GUEST BLOG: Larry French’s week at Toronto Pursuits

My week at Classical Pursuits, Summer 2012

[editor’s note: due to a technical glitch, publication of this post was slightly delayed, and Larry’s Friday wrap-up appears before this one.  My apologies to Larry. -LN]

The Eve: There was a sound of revelry by night. I watch the wonderful 80th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim and his music. Tip for Ann: Sondheim would make a fine subject for the music section of a future summer Pursuits.

Monday July  16: I bike to a friend’s house, then subway. Old Vic quadrangle and then the foyer under watchful eye of Norrie Frye a treat. Meet first participant in registration line-up, her 7th CP experience. Good sign.

In seminar room of Northrop Frye building, Rosemary lays down the rules of engagement for A Terrible Beauty. Shared Inquiry. The poem’s the thing on which discussion rings, not historical context nor the life events affecting the poet. No personal anecdotes. We must listen as well as speak. It is clear I will have to bite my tongue. A thrill to find out that one of the participants, André, is a former Argonaut. ‘’Another image there”, as Yeats would say.

[singlepic id=162 w=320 h=240 float=left]We read No Second Troy. Yeats at his finest, ranging in twelve lines from Dublin to Troy and back. Perceptive exchanges, a relief when we sneak in a bit of context. More poems, then reading for next day. We will have to struggle to complete the syllabus.

Afternoon: Radiant Darkness shows visions of light and dark. Stunning. Then Opera Olympics, with Q and A. Lots of opera buffs, answers flow. ‘’What is the note that represents the creation of the world in Rheingold?’’ E flat pops into my mind. Too unsure to speak. Is indeed E-flat. Realize I had heard the intro on Saturday afternoon opera on CBC. Vague memories.

Reception: Park Hyatt a classy setting for Classical Pursuits reception. I go to the rooftop bar, am disappointed that the expansive terrace bar I remember from the Park Plaza has shrunk, is now mainly dim indoors. About twenty cluster for dinner at pub. Enjoyable conversation (N. American health care, good and bad) with table mates Maureen and Helen, from exotic North Carolina. CP casts its net wide

Break rules, bike back to condo in dark. But a fulfilling day, am highly pleased.

Tuesday: A Terrible Beauty.

Discussion more relaxed, free. Fine flow of ideas one building on other as we explore the unearthly beauty of the Wild Swans at Coole, then Easter, 1916, and Among School Children.  From terrible beauty of the Dublin Post Office insurrection and sacrifice of the rebels to the country schoolhouse and imaginative journey back to childhood, then from Leda to Plato, Aristotle and golden thighed Pythagoras to finish with the chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer. Another Yeats’ century spanning imaginative journey.

Lunch at the Bloor Street Diner. A pleasant surprise. Thanks Ann. Lively discussion with Bacchic stimulation.

Rick Phillips

Afternoon tour of the great conductors with down to earth lucidity of guide Rick Phillips. Pleased to see him in the flesh after hours of insightful listening when he graced the CBC.

Iain Scott continues to delight with his presentation of the Olympian tenors, Caruso on top. Reassured to see my da’s favourite, John McCormack, number two. Someone in the audience challenges Iain insisting that Björling is Danish. Quickly put in place by iPhone google.

Interactive no-nonsense audience.

Another pleasure packed day

Wednesday:  Yeats’ Last Poems, the poetic impulse burning as bright as ever. Will not go gently as he endures final illness. No Wordsworthian burnout here. He outfaces doom in the Man and the Echo, then throws down his poetic challenge to younger Irish poets in Under Ben Bulben. The memorable epitaph on his tombstone in Drumcliffe churchyard: Cast a cold eye/On life, on death./ Horseman pass by!, evokes Thermopylae and Leonidas’ three hundred. Yeats out with a heroic flourish.[singlepic id=163 w=320 h=240 float=right]

On to Seamus Heaney, writing in Yeats’ shadow, but will go his own way as he proves in Digging. Another rebellion, 1798, the year of the French and more blood sacrifice, in Requiem for the Croppies. Discussion is quick, fast moving, insightful, struggle to get a word in edgewise.

We plan for tomorrow lunch an impromptu poetic tribute to EK Page by Susan and Mary. The afternoon session is a mind expanding tour de force as Julia leads us on a breathless overview of Russian writers. Echoes of Ireland as writers labour to create a national literature. Callas is the Queen of sopranos, Iain tells us. But a heart stopping rendering of Casta Diva by Monserrat Caballé (wonderful name) defying the Mistral in Orange arena puts her near the top.

Am surprised that Iain has not heard of Barcellona, Caballé’s duo with Freddie Mercury, my larger than life soon to die hero, their walpurgisnacht style launching of the 1992 Olympics.

Delicious dinner Turkish style, Vic’s kitchen crew ever resourceful, and chat with Gary the Vietnam trip leader. Am sorely tempted, but closing date approaching, not enough time to convince Nicole.

Thursday: More Heaney. Jutland’s Tollund Man achieves immortality thanks to the bog, but can he be sanctified? Close reading has betrayed me, I have the poem totally wrong, am quickly corrected. Casualty is a superb poem, loving portrait of a fisherman drinker, blown to bits for following his bent. Puzzle that one for me. From the Frontier of Writing proves that writing a poem can be like staring down the barrel of a gun, especially in Northern Ireland during the troubles. A caution to those of us with a hankering to take up the pen, even if it fits snug as a gun.

I am not interested in Thomas Mann, but Tom Jones shows me I am wrong. Note amazing echoes of musical leitmotif structures in Proust. Baritone Jesse Clark, talented son of Lynda, enthralls us with his resonant finely shaped passion. A Queen’s man, I send him a Cha Gheil.

Afternoon with Iain. So Marilyn Horne is the greatest of the low voices of [singlepic id=164 w=320 h=240 float=right]opera, and she proves it as she opens her heart to Samson in Saint-Saens’ beautiful aria. But the show stopper is the exchange between the two basso profundos, Nicolai Guiaurov and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Carlo and the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor wins (watch out you heretics) as he is a hemidemisemi octave lower than the king. Thanks for the insight, Iain.

the exquisite Koerner Hall

Enjoy exclusive dinner with Mark and Rosemary. Discover that moderating discussion can also be like staring down the barrel of a gun. We rush to the concert, I discover a light hearted witty string trio by Jean Françaix gift of the Seoul Ensemble and Timothy Ying. Susan, who knows everything there is to know about music and poetry, reassures me that Françaix is not a spelling mistake, he just lives close to the Franco-Belgian border. Another Classical Pursuits moment of musical linguistic geographic cultural insight.

Tomorrow last day. Feel a bit of pre-partum tristesse.

Leaving Victoria College


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