Concert Review: Xian Zhang, Natasha Paremski, Toronto Symphony, May 13, Roy Thompson Hall

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Everything | 1 Comment


Toronto – Last Wednesday and Thursday the Toronto Symphony Orchestra hosted Xian Zhang, the Associate Conductor for the New York Philharmonic. She conducted two main efforts. The first was Rachmaninov’s piano concerto No. 2 featuring the young pianist Natasha Paremski.  The second effort was a collection of pieces composed by Leonard Bernstein: Three Dance Episodes from On The Town, followed by Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Altogether it was a great show. Miss Zhang is a very energetic and vibrant conductor.

If not for tsoundcheck, I’m afraid the symphony would be sorely lacking in 20-something young things sporting their jeans, blazers, and cool hipster glasses.

So I’m a sucker for cheap live music. And it just doesn’t get much cheaper than the Toronto Symphony’s Tsoundcheck program. Tsoundcheck is an organization dedicated to promoting classical music to the “youth” of the city. In symphonic terms, a “youth” is anyone under the age of 30. Thanks to this program, said youth can make a night of seeing some fantastic live classical music for a very reasonable entrance fee of $12. If not for tsoundcheck, I’m afraid the symphony would be sorely lacking in 20-something young things sporting their jeans, blazers, and cool hipster glasses.

Through tsoundcheck, you can buy 2 (sometimes 4) tickets for a show. It’s important to know that your date doesn’t have to be under 30, but you do. And yes, they do card you. If you’re in your early 30’s, the TSO understands that you have more money than the 20-something riff raff, but aren’t yet willing to pay full-price. This is where tsoundcheckplus [sic] comes in. It’s not quite as flexible, but you can buy tickets in packs. Best of all, unlike other similar programs, just because you’re paying a pittance for a ticket doesn’t mean you’re relegated to sit in the balcony with the unwashed masses.  I’ve been 5th row centre with $12 tickets before. You simply couldn’t wipe the grin off my face knowning what my white-haired brethren to the left and right of me were paying for their seats.

Rachmaninov’s piano concerto #2 was excellent. Young (and may add, nubile?) pianist Natasha Paremski really lost herself in her music; which is always great to see. Rachmaninov’s pieces are known for their dynamics and expressiveness. Sadly I couldn’t feel the full force of Natasha’s playing because I was sitting behind the symphony in the choir section for this show.  This was interesting as it was the first time I was at a classical show and looking directly at the conductor instead of inspecting their back. But the piano was on the other side of the symphony and less prominent from this vantage.

The conductor, Xian Zhang is one classy lady. One of the criticisms of the classical music scene is that it can be, well, rigid, stuffy, and unable to contemporarize. Classical music doesn’t have to be this inaccessible; and  programs like tsoundcheck have gone a long way to introduce the youth to classical music, and teach the older generation that music doesn’t have to be enjoyed the way their parents enjoyed it. True, the nature of hearing a live un-amplified symphony requires silence (concert douchebags need not apply!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t let some exuberation spill out in between pieces. At the end of every piece, Xian would playfully point out the musicians who did a great job and make them stand up during applause. You stand up, yes you, the timpani player (then she’d pretend to play the timpani), yes you, stand up, you did a good job. It’s gestures like these that remind me that classical music doesn’t have to be treated with that stoic “stiff upper lip” attitude that tends to prevail.

[Leonard Bernstein’s] music evokes a simpler time in the 50’s when we built things really really quickly. During most of the West Side Story stuff, I had the distinct urge to build a house.

Rachmanivov was followed by some modern classical music scored for the musical theatre. I have to admit that I often shy away from the term “modern classical” music. Not because it’s an oxymoron, but rather because “modern classical” is a genre I just can’t seem to get. The traditional stuff I love: Baroque (Bach), Classical (Mozart), Romantic (Rachmaninov), but the modern stuff is inaccessible to me in a way that I imagine bepop is to people who hate jazz anyway. Thankfully, Leonard Bernstein’s stuff is not that type of modern classical, but more theatrical pop-classical. It’s playful, inventive, and easy to listen to. Much of it reminds me of the Bugs Bunny comics when they were building things like highways and sky-scrapers in fast motion. This music evokes a simpler time in the 50’s when we built things really really quickly. During most of the West Side Story stuff, I had the distinct urge to build a house.

The Toronto Symphony’s season ends this June. Until then, you can catch music from Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms, not to mention The Godfather, Rocky, and Superman (TSO Goes to the Movies!).

Concert Review: The Crystal Method, May 8, The Guvernment

Posted on by guestwriter in Concerts, Everything | 1 Comment


Toronto – Perhaps it’s my ever-encroaching age, but when I go to a “live show”, I would prefer my performers to be, well, live. Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland are no spring chickens either, having been on the club circuit since the early 90’s as The Crystal Method, but I have to admit that I was somewhat underwhelmed with watching two guys fiddle about with their soundboard things whilst pre-recorded music played. At least bounce a little, guys, if you’re expecting your crowd to. It seemed as though they were relying far too much on the light show to stir the crowd up, and while it was perfectly synced to the music that was playing, it was also somewhat overwhelming – and this is speaking as someone who had the misfortune to be wrecked out of her mind and right up against the stage at the U2 Zooropa concert with the huge television screens that were constantly alternating between Lou Reed staring sternly at me and penguins with burning crosses that turned into swastikas.

This was, however,  one of the rare concerts that actually had most of the crowd moving in some fashion. I don’t want to harp on incessantly about Toronto crowds not moving, but for the love of God, what are you people doing here otherwise?  That being said, the energy level overall was good, but I do think that it’s easy to feel energetic for such a short period of time with such heavy bass going. The Crystal Method set lasted all of 45 minutes, and the entire show was pretty much over by 10pm, which was a shock to the system after having been conditioned by other performers to expect delays and very late nights (even on work nights, you thoughtless bastards).

Being that I haven’t really followed The Crystal Method since I was a wee ravette/goth, a lot of the other songs were lost on me, but the clavicle shaking bass was a comfortingly familiar sensation.  They finished off their set with their best known track, “Keep Hope Alive”, which made me queerly nostalgic for glowsticks and cheap E.

In all honesty, I could heard this set at a nice, cozy, illegal rave, wondering idly if the light show was my grandmother trying to contact me from the beyond, paying 6 dollars for a bottle of water, and have been just as happy.  This is definitely a concert for the die hard fans only.

Concert Review: Patrick Watson, May 2, Trinity St. Paul’s United Church

Posted on by Brian in Concerts | 4 Comments


The opener played tunes on what looked like a big wooden Gameboy. The lighting cast huge, eerie shadows on the wall behind the band, shadows broken only by the lights strung on three dead-looking potted trees. The first song featured a hand-cranked wind machine and a wailing lament in his trademark dreamy high voice. He played what looked like a raggedy miniature piano for one song that he admitted the band fished out of the garbage. He topped it off by walking into the crowd with a strange speaker contraption strapped to his back made of megaphones. And it all took place in a church.

Yes, it’s just another day in the world of Patrick Watson. We’re all just lucky he gives us a glimpse of that world every now and then.

Watson’s press bio calls him a “musical mad scientist,” as apt a description as there is of what he does. On stage last Saturday he looked the part as he scurried about the stage from the front stage microphone to his piano to the wind machine and everywhere else, his mad musical creations whirling about the shadowy church. You’d almost expect him to shout “IT’S ALIVE” to the crowd, if he weren’t so busy singing. With his very talented bandmates Mishka Stein, Simon Angell and Robbie Kuster aiding in the creation, Watson put on a stunning show of songs from his terrific new album Wooden Arms.

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Hot Docs Review – Broke [Rosie Dransfeld, 2009]

Posted on by Wade in Everything, Hot Docs, Movies | Leave a comment

A few things about being broke that I have noticed over the past few months

1. You will eat a three-year-old box of Kraft Dinner and you will enjoy it.
2. You will always find money for alcohol.
3. Being home beats the shit out of getting up and going to work.

This movie, BROKE, was really good. It is a Canadian doc about an Edmonton pawnshop owner and the daily running of his business. They filmed it basically by putting a camera and sound guy in the pawnshop and filming what went down.

I found myself laughing out loud several times. The arrogant, rude, yet innocent things that come out of the pawnshop owners’ mouth are priceless. It was enjoyable for several reasons. First, you are interested in the clientele that come into pawnshop. Their stories, their haggling, their various states of intoxication. Priceless. Second, I was interested in the relationship between the Jewish pawnshop owner and his helper friend. Third, there was a narrative arc that brought us full circle. Yes, this movie was pretty spectacular. Great editing and a killer concept will leave you thinking ‘why didn’t I think of this?’

I am giving it a 4.5 out of 5. Why not a 5? Well, because the music was horrible. Imagine a bible thumping after school special from the 1980’s, then imagine music worse than that. Although the music was used sparingly, when it did come on, all I could think was “Who the crap chose this?”

You have one more chance to see Broke. It scored a repeat screening this Sunday night. I suggest you get your ass out and see it.

9:45 Sunday, May 10th – Innis Town Hall *plays with The Man Behind The Log