Tag Archives: Toronto

Condos in Toronto

The country around our 1846 farm house was a great place for our kids to grow up. They experienced the seasons, learned to handle farm animals and machinery. They attended a three room schoolhouse and later, small schools where the kids knew everyone’s name.  Shown below is our home of 17 years in the midst of 100 acres, 28 miles north of Toronto.

By car In 1969, I was on stage and ready to rehearse at downtown Toronto’s Massey Hall in just forty minutes. Today one would be wise to schedule two hours for the same trip.

Photo, circa 1980.  Click on all photos to enlarge.

keynote drums887 Not long after my wife and I left the farm in 1987,Toronto’s Skyline appeared pretty much as shown in the photo below from our condo windows.

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The view from our condo is east and south. Early in the millinium, condo towers began filling most available empty spaces in Toronto’s downtown core. Shown above is the large auto repair building with its yellow sign. In the photo below, it has been demolished to make room for a Thompson Hotel and condo complex. Beneath the giant crane, a condo building begins to rise across the street. To the extreme right the Bathurst Street bridge, the elevated Gardner Expressway and beyond, patches of blue from the Toronto Harbour, and the tree lined Harbor Islands. On the horizon is the thin blue line of Lake Ontario. On the left is the Rogers Centre, home of baseball’s Blue Jays and the CN Tower begins to disappear from view.

Photo: April 2007


Below, the revolving restaurant is all that remainins of our CN Tower view and the baseball stadium is no  longer visible. The construction cranes in the distance suggest Lake Ontario and the islands will soon disappear.

November 29, 2014. Till Birnam Forest come to Dunsinane. Macbeth Act 5, scene 3.


During the last few years, a land rush mentality has swept through downtown Toronto. New condo towers have increased Toronto’s foot print both east and west and dramatically increased its population. Buildings are being thrown up as fast as possible. Some condo towers are completed before cement has settled. Foundations are already showing signs of structural damage due to vibrations from subways, trains and heavy traffic. New condo units with 700 square feet or less, are selling for $550,000.00 and more. Water leaks flow through shoddy brick work damaging new interiors and falling windows have been regular occurrences. There are very few public friendly green spaces. The few postage stamp sized areas with vegetation are only cosmetic touches that attract scraps of paper, styrofoam cups, cigarette butts and dogs. Tenants are mostly young. Anticipating a future with more upscale digs, they show little interest in creating and maintaining a community.  A zeal for fast profits has created true concrete jungles.

In1968, soon after my family arrived in Canada from the United States, I drove towards downtown Toronto via Bloor Street, a major cross town thoroughfare. I soon had to stop mid-block while two men, headed in opposite directions, casually leaned out their driver side windows for a confab. Evidently they were friends. After a brief visit, they waved goodbye and resumed driving. No one behind them had blown their horn or given any sign of aggravation. Those were the days of Toronto the Good. Traffic has now reached New York City densities and on mid-town streets, tempers have altered dramatically. Our streets are now jamed with pedestrian, bicycle, scooter, bus, streecar, delivery van, skate board, truck and automobile traffic. Drivers accelerate as they approach caution lights. Toronto the Good is becoming Toronto the Surly.

Unlike Chicago, no forward looking person with power stepped up to save Lake Ontario’s waterfront for its citizens. Lately there has been talk about civic action, but what’s left to save? A series of towers abutting the Canadian National Railroad lands have masked views of the lake. For most of Toronto’s inhabitants Lake Ontario might well be nonexistant. One can be excused for thinking of money changing hands between developers, mostly foreign, members of the Metropolitan Housing Commission and politicians. A recent Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary quotes realtors and urban planners as predicting many of these new buildings will soon be slums.

So, is everything bad? I think not, though one’s decision will ultimately depend upon one’s thoughts about money.  Toronto’s all about money whether or not condos are the latest craze. People who live in the midst of this recent growth as do I, can reasonably expect their property values to increase. One sign of an areas prosperity is the amount of pedestrian traffic and we have plenty of that. If you own a business, you can anticipate increased revenues. When we left the farm 28 years ago there were only two or three decent restaurants in all of Toronto. Today we have fine restaurants scattered about the city and a plethora within easy walking distance of our condo. Just north of us on Queen Street West, there are a couple dozen trendy shops that can fulfill the needs of most up-and-coming millenials. The area is awash with creative producers of consumer goods, enough to have warranted a large article in the New York Times. Most of the accoutrements are there. Clothes, food, furniture and luxury items.

I believe my wife and I struck gold of our own of sorts when we bought our condo. The complex in which we live has a copious outdoor green space tucked in behind its buildings and town houses. That space holds a large swimming pool, a children’s playground, barbecues, picnic tables and a couple dozen lounge chairs for sun bathing. All this is surrounded by trees, flower gardens and shrubs maintained by unit owners. Indoors we have another swimming pool with hot tub, 2 saunas with dressing rooms for men and women, 3 squash courts, one of which I’m told has a special professional floor, a suite of rooms with a hairdresser, a beautician and a licensed physiotherapist. We also have a comprehensive library with a large children’s sectionn, both with seating areas, all maintained by a retired librarian. There is also a large party room, a theater that shows recent and classic movies, a smaller theater for private family viewing, a room for meditation and yoga and a gymnasium with stair masters, stationary bicycles, treadmills, a rowing machine and weights of all sizes configured to meet one’s needs. Few, if any of these amenities exist in new condo buildings. Our units are hundreds of square feet larger than those presently being stacked up in Toronto’s ubiquitous towers and  we are only steps from public transit. Our parking is underground and our reserve fund is healthy. Given the thousands of new condominium units built or abuilding, I believe we’re the best kept housing secret in downtown Toronto.

Toronto is a capitalist’s centre of Canada and I am old enough now to mostly enjoy it, no matter how it evolves. However, its seemingly immovable traffic, its gargoyle ugly architecture and brainless urban planning continue to piss me off.

Photo: October 2005. Center, our condominium, townhouse complex on King West at Bathurst Street. Photo taken from the CN Tower shows the auto repair building, the future site for the Thompson Hotel. The trees in the foreground are in a small park and former graveyard where numerous head stones from the war of 1812 have been preserved.


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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques


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Barbara Hannigan, Art and Virtuosity

Barbara Hannigan studied singing at the Music Faculty of the University of Toronto with Mary Morrison. She then moved to London, England for studies at the Guild Hall School. Her next big decision was to live in Amsterdam and her career took off.  A spectacular New Year’s Eve concert ended with Barbara resplendent in flowing white, standing high above thousands of revellers in Amsterdam’s city square, singing a melismatic accompaniment to a popular rock and roll song. Written especially for her extremely high tessatura, it was a tour de force that can be seen on YouTube.

Barbara has appeared more often with the Berliner Philharmoniker then any other soprano. Specializing in new music, she has premiered operas and chamber music throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Barbara has also toured with chamber ensembles and has become involved as an artistic director of festivals.

Her recent portrayal of Alban Berg’s Lulu caused a sensation in Europe. In the first act, Barbara, as Lulu, lay spread eagle in bright blue panties while a man, his cheek resting on a bare inner thigh, gazes at her crotch and strokes her clitoris. Later in scene 3, Barbara in a tutu dances on pointe while singing. Ballerinas are traditionally employed in this scene, but Barbara wanted to dance as Lulu, as a dancer in the opera would have done. Another tour de force.

As a student, Barbara began singing sentimental songs from the early 20th c. on Nexus concerts. I also had the pleasure of conducting her when she performed Oliver Knussen’s Hums and Songs of Winnie the Pooh in Toronto.

Encouraged by Simon Rattle, she  began conducting as well as singing her concerts. Below I have attached a partial review of the recent Lucerne Festival by James R. Oestreich, from 17 August New York Times.

A late-night concert on Saturday proved a tour de force for the Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, who is taking up a second career as a conductor. Singing maestros are a rarity. The tenor Plácido Domingo conducts some, as did the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau late in his career, both typically sticking to either conducting or singing.

But Ms. Hannigan is intent on combining the two, as she did here with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which forms the basis of the festival orchestra, in the KKL. She conducted orchestral works by Rossini, Fauré and Ligeti fluidly and more than capably. She sang three Mozart arias beautifully, facing the audience and using slightly exaggerated expressive gestures to cue the players, but she also knew when to leave well enough alone or to the concertmaster.

She inevitably made her biggest splash with her calling card, “Mysteries of the Macabre,” three arias from Ligeti’s zany opera “Le Grand Macabre,” sung in kinky black leather or a semblance thereof. (New Yorkers may recall Ms. Hannigan’s brilliant performance in the opera with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic in 2010.) Here, in character (the head of the secret police), Ms. Hannigan’s conductorial gestures became more assertive and aggressive.

Barbara Hannigan in costume backstage with conductor Reinbert de   Leeuw after a performance of Ligett's "Mysteries of the Macabre" in Lincoln Center, New York.

Barbara Hannigan in costume backstage with conductor Reinbert de Leeuw after a performance of Ligett’s “Mysteries of the Macabre” in Lincoln Center, New York.

The conductor Simon Rattle, in town for work with the academy and Ms. Hannigan, made a brief cameo appearance, stalking down the aisle to take the stage and interrupt the performance with the immortal spoken line “What the hell is going on here?” It was all in good fun, as was Ms. Hannigan’s performance, though no one tried to answer that question.

How far will — or can — Ms. Hannigan take this new venture as she maintains a busy singing career? To opera? To Mahler symphonies?

That remains to be seen. But to the extent that sheer musicality and personality can do the trick, she seems to have it all, and you probably wouldn’t be wise to bet against her.

The Lucerne Festival runs through Sept. 14;


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Scene I, 15 December 2013.

The televised concert specials from New York City are predictable. They feature everyone I’ve heard before and didn’t want to hear again. Over and over, the same pastiche of music hall tripe, broadway warbles and symphonic war horses featuring the only pianist, cellist and singer in the world.

On the Toronto home front, creators of concerts besides being more modest, have considerably fewer formulaic thoughts and produce resoundingly successful entertainments of high artistic merit without Big Apple budgets, celebrity hype and hyperbole.

Case in point, the recent Array Music Benefit, 15 December My ticket to ride included dinner! All delicious and all prepared by Array Music supporters and staff. The best chicken wings I’ve tasted in this hockey, wing and beer society and that’s saying a lot. Array space was set up cabaret style with tall round tables and scattered seating. The entertainment was in three short, but riveting parts, each followed by ample time for drinks, eats and schmoozing.

Though Marie Joseé Chartier is known for her choreography, dancing and leading her own dance company,, she is also no mean chanteuse. Marie Joseé sang two a cappella songs. The first one, during which she flirted with me, was by Rogers and Hart, Everything I’ve Got, made famous by Blossom Dearie. The second was La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf hallmark. Moving with ease through and around her audience in a wispy white floor length dress, Ms Chartier made both songs memorable with enchanting, unaffected performances.

Patricia O’Callaghan,, sang Zu-Potsdam Unter Den Eichen by Kurt Weill and Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs by John Cage. Reading Wikipedia I learned O’Callaghan was an exchange student in Mexico when she decided that rather than becoming “either a rockstar or a nun” she would combine both these ambitions by becoming an opera singer. This non sequitur in and of itself endeared her to me. She studied opera singing at the University of Toronto and became infatuated with cabaret music. I think her voice is lovely and she is a fine musician. Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs was the best of many I’ve heard over the years- true to the score with no vibrato and rendered in time, the closed piano accompaniment played clearly and with delicate authority by percussionist David Schotzko. A beautiful taste of Cage and an example of impeccable ensemble performance. Schotzko also played drumkit on the Weill and Gregory Oh played piano normally.

In the midst of the evening Array Music Artistic Director, percussionist and composer Rick Sacks sang his Rap styled song I Does Art , written in response to a long forgotten uproar over some art censorship in Toronto during the early 1980s. Rick continues to surprise me. I love this song and its performance was reality itself, both poignant and humorous. I learned he had at least three more songs in his oeuvre and if they are anywhere near as good as I Does Art, he needs to record them.

Three delightful songs by Allen Cole were next: Falling in Love with You and the Clam Song, both from an Array Music commission titledThe Wrong Son; and The Girl in the Picture from The Girl in the Picture, another Array Music commission. Patricia O’Callaghan sang Falling in Love with You and The Girl in the Picture  accompanied by Greg Oh at the piano. The Clam Song was sung by Rick Sacks with accompanyment by David Schotzko on bongos and wood block.

The entire evening was a culinary, social and musical success.  Sacks has plans for the Array Music space infrastructure, including among other things, HD audio and visual recordings of concerts and an elevator. Array Music is just three blocks from my home so it is taxi and TTC free. A boon by any standard. It is becoming the venue of choice for some of Toronto’s most interesting and talented performers.

My wife and I joined two friends for an early dinner at Boland’s Open Kitchen on  New Year’s Eve. Our easy patter lighted upon art galleries in Toronto and I admitted to being an infrequent visitor, knowing little about today’s artists and their output. One of our dining companions, Joanne Tod, is a well established and successful Canadian artist presently specializing in portraiture though during her long career, she has created work in many mediums. Joanne is a regular art gallery visitor, but opined that many young artists latch onto the latest fad and stay there, unable or unwilling to take risks. Assuming the role of  music critic, I offered pretty much the same opinions about some keyboard percussion music.

Scene II, 9 December, 2013.

The concert  given in Array Music by Dan Morphy, his duet partner Ed Squires and TorQ colleague Adam Canpbell, began with  Eric Richards’ The Unravelling of the Field arranged by Dan Morphy for two vibraphones from the original score for one pianist playing from two grand staves in four simultaneous, but different tempi. This work has been performed with many combinations of resonant percussion instruments, all, including Morphy’s rendition, engaging and musically satisfying in every respect.

Following the Eric Richards work were the four keyboard percussion pieces that prompted my comments to Joanne Tod, . For the most part, they were based on patterns as if influenced by the music of Steve Reich. Reich himself was influenced by percussion music and percussion technique, so the composers of these works, all trained percussionists, are condemned to comparison with the more famous works of Reich, whether or not he had any influence at all upon them.

It’s the patterns that plug my ears. Pattern music is aggravating because of their forms, usually A-B-A with no attempt at transitioning. The rhythms, though sometimes complex, are laid out like dictionary entries, one riff after another, often without any discernable relationship and interminably long. The harmonies are simplistic, without any frisson to tweak one’s ears.  No more than a measure goes by before I sigh, slide a bit in my seat, get comfortable and wait for the end. A sort of trans Pacific flight mentality.

There is a sub text to the foregoing. Years ago I visited the emminent percussionist John Beck in his studio at the Eastman School of Music. John was working on a Henry Cowell trio I had recently played that contained a prominent xylophone part. John said the part was difficult to learn because it contained no patterns. I held my tongue because its lack of patterns was precicely why I had found it easy to learn. I had the same experience with the xylophone part in Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. Seiji Ozawa once turned to me and asked, “Is the xylophone part to Oiseaux exotiques difficult?”  I knew he had scheduled the work for his orchestra on an up coming concert and knowing patterns to be every drummer’s raison d’etre, I had to hesitate before answering “No”.

After intermission came the music of Ken Shorley Ken Shorley, a percussionist and composer new to me, is a former student of Trichy Sankaran, a master of Karnatik music who teaches at York University in Toronto. As Shorley announced, his compositions are influenced by the classical music of South India. He incorporates the vamps or brief motifes used by mridagam players in extended solos, but only as starting points. His works are not arrangements. They are fresh, inventive creations which to a great degree, conceal their heritage. There were moments of surprise, delightful quirks. I never had the sense that Shorley was padding his music. This was clean and lean music trimmed of fat and artifice. And they were all played from memory by Shorley, Adam Campnell and Dan Morphy.

Music of Ken Shorley:

About Time (tambourine trio) – 2011
Helix (darabuka, frame drum, caxixi/tala bells) – 2012
Three Into Five (frame drum trio) – 2002 (rev. 2012)
Cobra (gongs, bells, frame drum) – 2012
Sarvalaghu (solkattu, jawharp) – 2011
Root Cellar (wastebasket, triangles, tin cans, shakers) – 2011
The Bright Side (darabuka, riq, cajon/caxixi) – 2010
Monk’s Drum (darabuka trio) – 2011


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