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Toronto Symphony Orchestra Dining Partner: ‘Azure Restaurant & Bar’ at the InterContinental Toronto Centre


Featuring contemporary Canadian cuisine, the Azure Restaurant & Bar restaurant in downtown Toronto offers an innovative dining experience. Showcasing the city’s diverse culinary influences in a pleasing modern environment, Azure Restaurant & Bar offers a distinct selection of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chef de Cuisine Grace DiFede creates a tempting culinary journey, using the ingredients to take your taste buds off the beaten path. Stylish private dining rooms provide intimate spaces for parties and private dining, and Azure Lounge offers the ultimate space to unwind. For a delectable buffet breakfast, inspiring business lunch or lingering dinner and drinks, Azure is a sophisticated and inviting option loved by locals and travelers alike.

Located in the open lobby of the luxurious InterContinental Toronto Centre, the Azure Restaurant & Bar is a modern urban escape. Soaring floor-to-ceiling windows meet a gorgeous glass canopy, letting diners look out onto the cityscape. Enjoy the ambiance of outdoor dining all year long, and experience superior service from a knowledgeable, attentive staff. Stunning blue glass artwork from Stuart Reid floats above the bar, which serves signature martinis, organic local beer and thoughtful wine selections. Pamper your senses and indulge your hunger for serene, contemporary dining at Azure Restaurant & Bar.



Upon entering the modern and relaxing space we were guided to our seats which overlooked the Azure Restaurant & Bar. The hanging sconces and dim lights were romantic but at the same time offered us comfort. The city lights shone into the window and the music playing was gentle to the ears.  We viewed fellow guests enjoying intimate conversations with one another, a few were quietly eating their meals on their own with a glass of wine and some were just taking in the moment.

Glancing at the Cocktail List at the Azure Restaurant & Bar is a sight to behold. We sipped our Azure Blue cocktails which had flavours of coconut and pineapple (white rum + malibu + pineapple juice + lime juice + blue curacao) and Apple Ginger Punch which was laden with ginger, spice and everything nice (bacardi black + galliano + angostura bitters + thyme syrup + apple cider + ginger beer) quietly.  They were beautifully hand crafted and potent in the first sip.

To begin we ordered the Crisp Pork Belly & Chive Blini which consisted of red cabbage slaw, sour cream and fig marmalade. The pork belly was beautifully cooked. Although solid in placement, when consumed it was fluffy and buttery.  Almost cloud like.  The crust was nicely baked and tender.  The sour cream and fig marmalade indeed took a back seat to the pork belly but illuminated its flavour once it hit the palate.

The Quinoa & Endive Salad was zesty and humorous. The granny smith apple, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds were laced elegantly with pomegranate yogurt.  The Quinoa & Endive Salad was a wonderful introduction to the meal.  Light, airy and yet brimming with delight in its crispiness and subtle flavours.

If you are stopping in for a quick bite or before a performance at The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, order the Charcuterie Board. It consists of cured meats, pickled vegetables, olives, mustard and crostini. Think rustic and ‘oh so’ Italy meets Canadiana on a piece of slate.  Put a slice of salami on the crostini with a dash of the spicy mustard.  It was divine, powerful and must be had with a wine or beer from the bar.  The Mezze Platter or the Cheese Board will also make great first dates for the evening.  Wonderful additions if you are looking to prolong your evening with good company.

For the mains, the Pomegranate Glazed Duck Breast came to the table sat politely on an island of beetroot mash, squash, brussel sprouts and drizzled with cherry jus. The Pomegranate Glazed Duck Breast was majestic, rich and generous.  Filling but not to the point of exhaustion.  The beetroot mash could easily been eaten on its own sat in a reclining chair looking out at your back garden in the summer.  This dish was picturesque.  The mini brussel sprouts were cheeky and plumped up the plate.  The Pomegranate Glazed Duck Breast can be dwelled upon over conversation or satiated even further with a glass from Organized Crime’s ‘Break In’ (Pinot Noir).

If seafood is your fancy, the Grain Mustard Coated Salmon requires a gentle introduction. The salmon was beautifully cooked and was a substantial size as it said hello on a freshly made bed of couscous, fennel, radicchio and blood orange nage.  Truly ceremonial.  Flavourful, tantalizing and romantic.  This plate was all glamour but subtle.  It definitely stayed in its own lane.  Pair the Grain Mustard Coated Salmon with Cantina Rauscedo’s (Pinot Grigio).

For the steak lover in your life, the Striploin Steak and Fries had the best fanfare. Think Wellington County Beef drizzled with jus, caramelized onions, double smoked bacon, bbq aioli and corn bread.  This plate immediately transported us to a back country smokehouse with all the trimmings.  Woody, aromatic and yet no nonsense.   From the beauty of the meat – simple and uncomplicated.  To the dancing caramelized onions and double smoked bacon – this dish popped.  The bbq aioli was quietly noticeable.  The Colores Del Sol ‘Malbec’s’ was the perfect pairing with the Striploin Steak and Fries.

Dessert was just as verbose and refined at Azure Restaurant & Bar. The Lemon Cheesecake consisted of graham crust, candied lemon, citrus segment salad and toasted sesame seeds.  The Lemon Cheesecake was the perfect end to a rich, tantalizing adventure in modern Canadian cuisine at Azure Restaurant & Bar.

Grab a reservation with Azure Restaurant & Bar over Winterlicious in the weeks ahead. You will be guaranteed a beautifully curated meal and an authentic foodie experience before you trot off for a date at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Azure Restaurant & Bar

225 Front Street West




Review: Toronto Symphony Orchestra: ‘A Jann Arden Christmas’

‘The holiday season is such a wonderful time for music—we hear everywhere during this period of the year some of the finest classical music written for the occasion as well as inspiring traditional carols and tuneful popular classics. The brilliant, multi-talented Canadian artist Jann Arden recently recorded her take on the season’s most beloved songs and I’m thrilled to have her perform them in her début with your Toronto Symphony Orchestra! The beautiful voices of the Etobicoke School of the Arts Holiday Chorus also join us for this performance, and you, too, will have the chance to contribute to this Christmas soundscape in our annual sing-along. May this concert of holiday music warm your hearts and get you in the holiday spirit!’

Steven Reineke

Principal Pops Conductor


Elegant, sexy and savvy. The Toronto Symphony was in top form last night.  We were ready to be ‘sleighed’ with holiday anthems.  Add the likes of the Etobicoke School of the Arts Holiday Chorus and the incomparable Jann Arden, whom brought the house down within seconds of taking the stage.

The evening was robust with songs like ‘The Best Christmas of All’, ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.’ The audience caroled using carol sheets in their TSO Program book, the air was filled with warmth and fairy lights and the mood was festive and jovial.

When Arden took the stage with her cheeky humour on show and her voice in all its abundance ready to tear the walls down in Roy Thomson Hall, the audience was warmed up and ready for her.   She gifted the audience with songs from her song catalogue including of ‘Insensitive’ and ‘Waiting for Canada’.  The Canadian flag’s poppy red colour was emblazoned on Arden’s gorgeous chiffon dress and bejeweled gown.  We were on the same page.

After the intermission the Toronto Symphony gave us ‘Carol of the Bells’ from Mykola Leontovych/arr. David Hamilton and ‘“We Need A Little Christmas” from Mame’ from Jerry Herman/arr. Robert Wendel. Perhaps not all that well known but beautifully positioned in the evening.  TSO did a wonderful job playing the audience old standards, blues, folk and pop songs.  It was an evening for everyone.  The audience was satiated, ready to learn, have a giggle and most importantly have a great time.

Arden had many intimate moments with the audience last night. She spoke of road stories, her writing process, sweet comments to orchestra members and a rawness only she can pull off in a space as prestigious as Roy Thomson Hall.

She created a gorgeous space between her and her fans last night when she spoke of her collaboration with Bob Foster on ‘Good Mother’. Arden spoke of scribbling notes in the lining of a cigarette liner and how she wanted to create an ode to her parents.  The moment felt like she was whispering her narrative to every member of the audience singularly.  Intimate, emotional, generous and fraught with pain.  As the Toronto Symphony Orchestra started to play the opening bars of ‘Good Mother’ the audience sighed a sigh full of anticipation, Kleenex were at the ready, men sat up straighter in their seats and other’s leaned forward.  The Toronto Symphony Orchestra illumined ‘Good Mother’.  It took the audience to another level of loving Arden’s music and winning us over with TSO’s gorgeous arrangement.  People wept, some stood up and cheered.  The festive love embraced us as the song concluded.

The night could not be complete without an appearance by Jolly Saint Nick who ‘ho, ho ho’d’ down the aisles and then helped in leading the audience with a ‘The Jingle, Jangle Sing-along’. It was upbeat and fun.  What better way to warm up our voices by busting them out into the holiday season with the professional help of TSO?

The Etobicoke School of the Arts Chorus is comprised of the Grades 11 and 12 music theatre classes at the Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA). The music theatre department, headed by Paul Aikins, is one of six majors offered at ESA, which is the oldest free-standing arts-focused high school in Canada. Their contribution was boisterous, electric and punctuated the evening’s program with a lightness that can only be captured by the talented voices of these youngsters.

As Arden said last night, ‘Music is the fabric of life’. It’s true.  The evening delivered was joyous, a true respite from work drama and encouraging in the colours of red, green and gold of the holiday season into the fabric of our lives in the present.  Music as performed by the likes of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Jann Arden is to be inhaled and exhaled and perhaps even channelled into 2017 as we move ahead into the next year of our collective lives.


Toronto Symphony Orchestra: Pop-Up Shop at Roy Thomson Hall


On Saturday October 8, 2016 the Toronto Symphony is launching their very first TSO Pop-Up Shop at Roy Thomson Hall.

Items you should think of picking up just in time for holiday shopping season are hot off the press!

First of, TSO has collaborated with Toronto street artist ANSER to bring a Beethoven Collection limited-edition black shirt. It’ll be on sale before the concert and during the Beethoven & Tchaikovsky performance intermission on Saturday October 8, 2016. If you don’t have your tickets yet – get on it soon!  https://www.tso.ca/concert/beethoven-tchaikovsky

If you are not coming to Beethoven & Tchaikovsky – t-shirts will be available to purchase online starting on Saturday October 8, 2016.

While you are at it, pick up the Toronto Symphony Listening Guide, which has been bringing the TSO international attention. Voila, https://www.creativereview.co.uk/how-the-toronto-symphony-orchestra-uses-graphic-design-to-guide-its-audiences-though-its-music/.

The TSO Listening Guide has been shortlisted for a data visualization award from “Information is Beautiful”, which is based in London, England. The awards were founded by David McCandless – http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/about/

The list is now out for public voting. Here’s the link: http://www.informationisbeautifulawards.com/showcase/1322-toronto-symphony-orchestra-listening-guide

Bravo to the Toronto Symphony for blending classical music into street culture. Let’s keep classical music alive for generations to come!



Review: TSO’s 12th Annual New Creations Festival ‘Knocking at the Hellgate’ (March 12, 2016)


The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) curated the TSO’s 12th Annual New Creations Festival which was avant-garde and infused with the best contemporary music in Toronto this March. Revered Australian composer, conductor, and violist Brett Dean joined festival conductor and host Peter Oundjian created diverse, powerful and swoon worthy programming.

Packed with Premières (World, North American, and Canadian), many of which are TSO Commissions, the New Creations Festival features original, intriguing music by Canadian composers Kevin Lau, Paul Frehner, and Skratch Bastid, as well as works by György Kurtág (Hungary), Anthony Pateras (Australia), James Ledger (Australia), Jonny Greenwood (UK) of Radiohead fame, and of course, Brett Dean. Guest artists include Toronto’s Afiara Quartet, baritone Russell Braun, DJ Skratch Bastid, filmmaker Peter Mettler, and Swedish trumpet virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger. To round out the festival, Toronto composer Abigail Richardson-Schulte curated an array of ancillary events such as pre-concert performances, a forum presented in collaboration with the Canadian Music Centre, and post-concert parties.

Brett Dean presented last night’s ‘Knocking at the Hellgate’—a vocal/instrumental suite of excerpts from his forceful, surreal, and highly praised 2010 opera, Bliss, starring baritone Russell Braun. The evening included Water, a tender and dynamic piece by Jonny Greenwood of the iconic English rock group, Radiohead, which adds a tambura (an East Indian instrument), to the Orchestra. As an ear-opening final bonus, DJ Skratch Bastid created a remix of music from the festival.

‘Water was commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, who worked closely with Greenwood to develop a taut and nuanced work employing a unique instrumentation. The work is scored for two flutes, amplified upright piano, chamber organ, string orchestra, and one or two tanpuras. The inclusion of the tanpura, a traditional Indian drone instrument, came as a result of Tognetti’s initial desire for Greenwood to employ electronics alongside the orchestra. Throughout the work, Greenwood manages to incorporate the tanpura in unique and surprising ways.

Greenwood established himself as a significant compositional force with his award-winning score for the 2007 film There Will Be Blood. In 2012, Greenwood created the Suite from There Will be Blood, scored for string orchestra with ondes martenot. This arrangement has since received numerous performances around the world, including one this month by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The performance, under the direction of Scott O’Neil, takes place on April 25 at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver.’ (Excerpt from https://www.eamdc.com/news/us-premiere-of-jonny-greenwoods-water-with-australian-chamber-orchestra/).

Greenwood’s ‘Water’ was a wonderful ode to Philip Larkin’s poem of the same name.


If I were called in

To construct a religion

I should make use of water.


Going to church

Would entail a fording

To dry, different clothes;


My liturgy would employ

Images of sousing,

A furious devout drench,


And I should raise in the east

A glass of water

Where any-angled light

Would congregate endlessly.

Greenwood’s meditative piece enhanced Larkin’s poem with the addition of the tanpura. The tanpura’s soft tones effortlessly melted alongside the chamber orchestra.  One couldn’t help but envision observing a body of water on a sunny day with its ripples and then those polar opposite quiet but disastrous moments in a storm.  These themes floated alongside Larkin’s poetic intention.  We see how the glimmer of water is used as a form of a cleansing ritual in religion, the importance of practicing faith in the present and the transcendent power of water as a life force seen within one’s own healing, growth and empowerment through faith.

As we transitioned from ‘Water’ into ‘Knocking at the Hellgate’ we felt the pangs of emotion, discontent and movement from one stage of light into a chapter of darkness.

Skratch Bastid’s custom summary of TSO’s 12th annual New Creations Festival was pure decadence and gave the audience a break from the intensity of the evening. It seemed like everyone was waiting for him to take centre stage with his kit.  His piece was a testament to the TSO taking the Company not only in a modern direction but creating a sense of inclusion for the next generation of music enthusiasts.  Skratch took bits and pieces from the festival’s rehearsals and stitched them into a breakbeat essay that not only demonstrated the beautifully curated scope of the festival but honoured the musicians work at its classical core.  I encourage TSO instead of giving Skratch Bastid five minutes to give him an hour in the years ahead.  It’s time.

Please continue to check out other wonderful programming at TSO in 2016. They are changing the game for classical music in ‘the city’.

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‘Psycho’ at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (October 31, 2015)

This year for Halloween it was all about doing something different but keeping it low key. When we heard that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra would be showcasing Alfred Hitchcock’s supreme suspense thriller ‘Psycho’ – we knew we needed to be a part of it!

Every spine-tingling scene is made more vivid, more bone-chilling by having Bernard Herrmann’s iconic string-orchestra score played live to the film by the superlative artists of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Trish Crawford from The Toronto Star stated in her article dated Sept 22, 2015 (http://www.thestar.com/authors.crawford_trish.html)  Conductor, Constantine Kitsopoulos ‘has conducted many Psycho concerts in recent years as live orchestra with film “is a growing symphonic trend,” he says, and a way bring people into concert halls.

He also has conducted orchestras for An American in Paris, The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, Home Alone, Star Trek and a compendium of Hitchcock films, including Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train.

Using two screens beside his podium, Kitsopoulos watches the movie on one side and a synchronized timing device on the other. This tells him when to pause and cues him 30 seconds before a new section of music.

Unlike today, when the composer is the last one brought into the project, Herrmann composed early and, in some cases, Hitchcock cut the film to match his score, says Kitsopoulos.’

There is nothing like watching ‘Psycho’ on a big screen in the gorgeous Roy Thomson Hall and having a pop up experience of the strings accenting the shower murder scene in real time. As we glanced around the audience to take in the audience reaction – there wasn’t a soul in the Hall that wasn’t horrified.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is onto something here. Next stop, hopefully ‘The Birds’, ‘North by Northwest’ and ‘Vertigo’.  Pretty please.


Toronto Symphony Orchestra: ‘Back to the Future’ with Live Orchestra

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Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Back to The Future’.  It feels like just yesterday where my sisters and I went to the Drive In in Etobicoke, Ontario to see this cult classic with our Dad.  Clearly, we are very old.

As everyone celebrates ‘Back to The Future’ Day on October 21st,  I celebrated it early last weekend with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

We immersed ourselves in Alan Silvestri’s dynamic score as performed live by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra while watching ‘Back to The Future’ in its entirety at Roy Thomson Hall. Michael J. Fox, still as young we remember him, stars as a teen that undergoes one hilarious and suspenseful adventure after another when he travels 30 years into the past.

We couldn’t help but chuckle at the same scenes, shake our heads in moments when as kids we were awestruck, wondered how that same red vest would look as good on Fox today as it did 30 years ago, was a tad horrified how cool Huey Lewis was as a 12 year old and finally where has all the time gone.

Audiences on the night were in for an exclusive treat:  we got approximately twenty minutes of brand new music added by award-winning composer Silvestri to the film’s score especially for the unique live orchestra presentations.  This in itself was well worth the price of admission.

To make for an even more pop up experience we got giddy in front of the exact replica of the DeLorean time machine that was parked outside Roy Thomson Hall before the concert.  As a twelve year old, I may have had a total melt down.  As a 40 year old, I smiled a big smile.

Conductor, Steven Reineke, was the rock star of the night. He gently encouraged his orchestra to keep up with the musical current as we got lost in nostalgia.  Watching a film with TSO punctuating poignant scenes made us giggle, nudge our neighbours and truly enjoy a new kind of film watching experience.  Reineke asked the audience how many people had been to a symphony before – more than 90% of the crowd put their hand up.  What a wonderful way to introduce a new generation to the symphony in a relaxed setting where you can munch yummy snacks, sip drinks and share a pop like in a 50’s soda joint in  ‘Back to The Future’.

TSO is onto something here!

With Halloween around the corner, be sure to catch Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ on Sat Oct 31, 2015 at 7:30 PM at Roy Thomson Hall with TSO as well. Going to Halloween parties and battling people in a club dressed as Beetle Juice and Elvira is so passé.  Try out a new way to celebrate Halloween with a film meets symphony combo on the side!  See you there?