British expats will feel right at home Saturday, Oct. 10, while watching Music Niagara Festival’s Last Night of the Proms. It’s the penultimate entry in the festival’s 2020 At Home Concert Series, recorded earlier this week by the Niagara College broadcasting crew at Chateau des Charmes Winery.
The BBC Proms, formerly the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, are a British tradition dating back to 1895. The ‘Last Night’’ part of the title refers to the finale of the eight-week summer season of daily orchestral concerts, most of which are held at the Royal Albert Hall and aired by the UK’s national broadcaster.
For the Music Niagara event, the orchestra will be conducted by Sabatino Vacca and feature Canadian soprano Allison Arends as soloist. Adding a bit of British authenticity, Niagara Falls comedian David Green, an expat himself, hosts the event.
As it happens, Green and Vacca worked together just two week ago, at Firmata Musica’s A Symphonic Summer Night, at Queenston Heights bandshell. Green says, “it was awesome. I’m usually in shady bars and clubs. To be in a beautiful outdoor venue and see how many people were there, socially distanced, of course, dressed in tuxedos and dressed to the nines, it was a completely different, immersive experience.”
For that show, and Last Night of the Proms, Niagara’s king of the one-liner tailors his material for a unique blend of classical music and comedy. “I don’t get up there and just do puns,” he says. “My job is to just keep the flow going in between, keep it light-hearted. I’ll make observations in between and make jokes about things that have just happened.”
In a virtual meeting recently with Vacca and Music Niagara artistic director Atis Bankas, the three went over the track selection for this week’s show. Green will use this knowledge to prepare for the event. The meeting left him with a few earworms, however.
“I’ve been singing them all day today,” he told The Local from his Niagara Falls home, reluctantly pulling himself away from his two-month-old daughter Charlotte. Originally from Nottingham, Green says, “many of the tracks that are going to be played, obviously I have heard through the years. It’s nice to see them all in their entirety and see how it should be done. My dad’s going to be pretty happy about it, I’m sure of that.”
Conductor Vacca is the founder, artistic director, and chorus master of the newly formed Southern Ontario Lyric Opera, as well as the music director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and the Milton Philharmonic Orchestra. He and Bankas have put together a 15-piece orchestra that includes some of Vacca’s colleagues, members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and local Niagara musicians affiliated with Music Niagara.
Vacca promises many of the usual tried and true Proms staples, such as God Save the Queen, Rule Britannia, and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. Soloist Ahrends takes on selections from the musicals Pirates of Penzance and Carousel, and Bankas plays a beautiful solo on the R. Vaughan Williams classic, The Lark Ascending. It’s a mix of the intimate and the bombastic for which the Proms has come to be known.
Two days later, on Thanksgiving Monday, Music Niagara’s At Home Series comes to an end with a tribute to perhaps the most important jazz album ever recorded. Released in 1959, the Miles Davis masterpiece Kind of Blue still stands today as one of the best albums ever made. Though it fell from number 12 to number 31 on this month’s update of Rolling Stone Magazine’s best albums of all time, it remains a landmark recording that still defines the jazz genre today.
One of Canada’s finest trumpet players, Steve McDade, leads a talented band featuring Perry White on tenor saxophone, John Johnson on alto sax, Adrean Farrugia on piano, Scott Alexander on bass, and Brian Barlow on drums. The sextet will rip through the well-known jazz classics So What, Freddie Freeloader, and Flamenco Sketches, as well as other numbers from the jazz legends repertoire.
As with Last Night of the Proms, comedy will also be a part of this final show. To keep things light-hearted, popular NOTL comedian Joe Pillitterri makes his second appearance in the At Home Series as host of the event, recorded at the beautiful McArthur Estate on John Street.
Last Night of the Proms debuts Saturday, Oct. 10 while Steve McDade’s tribute to Kind of Blue goes Monday, Oct. 12. Both air at 7:30 p.m., and can be seen on musicniagara.org or the Music Niagara YouTube page.