The Music Niagara Festival is wrapping up its Brahms Oktoberfest celebration with four consecutive days of online concerts celebrating the German composer. Each is a perfect opportunity to pop open a German bier and enjoy the Oktoberfest celebration, with a soundtrack of course, in the comfort of your own home.
On Thursday, Oct. 28, the Oast House Hay Loft is the setting for a performance by Toronto’s Odin Quartet, a collection of four accomplished young chamber musicians. The following evening features Adamatti, the duo of Adam Diderrich on violin and Matti Pulkki of Quartetto Gelato on accordion. The show, recorded in front of a live audience at The Exchange Brewery earlier this month, is a fun mix of classics, polkas and Oktoberfest-style sing-alongs.
Saturday evening’s online event was recorded at Silversmith Brewing Company. It features Music Niagara’s founder and artistic director Atis Bankas on violin with Victoria Kogan on piano. Also making a special appearance will be soprano Julie Nesrallah, who is well-known as the host of Tempo on CBC Music, Canada’s national classical music program.
The weekend wraps up Sunday, Oct. 31 with a multi-faceted performance recorded just last week in front of an audience of about 30 people at the new Blackburn Brewhouse in Niagara Falls.
The concert features a brass quintet composed of members of the Niagara Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances by pianist Victoria Kogan, soprano Inga Filipova, clarinetist Peter Stoll, cellist Cameron Crozman and the ever popular Quartetto Gelato. As well, actor Joe Ringhofer returns to provide some background on the month’s honouree, Johannes Brahms.
It’s all tied together by another Joe, local comedian and business owner Joe Pillitteri, who shares some hilarious personal stories (Joe makes a concussion he recently suffered sound funny), takes some light-hearted digs at show sponsors Richard and Nadine Osborn, and banters easily back and forth with Quartetto Gelato leader Colin Maier.
Oboist Maier tells The Local that Brahms is not usually on the program for a Quartetto Gelato performance. That could have much to do with Pulkki’s accordion being a major part of the foursome.
“One thing with us is that nobody writes specifically for this group,” Maier says. “There’s so much music out there that when you want to play a song, you have to do all the arrangements yourself. The accordion, and the rearrangements just work. It’s a living, breathing instrument. It gives us extra musical flexibility.”
Indeed Pulkki, to whom Maier refers as Flying Fingers Finn, takes a masterful solo on Brahms’ variation on a theme by Schumann, written as a tribute to fellow German composer Robert Shumann’s wife Clara.
The accordion also plays a major role in a fun, lighthearted polka the quartet plays that ties together five famous Brahms themes in the Oktoberfest party style.
The quartet is rounded out by violinist Tino Popovic and cellist Kirk Starkey, who takes care of sound design for most Music Niagara performances. Together, Quartetto Gelato leaves the listener with a new appreciation for how versatile the composer’s music actually can be.
Music Niagara fans will be familiar with Victoria Kogan on the Steinway that was brought to Blackburn for the event. They may not be as familiar with clarinetist Stoll and cellist Crozman, each of whom is probably the best Canada has to offer on their instruments. The brewery’s high ceilings, with the production facility sparkling in the background behind large windows, provides an impressive backdrop and great acoustics for their performances.
Pillitteri’s banter with Quartetto Gelato’s Colin Maier is becoming somewhat of a mainstay with Music Niagara, and the festival promises to bring more of it to the public with a new talk show they are calling The Not-so-Late Show, to debut this winter.
“We’re going to highlight food, wine, facilities, the great parts of Niagara,” Pillitteri explains, “along with musical and entertainment guests. And we’ll switch locations. Colin and I have a great relationship where we’re super-comfortable bantering with each other.”
Maier agrees with Pilletteri’s assessment of their work together. “When I met Joe last year it was just before a show, and it was instant with the back-and-forth. When this opportunity came up it was a perfect idea to have us work together again.”
Music Niagara received a $21,500 grant through the Ontario government’s 2021 Reconnect Festival and Event Program to do the talk show. The plan is to begin with about four instalments held in front of live audiences and streamed via the Music Niagara website. Besides the entertainment element, each show will also be a chance to highlight the local business hosts and the products and services they offer.
They hope to launch the series some time in December, and Pillitteri promises a lot of fun.
“There will be a little bit of comedy,” he says, looking around at his late-morning surroundings at Blackburn Brewhouse. “It’s always subjective, but it always helps when you give people beer at 11:30 in the morning. But that’s exactly what we’re going for, to celebrate music, have some fun, and to be normal again.”
Pillitteri says he will be cracking open a hazy IPA to enjoy while watching this weekend’s online program. The virtual presentations of Music Niagara’s Brahms Oktoberfest are at 7 p.m. each night from Thursday, Oct. 28 to Sunday, Oct. 31. Visit the Music Niagara website at musicniagara.org or their YouTube channel to view each concert.