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Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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World Premiere at Windsor Symphony

Published in Miami News

The beginning of the 70th season of the Windsor Symphony was studded with several sparkling highlights including its opening selection, the world premiere of Fallen by composer Jordan Pal.

 

After a warm introduction to the new season by Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens, conductor Robert Franz led the symphony into the short ode Fallen, one of the compositions commissioned by the government to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. Fallen will have its premiere with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, 2017.

 

As its title implies, it is about fallen soldiers. Its title derives from the final stanza of Canadian Master Corporal Charles Matiru's poem Dark Shadow. He was an Afghan vet who died recently due to PTSD. The ode is deliberately unpleasant, a mixture of chaos and frenetic passages intended to give us a glimpse into the soul of those suffering from the psychological wounds of war. In its resemblance to a film score, it tries to evoke emotion in the listener. It has a sincerity to it, which is tough to do in a postmodern society.

 

A world away from this is the Brahms composition Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, which was delivered in a unique way. Instead of just offering us the music, each of the variations ranging from pastoral to scherzo was introduced by a poetic excerpt. The contributing poets, including Windsor poet laureate Marty Gervais, were in the audience, while their poems were faultlessly read by a young man and woman on stage.

 

If one regards a frame as part of the picture, the poems were expressing the idea that musical compositions do not end on their final note. It was both a delightful way to breathe new life into a piece over 200 years old, and a daring choice as it could easily have fallen into an unwelcome pastiche. It was a nice way to make a piece that's not Canadian a way to celebrate Canada, and the inclusion of Windsor-based poetry is a nod to the city's 125th anniversary this year.

 

There was an especially good connection between Variation 5, a sprightly piece where the violins literally dance which was likened poetically to Walkerville by Gervais, which conjures up a famous bicycle race in that part of Windsor in 1896. Variation 7, a stately composition suitable for a river cruise, was paired with a few lines from the poem Windsor by Carlinda D'Alimonte. “I relax into the space, in the small steps I can take.”

 

Other poems talked about Al Capone and rum running (a well known local pasttime in the 1920s), “a cannonball that won nothing for nobody”, and by Peter Hrastovec “there is an art in everything and in everything a reason.” My favourite was paired with Variation 8: “History is a fable unless you tell it honestly,” from South Windsor by Vanessa Shields. Other poets included in the Variations music-poem combo were Mary Ann Mulhern, Dorothy Mahoney and D.A. Lockhart.

 

The second half of the programme featured a flawless performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, complete with the Windsor Classic Chorale and University of Windsor Chamber Choir. Combined with the symphony, the stage held some 350 performers, including four guest soloists: Marjorie Maltais (alto), Ryan Downey (tenor), Margie Bernal (soprano) and in one of the choicest roles for a bass singer, Reginald Smith.

 

Instead of going for a punch to the jaw early in the performance, conductor Franz wisely saved it for the ending. While he held back, he added just enough emphasis to titillate the musical taste buds. It is sometimes good to show restraint! In the end, the assembled performers knocked it out of the park, to borrow a sports analogy, no mean feat in a venue originally designed as a cinema.

 

For a finale with several children's choirs standing along the side and in the aisles, the audience was treated to a rousing rendition of Canada This Is My Home. With the instrument plus vocal power boosted to more than 400 in a venue that only seats 640, it was truly an impressive way to begin the 70th season.

 

Thanks to Mitch Raeck for his musical expertise in the preparation of this article. Photo by C. Cunningham

 

The next performance of the symphony, the music of Star Wars on Sept. 30, is already sold out.

Visit their website for details on other upcoming shows:

www.windsorsymphony.com

 

 

Jane Eyre: Leaves Glinting in the Sun

Published in Theatre

“You must not expect anything celestial of me!” Jane Eyre declares to Mr. Rochester, the man who loves her. Rochester, undaunted by Jane's multiple efforts to break away from him, declares “Your sternness has a power beyond beauty.”

 

In this retelling of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre, the audience is presented with original dialogue from the iconic book, and a twist to the tale of the repression of the natural passions and desires of women. Directed by Brian Taylor, the 1995 play is being offered by the University Players at the University of Windsor.

 

When it was published in 1847 the book was derided as anti-Christian, and certainly much of the tendentious dialogue in the play (from Jane's schoolmaster, and later her suitor, a messianic clergyman [both strikingly portrayed by Averey Meloche]) puts Christianity in a bad light. But that is not the focus of British playwright Polly Teale. In an article she wrote in 2005, Teale identified that focus: “Everything in the novel is seen through the magnifying glass of Jane's psyche. But if this is a psychological drama with Jane at its centre, why did Brontë invent a mad woman, Bertha, Rochester's first wife, locked in an attic to torment her heroine? Why is this rational young woman haunted by a raving, vengeful she-devil?”

 

In this play, the virtuous but stern Jane is played with gusto by Lauren Fields. Her inner self is played by Alicia Plummer; confusingly, she also portrays Bertha in this production. I say confusingly because some patrons were unclear how to distinguish the raging “inner self” persona and the raging “crazy wife” character. Are they in fact psychologically linked in the mind of Charlotte Bronte? Having the same actress portray both certainly invites this synergistic relationship, which was intentional.

 

This is not to detract from the overall production, which achieves an entirely professional level of presentation. The minimalist set (by David Leugs), with its strong geometrical lines, experience a resonance with the single musical instrument that makes an occasional appearance on stage. The handsome Cole Reed as Rochester delivers an entirely believable performance. “He is not a ghost but every nerve I have is unstrung.” Jane's reaction to him does not strain credulity because of his bravura showing.

 

For some in the audience, a dog stole the show! Rochester's dog was so well delineated by Meloche that I overheard one person saying “I've seen everything now!” Someone else regarded the pooch as the high point of the play. His scampering across the stage, and playing with an imaginary ball, offered some much-needed comic relief.

 

Other actors, who gave the play just the right balance and texture, are Jacob Free, Taylor Brimner, Xanath Fuentes and Eva Flores. I must also mention, Agatha Knelsen, whose costumes were period perfection. The play is performed in the theatre in Essex Hall at the University of Windsor; it was just upgraded including a new stage floor which makes its debut with this production.

 

Jane Eyre runs through Oct. 1, 2017. Visit their website: http://www.universityplayers.com

Cruising the Detroit River

Published in Miami News

Tourism in Windsor, Ontario is focused along the riverfront, and there is no better way to get acquainted with it than a cruise along the river in the Macassa Bay cruise ship. Leaving from its dock right in front of Caesar's Casino, it offers a variety of cruises including a 2-hour trip along the Detroit River that I enjoyed on a sunny Labour Day Weekend.

In the lead photo, just above the prow of the passing pleasure boat, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Built in 1902 as an industrial research lab for Park-Davis, it is now a hotel. Its Romanesque Revival style is quite striking, but it has a counterpart on the Canadian side.

Holy Rosary Church beside the distilleryThe cruise begins by heading east in Canadian waters. One of the first sights is a Romanesque-style church near the Hiram Walker distillery, world famous for its whisky. The running commentary aboard the ship tells the tale that the Holy Rosary church (pictured here) has a lurid past. The cross between the steeples can be lit up, and it was used during Prohibition to signal rum runners that the coast was clear to smuggle liquor across the river to Detroit. Al Capone reputedly donated the cross to the church! Its days as a church ended in 2007; it is now an event centre.

After making its turn to the west, the Macassa Bay (built in Hamilton in 1986) gets quite close to Belle Isle, the largest city-owned park in the U.S. Several sites are clearly visible including a very large fountain, 510 feet in diameter with a spray that can reach 125 feet. It was completed in 1925, when times were good, before the Depression. Also visible is the Coast Guard station, a maritime musuem, the old dance hall (called a casino), and the Carillon clock (pictured here). It is an 85-foot tower in neo-Gothic style, opened in 1940. The layout of Belle Isle was designed by Frederick Olmsted, whose most famous creation is New York City's Central Park.

The Carillon Clock in Belle IsleThe cruise offers a superb close-up view of downtown Detroit before passing under the Ambassador Bridge, where it turns back west for a scenic look at the sculptures along Windsor's Riverwalk. These will be familiar to anyone in Windsor, but seeing them from the river side offers a whole new perspective of this delightful outdoor sculpture garden.

Visitors on the cruise can choose to stay inside, shielded from the elements (weather sun or rain), or be outside on one of 2 decks. Quite a few chairs and tables are provided on both decks for those who prefer to remain seated.

 

For information and pricing, visit the website: www.windsorrivercruises.com

 

Photos with this article by C. Cunningham

 

 

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