Thursday, May 21, 2009


Breaking Down The Doors

I love Toronto Symphony concerts. I hate the hassles of getting there.
My son Mark has been a symphony subscriber for years and since he now lives most of the year in China, it's up to Dad to keep up the subscription so we don't lose those two seats in the front row just to the left of the conductor.
(And that's important because that's where the soloists perform, and since our seats are the closest to that magic spot, it's like they're performing just for us.)
It's been a great season. My wife Mary is hardly a classlcal fan but the night called Rachmaninoff & Bernstein was wonderful. I came home and called up Mark in far-off Dalien (via Skype) and raved about what he had missed. With a talented Russian pianist, Natasha Peremski, pounding away at the huge grand piano just over our heads, and the Chinese conductor, Xian Zhang, practically dancing on the podium, it was like we were awash with music.
And the symphony players kept smiling at each other. It's easy to see they liked it too. But the pianist seem to enjoy it most.
Then a week later it was that corny but delightful confection called Last Night of the Proms. It's stolen, of course, from Royal Victoria Hall in London, England, where the decades of waving flags and teddy bears and egos is a grand tradition as the symphonic season ends.
And so it was here, with volunteers selling flags for $5 each in the lobby, and the concert goers bringing giant flags of their own, or even wearing flag T-shirts. And they waved them enthusiastically as they sang Land of Hope and Glory (from Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1,) Rule Britannia and Jerusalem. It was enough to make everyone an Anglophile for the night.
This was presided over by Bramwell Tovey who seems to have been born just for this concert. I've seen him before, and listened and watched the English version many times, but Tovey the other night was just right, in everything from his corny puns, his topical digs and his repartee with the audience.
Then there was a clever mugging performance from Richard Stuart in some of the great Gilbert & Sullivan skits from The Mikado and Pirates, with backup from the Toronto treasure known as the Mendelssohn Choir, complete with sight gags of swooning maidens, giant sun glasses, even a pizza box (don't ask).
Mary and I have never enjoyed ourselves more in a lifetime of going to concerts. It made me forget all the dog yelpings and dirges and gawdawful modern compositions that I've endured.
But then it ends and you have all the hassles of funneling hundreds of people through a dozen heavy exit doors, some of which generally aren't open, and then through another pinch point, two heavy doors to the underground parking and the passage to the subway station. Then there are several more heavy sets of doors (in the PATH system) and then you line up at the TTC wicket because many of the concert goers use senior TTC tickets. And then you ride to St. George where it's standing room only on the train home to Etobicoke even though it's 10.30 at night.
Now all this could be a lot simpler if only the symphony and hall directors did more than just check the program to make sure their name is still there. And it would also help if Mayor David Miller and his henchmen like Howard Moscoe spent more time ensuring the present transit system worked better and less time blaming other governments for their funding problems.
There are problems due to the shape of Roy Thomson Hall. But getting in and out, and using the underground passages to get there, is made difficult by the heaviest doors in a public facility. Why don't they sell them to a prison and buy lighter ones? It would also be nice if the escalator wasn't under repair so often and that the elevator the disabled have to use wasn't the slowest one in the world. (I challenge the bureaucrats to find me a slower elevator and offer a one-way ticket there to test it.
If the TTC knows that a downtown performance is going to end around a specific time, why can't they open a second ticket window at the nearest station for an hour? Surely that isn't rocket science.
But oh no, when it comes to improving the circulation of Thomson Hall, the underground lanes and the TTC, we get performances from our politicians and officials that make me wish we still had that character around from The Mikado. You know, the Lord High Commissioner.

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