Music Niagara Festival, culturally rich and relevant, appeals to a broad range of musical tastes. It wrapped up this weekend, after presenting international and Canadian performers, but its roots are in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
I attended 19 of the 29 concerts this year and every single performance I saw was superb. Below are highlights of a few of my favourites.
I’ll never forget the sound of Timothy Chooi playing a rare Stradivarius violin with pianist Benjamin Smith. The performance was intimate, simple and extraordinary.
Jazz great Heather Bambrick and her quintet lit up the stage at Pondview Estate Winery with an infectious performance that energized everyone at the show. The band enjoyed themselves as much as the audience, and it was a night everyone will remember.
Last Night of the Proms was wonderful. Audience members turned up waving or wearing various forms of British flags, and sang along to their favourite British patriotic tunes. Presenting sponsor Elaine Mayo put everyone in the mood dressed as Britannia.
The Toronto All Star Big Band featured young singers and musicians playing songs made popular in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, long before any of them were born. Surrounded by local vineyards at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, they sang popular tunes made famous by The Andrews Singers and Frank Sinatra, as well as wartime-era songs that new audiences and musicians are discovering generations later.
Hilario Duran introduced concert goers to Afro-Cuban music, a complex combination of Latino Jazz with Cuban French/Spanish/African influences. The audience was mesmerized by his extraordinary skill as a pianist and composer, and enjoyed the great quartet accompanying him, including sultry vocalist Adis Rodriguez.
The season finale, All Beethoven, was spectacular. The audience clapped throughout the program and gave the performers a roaring standing ovation. I asked Artistic Director Atis Bankas (who played in the concert) what made it so special:
“What makes musicians most happy is to see the concert hall fully occupied, sensing audience’s listening intensity, and the collective urge to applaud as an expression of great satisfaction with music and performance,” Bankas said. “All these things were present at the final concert of Music Niagara Festival’s 21st season. Since we are entering the 2020 season celebrating Ludwig’s 250th anniversary, I’m looking forward to many more concerts with the same enthusiasm and appreciation from our ever growing audiences.”
During Beethoven’s lifetime, Bankas said, audiences were expressing their appreciation, support and enthusiasm by clapping between movements. If the applause continued, the performers would repeat the same movement again, before continuing with the remaining movements.
“This is my official permission to do so for works of Beethoven and his contemporaries in the upcoming 22nd season of the Music Niagara Festival. On behalf of all the musicians, I want to thank all the audiences for their support and enthusiasm that have attended this season’s concerts.”
Music Niagara’s signature concert series has ended, but stay tuned for news on upcoming performances, including the Dec. 8 Toronto All Star Big Band Christmas Concert.