Heading into their second season offering an online version of their usual jazz, classical and world music fare, Bravo Niagara! Festival seems to have things figured out.
This month, their Amplified Series, which debuted in 2020, kicks off with a performance from Juno Award-winning flamenco-style guitarist Jesse Cook. It’s the first of six shows that form Bravo Niagara!’s Spring 2021 Amplified Membership Program.
“Last year, we launched Amplified as our response to COVID, and we had over 60,000 views and counting, and it allowed us to connect to new audiences,” says co-founder and executive director Alexis Spieldenner. “This spring, we decided to launch a new Amplified membership, which will give our audience an opportunity to experience exclusive content from some of the leading artists of today, and the stars of tomorrow.”
Of Jesse Cook, Spieldenner says, “I’m a big fan. Hopefully in the future he is an artist that we can present live in concert to an audience in Niagara. But we thought this would be an opportunity to share his music with our audiences now.”
In addition to Cook, Bravo Niagara! will welcome violinist siblings Nikki and Timothy Chooi, cellist Stéphane Tétreault and 19-year-old multi-genre composer, pianist, songwriter and singer Emily Bear.
Bear participated in the Bravo Niagara! Amplified version of We Are the World, the first entry in last spring’s online series. Her album Diversity, recorded when she was 11, was produced by Quincy Jones. In 2016, at 14 years old, she performed in front of a sold-out Bravo Niagara! crowd at Stratus Vineyards. Recently, she’s made waves worldwide via her collaboration with fellow young singer-songwriter Abigail Barlow on Bridgerton – The Musical, sharing their progress via social media platforms.
“She’s just phenomenal,” Spieldenner raves. “They’re basically musical theatre’s new songwriting duo, they’ve gone viral, they’ve been featured on every media for the last month now.”
Besides the performance by the young virtuoso, Bear will be featured in an interview hosted by actress Brigitte Robinson. In fact, each of the shows features a similar exclusive value-added extra for Amplified members, including meet-and-greet sessions with Cook, Tétreault and the Chooi Brothers.
Without the ability to bring musicians and music-lovers together in a physical venue, to Spieldenner, these extras are a key to building a collective experience. “We wanted to have more of that connection between artists and audiences. Adding that interactive Zoom after, gives audiences an opportunity to meet and say ‘hi’ to Jesse Cook or the Chooi Brothers. It’s something different from what we did last year.”
The second April show will celebrate International Jazz Day with a program titled Sing About Freedom. Curated by Céline Peterson, it includes Robi Botos Bravo Niagara!’s 2021 artist in residence, as well as Molly Johnson, Lara Driscoll, Laila Biali, Monty Alexander and others. A conversation between bassist John Clayton and retired Chicago Tribune jazz and classical music critic Howard Reich follows.
The June 11 Amplified performance truly steps away from what one might expect from Bravo Niagara! Toronto-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Royal Wood is featured that night, in a show to be recorded at Ravine Vineyard. His repertoire swings more toward the pop and folk genres.
“Like Jesse Cook, he’s an artist that we’ve been wanting to bring for a long time as well,” says Spieldenner. “He performed at Massey Hall recently, and released that on record. To be able to hear him in a more intimate performance will be very special.”
Also special is the exclusive that follows Royal Wood’s performance. A trained sommelier, he will be showcasing that talent as well, with a wine-tasting alongside Ravine’s winemaker, Lydia Tomek.
Spieldenner and co-founder and artistic director Christine Mori continue to plan for that elusive day when they may be able to again present their events to an in-person live audience. Meanwhile, this year’s membership fees will enable the non-profit organization to continue to present and support world-class musicians, as they have since their inception in 2014. That financial support is a key to ensuring audiences can enjoy quality musical experiences this year, and in the future.
“It’s been crucial, the support we’ve received from the donors, the sponsors, and the government funders who have been able to help Bravo Niagara! and other charitable organizations right now,” Spieldenner says, “because we don’t have live audiences. Without that revenue, that support is vital to continue to be able to support the artists.”
Members will be provided access to all six virtual shows, and their accompanying online meet-and-greet and interview sessions. Using a new digital platform via the Bravo Niagara! website, each of the six events will be available for members to enjoy for a full week after their premiere.
Access to Bravo Niagara! Amplified Membership Series events is $100, but readers of The Local can save 10 per cent using the discount code NOTLLOCAL.
Jesse Cook starts things off on April 23, while the final performance by the Chooi Brothers is scheduled for July 9. Visit bravoniagara.org/amplified-virtual-series for the full schedule and to register.