Oboist Colin Maier of Quartetto Gelato is positive he and his group have played Music Niagara every year of the festival’s existence.
He assures The Local in a telephone conversation from his Hamilton-area home, though, that no one has ever seen a show quite like this Sunday’s online event.
Popular local comedian Joe Pillitteri joins the quartet for a session of music and hilarity sure to have you laughing in the comfort of your own home. The program was recorded by Niagara College’s broadcasting department at Chateau des Charmes Winery in front of a group of about 16 Music Niagara sponsors.
Humour is nothing new to a Quartetto Gelato concert. Those who have seen them in previous Music Niagara engagements would know that besides a repertoire of classical works teamed with tangos, gypsy, klezmer, jazz and folk songs from around the globe, they always engage their audiences with humour and dance during their performances.
But with Pillitteri along for the ride, the humour element is kicked up a couple of notches.
He sees his role in the show as a bit like Doc Severinson talking to Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. “Between songs we would kind of banter back and forth,” says Pillitteri. “The end result was to try to get the audience to understand a bit about the music they were performing, but it was fun, too.”
Pillitteri loved the experience, which was also totally new to him. “Their natural ability to mix it up with the audience, and their music selection reflected that as well. I seriously teared up twice during their performance, and then laughed hard at the lyrics to some of their other songs.”
Maier echoes Pillitteri’s enthusiasm, and loved working with him.
“He was so fun,” Maier says. “We had this idea, never meeting in person beforehand, we felt the best way was to treat it like a late night show with Jimmy Fallon or something like that. We told him a bit about what we were doing, and he kind of riffed off that. He was really, really easy to work with, very funny.”
Both Pillitteri and Maier appreciated the ability to finally perform in front of a live audience, albeit a very small one, after all this time under pandemic restrictions.
“I was a bit worried about the small audience,” explains Pillitteri. “If you tell a joke that falls flat to 200 people, someone will still laugh, so there’s energy there you can still feed off of. When you tell a joke that falls flat to 16 people, that’s a tough crowd for comics. If it’s not funny, then it really sounds unfunny. But they were awesome, totally gracious. They (the audience members) were ready to be out and enjoying themselves too.”
“I’ve been making a living almost exclusively off of live performances, and that ended abruptly,” chimes in Maier. “We had to remember how to play in front of people. It was therapeutic. You hear the cliche to ‘play it like it’s your last time,’ and I don’t really know when the next time (in front of an audience) is going to be. The Niagara show may be the last live show for a long time. That’s the way we approached it, to just leave it all out there.”
Many who have seen the quartet in past Music Niagara engagements may not recognize the latest line-up of the group. At 11 years, Maier is the longest-standing member of the current incarnation of Quartetto Gelato. He says newer members Kirk Starkey, Charles Cozens and Konstantin Popovic combine to bring a fresh, new musical element to the group’s repertoire.
“Our cello player (Starkey) has arranged a beautiful classic for the quartet, our accordion player (Cozens) is a world-class composer and arranger so he’s brought in some new stuff, our violin player (Popovic) was born in the former Yugoslavia, so we use a Serbian gypsy tune to end the show. It’s what Gelato has always done, what can you bring that no one else does, or what’s your secret talent or skill. More of the different flavours of Gelato that people will hear, but still within the same vibe.”
Pillitteri enjoyed the event so much he hopes he has another chance to work with the quartet some time in the future. It was the local comic’s first engagement with Music Niagara, and he is also looking forward to the possibility of further involvement with the organization.
For Maier and Quartetto Gelato, it’s pretty much a given they will be back in NOTL. “I love that it is right here in our backyard,” he says. “It feels like family every time. I’m honoured that out of all the people that have had gigs with (musical director) Atis (Bankas) at the festival, they chose us to play this year. We’re very fortunate.”
You can watch the premiere of Music and Laughter, filmed live at Chateau des Charmes, this Sunday, Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. on Music Niagara’s Watch Livepage of their website, musicniagara.org.