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Vol. 9, No. 1, 2010
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Robert J. Lewis
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Sylvain Richard
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Serge Gamache
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Leon Wieseltier
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Charles Lewis
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Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
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This year the Montreal High Lights Festival spotlights Portugal. Over 20 chefs and 18 wine producers from various regions are offering their very best to the public -- cooking and serving in restaurants, bars and bistros. New Orleans and the Eastern Townships are also bringing their fare to the festival. A series of outstanding concerts will be presented by musicians from these regions of the world, along with some of Montreal’s legendary talents.


It was a true treat to partake of the extraordinary wine produced by José Castelo Branco (Herdade das Albernoas winery) at Méliès Restaurant-Bar -- a player in some pre-sampling festival fare. Of particular pleasure was the exquisite smoothness embodied in his Herdade Paço de Conde (Alentejo) red wine. Neither sweet nor dry, it was a winner. His white, Herdade das Albernoas, had a subtle sweetness that went well with the sauté calamari conjured up by Portuguese guest chef Anabela Gonçalves. Lots of pork dishes, including succulent pig feet were light in taste and texture. Parsely, cumin and pepper were just some of the tasty herbs and seasoning in her always fresh fare full of colour and surprising sauces the taste buds can't refuse. But the standout of the evening was that irresistably embibable bottle of ruby red delight.. What a wonderful wine! Thank you to Paulo Oliveira, owner of Meliès who is actually from Portugal, for opening up his kitchen and bar space for the imbibing and tasting. The public will be able to feast on the above-mentioned offering in full glory on Thursday February 25th at 7 pm. Méliès is located at 2450 boul. Saint-Laurent (inside Excentris). Call (514) 847-9218.


(Another Festival sampling) Tongues were wagging over the awesome assortment of Portuguese appetizers (petiscos) prepared by chef supreme, Helena Loureiro, who also owns her beloved Portus Calle restaurant. Newly renovated, Portus Calle’s sienna coloured walls - enhanced with sensuous lighting and colourful ceramic plates - display another feast for the eyes: enormous paintings of voluptuous nudes by Marley De Oliveira. They seemed to announce the shameful embarrassment of choices this trendy restaurant has up its savory Festival sleeve. The appetizers included: Prosciutto Serrano accompanied with blueberry, fig and St George cheese; tartar of salmon subtly flavoured in mango sauce; and pork, clams and cilantro. But the best of the lot was the unbeatable grilled octopus with tomato flavoured in artichoke purée. The demure dessert tarts akin to crème caramel, along with the wines were graciously served by Loureiro’s restaurant partners: David Barros, Mario Borges and Denis Seara. As for the wines, the smoky red FSF was an unusual delight, but the white Quinta do Portal from the region of Douro was positively exquisite. Slightly citrus, it offered an unexpected edge of sparkle. The public can enjoy a full course meal at Portus Calle during the Festival when Loureiro and guest chef Antonio Nobre team up. Monkfish medallions are one of the rare wonders that will be served. Mario Neves will be offering wines produced from his Caves Aliança winery. Portus Calle is located at 4281 Saint-Laurent. Call (514) 849-2070.


In a world where elegance is sacrificed for expedience, the appearance of Chef Fausto Airoldi brings on a sigh of relief. This gifted chef is a staunch believer in tradition. He never puts presentation, momentary trends and snazzy sauces above elegant simplicity. He innovates but never eradicates dishes of the past. Even though he epitomizes Lisbon chic, as he sits at the helm of several restaurants, including his Spot São Luiz restaurant, Airoldi religiously reveres to the timeless bounty of Portuguese meats and fish. Adding new flavours, this creator constantly quests for taste epiphanies with each dish he creates. Humble and respected beyond Portugal’s borders, Airoldi is the honorary chef of the Festival. Equally dedicated to the authentic flavours and seafood fare of his native Portugal is Marino Tavares, owner of Ferreira Café. He put his own spin on Airoldi’s menu, as he offered a sampling from the menu slated for Airoldi’s February 20th six-course meal. Seared scallops, poached cod, sautéed pork tenderloin and Bulhão Pato clams were some of the pre-festival dishes premiered. Each plate featured a balance of flavours with delightful inclusions, such as potato foam, honey and toasted almonds. The compote fig desert with Portuguese creamy yogourt on the side was exceptional, as was the port and red wine from Dirk van der Nieport’s winery in the region of Douro. Ferreira Café is located at 1446 Peel. Call (514) 848-0988.

Paradis Perdu, February 18, Théatre Maisonneuve
A kaleidescope of wondrous images from nature projected onto screens recreate rugged and gentle textures of earth in its mutable forms: the sky, desert, mountains and ocean, forests and volcanos. These elements are both hostile and enchanting as they continuously engulf and engage a solitary, figure -- a lost soldier who searches for meaning in these dominating landscapes. He gardens and life finds its own renewal. Dominic Champagne, Jean Lemire and Daniel Bélanger have created a dreamlike cinematic tone poem where war and peace are caught in a cyclical web with man at its vortex. Pure magic, but the narration was raspy and in French only. The music was ethereal.

Daniel Taylor and Dame Emma Kirkby, February 19, Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours,
Surely angels descended from their lofty climes towards the marble altar of this inspiring church as it was now being blessed with the divine voices of Taylor and Kirkby. Accompanied by five instrumentalists -- members of Taylor's Theatre of Early Music company -- his perfectly pitched countertenor notes impeccably supported and harmonized with Kirkby's crystal clear tones of soprano sweetness. Both voices became one with each nuanced phrase. As the 400-year-old gentle religious compositions of Fontana, Schmelzer, Schultz, and Pergolesi prefaced the restrained passion of Bach, soniferous beauty floated up towards the vaulted ceiling, heightening its images of inimitable beauty. Inspired, the audience fell into a state of rapture. One wonders if Marguerite Bourgeoys herself was not smiling from above, saying: "Yes, this is what my church was made for."
Les Violons Du Roy, February 20, Salle Pierre- Mercure
Conducted by Bernard Labadie, this distinguished group of string players performed with precision timing. Crisp tempos and arpeggios accelerated into astounding prestissimos that left the audience breathless. Vivaldi would have been pleased. Their Baroque music program featured this great composer, along with Telemann, Devienne, Corette and Brescianello. The star of the evening was bassoon virtuoso Mathieu Lussier. He stunningly performed several bassoon concertos, including one by de Boismortier that raised the profile of this often overlooked yet versatile wind instrument. Moreover, Lussier regaled the audience with historical anecdotes about the bassoon. including the fact that the composer Devienne was unfortunately at one time under the employ of the Marquis de Sade; he was obliged to teach him the bassoon. Both Labadie and Lussier introduced each piece. Lussier kindly explained much about bassoon concertos written in the Baroque period in an engaging manner. First violinist, Nicole Trotier and violist Jean-Louis Blouin also sparkled in their featured performances. This year, Les Violin Du Roy celebrates their 25th anniversary. They are a national treasure.

Pavlo, Rik Emmett and Oscar Lopez, February 21, L' Astral

This astonishing guitar trio comprises three highly different personalities earning them unique nicknames: Pavlo is called the masterful Greek god of the guitar; rocker Emmett of Triumph fame is simply called the legend, and Lopez -- a flamboyant flamenco genius -- is the wild card. Together, they are a passionate force of nature; each is a guitar wizard in his own right, and if you have never heard a sitar guitar, you will with Pavlo. No matter the guitar, their fingers traveled at lightning speed up and down the guitar neck, while they created miraculous licks and trills, even producing percussive effects not known in mainstream guitar playing. They performed exciting compositions in novel styles with some Beatles, BB King and Django Reinardt thrown in, but arranged with totally new twists. Indeed, these musicians are able to play beyond the scope of most guitarists. Another plus is their banter and on-stage antics. It's was entertaining. How they got together two years ago is an interesting tale. Pavlo saw Oscar on YouTube, and he contacted him to play with him. Together, they then contacted Emmett who was somewhat reluctant to join the duo. They met and composed two pieces. Then they decided to spend two weeks sequestered in a private home with a view to composing more pieces. What they created together ended up on a fabulous album, titled Trifecta. It was launched last year. Since then, they have become guitar brothers (Emmett's words), and are presently on a 29-city tour. CBC taped this concert.

Elisapie Isaac, February 23, L'Astral
Her voice is haunting, her manner sultry, her stage presence hypnotic. Newcomer, Elisapie Isaac, Canada's songstress from the Great North, opened up her concert with two songs in the language of Inuktitut. Never mind that no one understood the lyric; she held the audience in the palm of her hand as she bared her soul in original compositions that revealed deep sadness and a wistful wishing for love in her life, including her passionate obsession with Dylan and Cohen. "Wish Song", "Nothing in This World is Free" and "Do you Hear Me" straight off her debut album titled There will be Stars transported listeners into a place where purity, edgy simplicity and coyness converged, making the heart a temple for hope spiced with humour. In one song, she declares, "I will run before you take me again; I will run before you break me again." Let's hope she runs right into our arms soon, for Montreal audiences are ready to embrace this enigmatic, rare artist whose voice bares an uncanny resemblance to that of Buffy Saint Marie and Marie Laforêt rolled into one.

Agnès Jaoui, February 25, Cinquième Salle, PDA
An actress and director, Jaoui has an outstanding voice, rich in vocal range, and is utterly beguiling in her interpretations of songs originating from Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Peru and Portugal. The concert was intimate, yet her lively personality and humour engaged immediately as she spoke about the meaning of each song. Authentic in feeling and delivery, she interacted elegantly with the musicians on stage. They all are gifted artists she has met in her travels and made her own. Her group is called Quintet Official and they are featured on her new album, Dans Mon Pays. The spontaneity of the evening was remarkable as fiery duets and ensemble singing magically filled the cozy space with all kinds of moods flavoured with Iberian sounds and rhythms that featured a host of languages. Her articulation was beautiful, her pitch impeccable. Sublimely marrying technique to feeling, she embodied the sensual, the exotic and the ecstatic. Guitars, accordion, double bass, percussion and flute transported us to Latino loving lands. The gypsy singer/guitarist from Andalusia, Antoine "Tato" Garcia, was a standout, and she knew it. The petite diva told us that after we heard him, she need not perform anymore. But fortunately, she did, taking her musical entourage and us on a colourful journey of nostalgia for home, a lover and lost youth. She made us remember what it feels like to miss a lover, leave a lover and start on a new adventure steeped in clandestine romance. Jaoui is astonishingly talented. It was an unforgettable concert.
Constantinople, February 26, Salle Pierre-Mercure
For this concert, this remarkable ensemble of scholarly musicians dedicated themselves to traditional flamenco music in an intense program entitled, "El Grito, El Silencio." Known for their performances in Byzantine, Arab, Persian and Indian traditions, they played -- for this particular concert -- music inspired by the writing of Federico Garcia Lorca and Jalal-al-Rumi, the greatest Persian Sufi poet. Each of the four brilliant musicians impressively thrilled the audience with masterful playing. For starters, there was Ziya Tabassian with his terrifically swift rhythms on the tombak and its percussive relatives. Likewise, guest flamenco guitarist, Juan Requena was astounding in feeling and technique, as was Pierre-Yves Martel, the expressive viola da gamba player. Director and spellbinding sitar player Kiya Tabassian makes miracles happen on his instrument. But there was one audible flaw in this concert -- flamenco singer and featured soloist for this program, Rosario La Tremendita: despite her European fame, this feted flamenco artist from Seville proved disappointing in her gitana (gypsy) vocals. She was unable to give ascending crescendos their climactic due, and oh . . . how we longed for it each time she reached the apex of a phrase. The result was deflated volume and a lack of excitement. Dramatic gesturing notwithstanding, and enormous restraint in pitch supported by long phrases without a breath taken midstream, her voice was not powerful enough to convey the passion needed to move us. We kept hoping for vocal ferocity, but instead got facial expressions, foot stomping and arm waving that seemed to compensate for where it counted most: singing power. One man in the audience even shouted out after the second song to turn up the mike. But that was not the issue. Ironically, the last number proved an embarrassment as the mike began to screech even before she began to sing, but with great courage, she escorted Kiya Tabassian (his earlier singing of Rumi was wonderful) up to the front of the stage, leaving the mike to sit where it was. Together they sang mike-less. It made her all the more vulnerable, but at last she connected to the audience. But there was a price to pay for this: without amplification, her voice was even weaker. It seemed pale and tired. Clearly, Pierre-Mercure, a dowager hall, was not the right place fo --, on better days -- this musical gem of an ensemble. Constantinople's performance was evocative of flamenco dancers moving around a fire -- their gypsy compatriots clapping their palms as a single solo singer strains to be heard as dusk descends over the Andalusian hills.  

Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, February 27, Place des Arts
The darling of Cuba, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba was founded in 1991, and since then, it has been wowing audiences all over the world with brilliant performances brimming with original, pleasing choreography. Uplifting and extremely exciting to watch, the all-female ensemble -- dynamically costumed to convey the elements of our planet -- heated up the stage with fiery dancing distinctly steeped in flamenco, classical and African styles. Together, with finesse and beauty, these stunning dancers created an utterly moving spectacle of earth's beginnings and the elements: fire, rain, and wind. 'Elementos,' the program name for the concert, was powerful and almost magical as the 16 dancers fluidly transformed themselves into various elements to tell their own kind of story -- one that was deeply primordial and moving. How beautiful it was to see these 'elements' and follow their interplay. Breathtaking is our earth when illustrated by Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba. The dancers’ energy was surly enhanced by the seven male musicians in the orchestra pit who made this evening's earth a glorious place to be.  

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