Art of Time opened with two concerts – October 16th repeated on 17th, masterfully played and for the most part refreshingly new, at least to my ears and eyes and all based on the concert theme,TZIGANE.
Tzigane began with performances I’ll not soon, if ever forget. Guest violinist Yehonatan Berick and Burashko opened with three Brahms Hungarian Dances, numbers 1, 4 and 5. From the first note Berick took off. I felt as though he would crash and burn somewhere. But no, he had it all together, including padded shoes which allowed him to stamp his feet in time when the heat got hotter. Anyone who didn’t appreciate that touch must have the emotional range of a dead jelly fish. Yehonatan Berick is a Naumburg Prize winner and teaches at the University of Ottawa and the Glenn Gould School whilst maintaining an international solo and chamber music career. His performance with Burashko of Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate put a genuine stamp of authenticity on the evening’s Gypsy theme.
I can think of violinists with the technique to play these works, but only one who played them with Berick’s innate understanding and willingness to take chances, that is, to bring the listener with him, exploring the music as if for the first time. Michael Rabin (1936-72) was the only violinist who compares and I urge readers to find the treacly titled CD Strings by Starlight, with Felix Slatkin conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. The CD is superp in every respect and contains Zigeunerweisen as well as other one-movement masterpieces for orchestra and solo violin with orchestra. [ EMI Studio,CDM 7 63660 2 ]* If you can find this collection, grab it. Then you will know. Yehonatan Berick now abides side by side with Rabin in my exclusive music vault.
Then came something different. An exciting display of Spanish dancing by Esmerelda Enrique and Ilse Gudiño of the Esmerelda Enrique Spanish Dance Company. They performed De Los Buenos Mountainiales, a set of Fandangos de Huelva accompanied by two guitarists and a percussionist. The arrogant poses and gestures and aggressive foot tapping of Spanish dancing remind me somewhat of the opening poses, upright presentation and sheer physicality of Highland dancing. Featured too was the poignant and powerful singing of Fernando Gallego who was born in Cadiz and is known as “El Reale”. With the greatest respect, whenever I hear this singing, I feel a need to be hammered.
After intermission Andrew and Berick Performed Tzigane, Rhapsodie de Concert by Maurice Ravel. I’ve rarely heard it played more expressively.
Next was Van Django, a quartet from Vancouver, B.C. whose speciality is music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt and its genre. Reinhart (1910-53) was a famous Jazz guitarist, composer and recording artist during the first half of the Twentieth Century. I have a modest, but comprehensive collection of Reinhardt’s recordings and can testify to the honesty of Van Django’s arrangements within which they’ve left room for their imaginative improvisations. Van Django is Cameron Wilson, Violin; Budge Schachte and Finn Manniche, Guitar; and Brent Gubbels, Double Bass.
Van Django are composers as well as arrangers and performers of sensitivity. Beside the music of Rheinhardt, they played other complimentary works from the era. This music genre deserves to be heard. As with so much of our music heritage, it has been shunted aside by the Pop Music behemoth, but deserves to be remembered. Van Django is one ensemble keeping this creative tradition alive with skill and respect.
The Brahms Quartet No. 1 for Piano and Strings, Op. 25, iv. Rondo alla Zingarese (Gypsy style) Presto, concluded the evening of Tzigane explorations. Berick and Burashko were supported by the fervent cello playing of Rachel Mercer** and violist Carolyn Blackwell. I am familiar with the Brahms Hungarian Dances in their orchestral versions, but had never heard the piano trios. I was therefore delightfully surprised by the Romani verve Brahms had captured in his chamber work. A spectacular concert.
Andrew Burashko, Art of Time’s indefatigable artistic director, continues to invigorate Toronto’s traditionally nonchalant audiences with thoughtful programmes imbued with style and excitement. Whatever the music, whoever the players, one always recieves highest quality.
*Originally released as an LP titled In Memorium this CD also contains a rendition of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings that rivals in every way Leopold Stokowski’s brilliant 1957 recording on the Capital LPs, The Orchestra
** Rachel Mercer is cellist with the Ensemble Made in Canada String Quartet. They have recorded on compact disc the music of Canadian composer John Burge. If you do not know about them, look them up on Google. Besides their fetching publicity photos, you may be surprised by their accomplishments to date.
What the F–K is This?
Freshly shucked Chesapeake Bay oysters.
Hooper’s Island is located halfway down the Chesapeake Bay just off the eastern shore of Maryland. In1668, a major portion of the island, actually three virtually contiguous islands, was surveyed and given to Henry Hooper, the progenitor of my wife’s family on her mother’s side. When her mother and father retired, they built a home on the shore about 10 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the property touching the Wye River, a Bay tributary. During frequent visits to their home, I enjoyed soft and hard shelled crabs, fish and oysters all fresh from the bay.
When my wife and I were dating, she worked one summer in one of her uncle’s restaurants, a Hooper’s of course.* We visited her grandfather’s oyster stall in Baltimore’s North Market and spent many moments together enjoying freshly shucked oysters. (See photo above.) Later, world travels introduced me to perhaps 20 or more varieties of oysters. I mention all of this to establish my bona fides as an oyster aficionado.
The Chesapeake Bay. A natural confluence of salt and fresh water producing the world’s most succulent oysters. This once lush and abundant land is movingly described in the opening chapters of James A. Michener’s novel Chesapeake. Any food loving conservationist would be well rewarded by reading Michener’s poignant description of the bay and its abundant aquatic wild life just before Henry Hooper arrived – hard and soft shelled crabs, ducks, geese, turtles, fish and of course, oysters. A gastronomic heritage now mostly relegated to memory.
Oysters from the east and west coasts of Canada have become popular appetizers in some Toronto restaurants. In a restaurant one Canadian grown oyster on the half shell can range in price from $3.00 to $5.00. With another couple, my wife and I have been gradually taste testing restaurant oysters hoping to find acceptable sizes and qualities. The results have been so so. At this time, Oyster Boy on west Queen in Toronto is the winner. He supplies a shucker and baskets of oysters for my daughter’s yearly office party.
And there’s the rub. If I order a steak rare and it arrives well done, I can send it back. It’s the kitchen’s fault and my only penalty is waiting for another steak. But what about oysters? If I complain about size, I may be on a slippery slope with an overbearing maître d’ who will lecture me about the vagaries of oysters, and their sizes which cannot be predicted. In other words, you sniveling uncouth amateur, it’s nature’s way, not the fault of this kitchen.
I have a reputation in my family for being too critical, argumentative, even hostile when I feel a restaurant has abused or ignored common standards of quality, preparation or service. I had a good teacher – a former colleague in Nexus. Bob Becker said to a waitress in the boon docks, “Take this pat of butter back, it’s rancid”. If he ordered the perfect wine for his meal and was later told it was out of stock, I’d cringe and want to be somewhere else, fast. On the other hand, Bob could be a blissanthropic gourmet. We were about to enter the Great Smokey Mountain National Park when he spied a log framed roadside restaurant. We looked at the menu and he said with real anticipation, “Ah, a ham steak. This is gonna be good”. And so good it was, I heard nary a word from him till he let out another “Ahh”.
So, this is what I’m gonna say to my maître d’. “How was it possible your shucker didn’t toss these aside? Who put them on a tray and who allowed them to leave the kitchen? Pope Francis wouldn’t call any of these drops of snot a foetus, much less an oyster. I want these deducted from my tab. I’m not paying 3 to 5 bucks a piece for these insults. So, you sniveling bloviated bombastic bag of bullshit, What the F–k Is This”?
‘Tis up to us folks. If we don’t complain, the capitalist Bottom Line will not feed us. Join hands for a moment. Take another look at the picture above, bow your heads and dream along with me.
* In June of 1960, Dunbar High School students staged a sit in at this restaurant, located at 33rd and Charles Streets in Baltimore, thus provoking one of the very first Civil Rights cases to go to court. The charges were dismissed.
Posted by robinengelman on November 18, 2015 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, History
Tags: Chesapeake Bay, Dunbar High School, Hooper's Island, James A. Michener's novel Chesapeake, Oyster Boy Restaurant Toronto, Oysters