear on the difference between transsexuals, transvestites, and bisexuals back when this was written as we are now, eh?
  • All that stuff we used to yell at the screen? “Slut!” “The f word for gay!” That would just be uncomfortable now.
  • Is there supposed to be some sort of lesson here, and if so, what is it? Frank is very cool but really the villain, and he doesn’t win in the end. But what of Brad and Janet? Is it good for them that they let loose? They were so uptight at first, but seem so traumatized at the end.

Eh. Too serious. It’s just a jump to the left. And a step to the right.

See you back here after I watch Fox’s Rocky Horror reboot on TV, coming up in October.

Trailer for the new Rocky Horror Picture Show on Fox


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Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

Just because you find that life’s not fair it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change.

My interest in seeing the musical Matilda was mainly that the music was written by Tim Minchin, a comedian-musician whose songs often promote reason, science, and humanism. And also cheese.

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The show has also received a number of awards, though, and a great review in the Globe and Mail, so I was pleased when my sister and brother-in-law agreed to go see it with me while Jean was off canoeing.

The play opens with a chorus of children whose doting, self-esteem-boosting parents lead them to be believe they are special little princes and princesses. “It seems that there are millions of these one-in-a-millions these days / Specialness seems de rigueur.” By contrast, Matilda really is remarkable—a genius. Her thick parents don’t know what to make of her love of books and stories; they can barely stand to have her around.

In her big number, Matilda’s mother explains that “People don’t like smarty-pants / What go round claiming / That they know stuff / We don’t know / Content, has never been less important… You’ve just got to be loud.” (This is truly a musical of our time.)

School should be an oasis for such a child, but Matilda’s school is run by the authoritarian Miss Trunchbull. Played by a large man (Dan Chameroy), she cuts a ridiculous-looking figure, but is a terrifying adversary nonetheless—a bully who brooks no dissent, who cares little about fainess (once she decides you’re guilty, you’re guilty), and who favours cruel punishments.

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Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey. Photo by Joan Marcus, from http://www.mirvish.com

Besides the town librarian (delightfully played by Keisha T. Fraser), the only one on Matilda’s side is her teacher, Miss Honey, who calls herself pathetic for not being more effective at standing up to Miss Trunchbull and Matilda’s parents. Matilda, endowed with a sense of justice as deep as her intelligence, realizes that this is a battle she must fight for herself. (With a little help from her schoolmates.)

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me
Nobody but me is gonna change my story
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

Three young girls alternate the role of Matilda in the Toronto production. We got Hannah Levinson, who was dang amazing, delivering each line with such clarity and perfect timing that you never doubted her sharp, mature mind. She also had a lovely singing voice.

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Hannah Levinson as Matilda. Photo by Joan Marcus, from http://www.mirvish.com

With intermission, the play runs just over 2.5 hours. It moves along well, with none of the numbers seeming to drag—proving that Tim Minchin can write songs advocating intelligence, self-determination, justice, and education, without expletives in them. Much like the rest of his oeuvre, Matilda is often thought-provoking and moving—but still kind of fun!

Trailer for Matilda the Musical in Toronto


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November was a heavy month

At least in terms of activities. (And the news. But I won’t be getting into that here.)

I’ve already blogged about dining at Gilt and taking in Nightshift; seeing Swing in concert; and listening to Who’s Next live in the tiny seats at Massey Hall. Now a summary of the rest.

Footloose the Musical: Not just a frolic

What I remember of Footloose the movie is that a preacher in a small town has banned dancing. Kevin Bacon moves to that town, takes up with the minister’s daughter, and dances his way into convincing the town to lift the ban.

Footloose the Musical, which we saw at the St. Jacob’s Playhouse, was very well-done, but the sadness running through the whole piece was a surprise to me. If also in the movie, I had forgotten about the abandoning father, the dead son and brother, the silenced women. Those people really needed to dance!

Jean was mostly sad that a piece that we first saw as contemporary is now an item of nostalgia.

A 100-mile feast with 7000 km theme

It’s somewhat confusing that 100-mile dinner of local food has a theme of A Tour of Italy, a country 7169 km away (says Google). But that’s what the Waterloo Inn had an offer, as sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and in benefit of local physician recruitment.

It was the place to be if you wanted to network. We were there for the food, but gathered up various business cards nonetheless. We were encouraged to Tweet during dinner, and so I did, and as a real rarity, also acted as food “photographer.” (I did all five courses, but will stick to three here.)

The Importance of Being Earnest: Reliably entertaining

I’ve seen the play before, I’ve seen the movie, yet I didn’t hesitate when invited to the University of Waterloo production of this Oscar Wilde play—and not only because the tickets were free (for me, because I’m special :-). I never remember the story that well; just that I really enjoyed watching it play out! This production, in the newly renovated Humanities Theatre, was no exception.

More people need to go to Marisol

We dined there before the Swing concert, and it was lovely as always, but alarmingly quiet for a Friday night. More people need to find this place! We can’t keep losing the area’s best restaurants.

Christmas parties

Some companies still have these. If yours doesn’t, I recommend marrying into one that does. It’s worked out for me.

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Writers on music: Like dancing about architecture?

That’s the saying, eh, that writing is about music is like dancing about architecture. Well, the KW Symphony begs to differ, and recently had a concert featuring novelists Miriam Toews and Wayne Grady, whose recent books (All My Puny Sorrows and Emancipation Day) have musicians as main characters.

Each novelist got half of the program, in which they read from their work, had the symphony play a piece related to what they read, discussed music and writing with the conductor, then listened to a modern work by the symphony and read a response to that.

it was a fascinating evening. The symphony were “forced” into genres they don’t typically tackle—jazz and piano concertos (featuring a lovely soloist from Wilfrid Laurier), and I’m sure the novelists hadn’t been previously familiar with the work they commented on.

And I have two new novels on my reading list.