photo by Lane Dorsey

photo by Lane Dorsey

welcome to Blue Riband! it’s a collection of sorts, one that can be described in some instances as an antidote against current events and in others as ‘a farrago of superlative nonsense’. it is, above all, a place to celebrate good music, films, books and other such good blue things. (as to the motive for calling it Blue Ribbon---spelt Riband to avoid the congratulatory cease-and-desist letter from the namesake brewery---i don’t quite remember. one probable hypothesis that i can recall as to the origin of the moniker can be found in the work of an artist whose only album, Colour Green, expressed so much of a particular mood that she chose to go no further. of relevance are two lines from ‘Says Elliot’, the eighth song on that album, which is a medley of extractions from a poem by t.s. elliot. in it sibylle baier sings: “Sadness is a radical quantity, says Elliot / Sadness is a long brown ribbon, says he”... i occasionally find myself on the other end of that spectrum, trying to capture the innumerable shades and brilliant colours that flash to mind when joy is instead the currency of transaction.)

this is as well a place for the joys of others. i am inconsolably grateful for the collaboration of other emerging writers, of invitations by enthusiastic show-runners, and the support of art-workers in the city. through the format of reviews, previews and other critical chit-chat, this blog combines journalism with some quite readable academicalese, all tied together with some heartstrings. to that extent this collection is foremost a catalog of artworks and art-experiences that excite us---though we don’t hesitate to call a spade a spade (or a shitshow a shitshow). it will at times read like something of a counter-cultural perspective, making up for that with a fair bit of culture. but it is foremost a place for writers crafting the skill of appraisal, for sober recollections of intoxicating inspirations. there is then necessarily a quotidian element to this collection, maintaining something of a weekly arts-routine---that is more or less the purpose of this blog. to that end have i been inspired by the work of one maria popova and her passion-project of more than twelve years called Brain Pickings, and as well by the work of jenna simeonov of Schmopera. the incessant output of these two women, popova especially, have contributed both to my general artistic and literary education as well as the strong desire to seek out like-minded collaborators. (if you are interested in contributing to any of the sections listed below, i’d be more than thrilled to have you join our swashbuckling troop of commentators and opinionators, early-music lovers and late-night emailers).

would love to hear from ya: blueribandweekly-at-gmail.com

—- michael zarathus-cook

Logo designed by Harpreet Singh;  www.heyharpreet.com

Logo designed by Harpreet Singh; www.heyharpreet.com

music will always be at the center-spread of this blog, the engine on which it runs; and that is the mission of this weekly music journal. each week a classical composition on an LP record—probably excavated from some dusty dollar-bin—is the subject of my investigative journaling undergirded by occasionally clairvoyant insights, the purpose of which is to make tangible the otherwise fleeting impressions made by a passing melody or satisfyingly dissonant chord. it is also a weekly attempt to understand what matters most in the musical experience. at times i feel i’ve hit the nail on its head by means of usually quite accidental realization, but for the most part it’s a kind of meandering around a wordlessly realized truth. i recently discovered a particularly satisfying iteration of one such relevant truth in a passing observation made by torontonian author andré alexis. in the first installation of his Quincunx Series he describes what he believes matters most in the musical experience of one of his characters who had been playing the cello for two decades. more than technical exactitudes or flawless delivery of notes on a page, there is more to music than any canon or clever counterpoint: 

 Not flawlessly in the sense of getting every note and notation right. That kind of flawlessness happened rarely, but its occurrence was trivial. In fact, when all the notes and tempi, trills and pizzicati are rightly hit, it usually meant that he had been thinking about notes and tempi, trills and pizzicati, and not about music. As he slowly discovered after years of listening and playing, music was an affair of spirit and moment. “” andré alexis, Pastoral

---‘an affair of spirit and moment’, that is what i try to find on a weekly basis with this year-long roster of recordings. the moments spent with these compositions are moments wherein the intractable ambiguities of ‘spirit’ are briefly available at an intimate proximity to daily life.

then there is also the question of timing---even the right kind of music can be played at the wrong time; here my favourite simile regarding the relationship between months and music is especially relevant: 

 I will say another word for the choicest ears: what I really want from music is that be cheerful and profound, like an afternoon in October. “” friedrich nietzsche, Ecce Homo

there must also be similarly marvelous ways of describing music as it relates to the other eleven months. chopin on a balmy evening in august; beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony rising up to an april morning; handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks as i count down the hours towards a new year, mozart in may...tchaikovsky in december---all attempts to find that cheerful and profound combination of spirit and moment.

(a year is a long thing, so i’d be delighted at the prospect of collaborators on this ongoing project. here is the full set-list for all 52 weeks. if any of these pieces should go right up your alley and you’re inclined to share some thoughts, feelings and nerd-outs from your inner orch-dork—i’d be happy to loan you the corresponding record! otherwise always happy to grab coffee and some idle chatter about whatever music moves you the most).

Pre/Post-Show Notes (PSN)

here you’ll find all sorts of well-informed chatter regarding productions recently attended or verily anticipated. you’ll also find what are part reviews and part reports on some of the latest happenings in toronto’s performance-arts scene. the tone and scope of these reviews are as much in the direction of the occasional audience as for the ‘insiders’ and creatives---but especially for the like-minded believers in the paramount importance of the growth of toronto’s performance-arts companies. 

here as well i owe a debt of gratitude to all the contributors and showrunners that make these reviews possible. i’m grateful foremost to the opportunities afforded by the Emerging Arts Critics program that has been a boon and blessing as far as exposure to other writers, and fostering great connections between arts organizations and emergent arts-writers in the city. 

the writers i met via the Emerging Arts Critics have been an integral part to the growth of this blog (thanks y’all!) and i’m  always looking to grow our collective if our style of writing matches yours (drinks on me!).


great films can make for a good substitute if therapy is too expensive——thus i try to put my self in front of such films as often as possible, and as a result have developed an insatiable yearning for the yesteryear cinema of such seminal filmmakers as robert bresson, ingmar bergman, wim wenders, federico fellini; as well as the still very much alive ones like the cosmically talented brit marling and alejandro jodorowsky. occasionally i’m unable to suppress the urge to think out loud about a potentially life-changing film i’ve just witnessed...so i wield this section of Blue Riband as a sort of lance to puncture the swelling mind-sack that would otherwise result in a kind of elephantiasis of the imagination. (if you should as well have seen something absolutely brilliant and are looking for a place to wax poetic about it, it would be my pleasure to host you!).


a space for extended reviews of books and poetry collections that just might find a place on your reading list. it’s as well an ongoing collaboration with the inexhaustible imagination of toronto-based writer john nyman to bring you weekly reflections, commentary and good ol’ show-and-tell of the literary events and eventful literature——both current and dated——that we find enthralling, or at least enjoy as fodder for the bookshelf.