Music Niagara Festival is collaborating with 10 other classical music organizations from across the province to bring a little bit of summer to your winter.
The 11 festivals have banded together to form Classical Music Festivals of Canada (CFMC). Their website goes live Jan. 28 with the launch of July in January, an online event featuring live music shared by each organization.
Music Niagara founder and artistic director Atis Bankas is excited about the opportunity to introduce music lovers from Ottawa, Gananoque, Parry Sound, Picton, Stratford and elsewhere to the vast array of quality music that is perennially on the program here in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“It’s a great cross-promotion for us to spread the news of our own unique character,” Bankas tells The Local. “Our brand shows that we offer seasoned artists every year. It’s always great to expand your reach, and maybe it will translate into increased ticket sales in the future.”
The CFMC is the brainchild of violinist Mark Fewer (artistic director of the Stratford Summer Music Festival) and clarinetist James Campbell (artistic director of Parry Sound’s Festival of the Sound). The two respected musicians were speaking of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and began to brainstorm ways arts organizations could continue to connect to audiences amidst the uncertainty.
They began to focus on finding a way for festivals to join together for an off-season event as a method for connection and community building.
Like Music Niagara, the other festivals were forced to pivot to online offerings of their usual live performances over the past 22 months. Many invested in state-of-the-art audio and video recording to share livestream performances as artists became increasingly comfortable with virtual venues.
The expertise gained by the 11 artistic directors through that transformation lent itself to the idea of July in January.
“Our thinking was to find a way to give the gift of music as a thank you to our supporters by bringing their favourite summer festivals into their home during the coldest, most isolating months of the year,” says Campbell from his home in Parry Sound. “The idea is a way of bringing summer to an Ontario winter. It’s free of charge, and music lovers can take a trip across the province without leaving the comfort of their home.”
One after another of the artistic directors signed on to be involved. Each has put together a presentation representing some of the best of their online performances from the past 2 seasons.
Bankas says the Music Niagara faithful will recognize Emma Meinrenken performing The Red Violin, Mozart’s birthday celebration, the trio from the Shaw and Music set, and the Paris Connection show that was held inside the new barn in the Pillar and Post Garden in summer, 2021.
As well, Thousand Islands Playhouse artistic director Eric Friesen, a former host and producer for CBC and NPR public radio, interviews each of his colleagues, giving them a chance to explain what their unique classical music festival is all about.
Campbell reflects on the videos he has seen thus far and confirms that there is no duplication of repertoire among them. Every attempt was made to allow each festival to present something fresh and unique while representing their own musical niche.
“There is some incredibly inventive and marvellous programming going on with all my colleagues in Ontario,” says Campbell. “It’s very rich. And I’m amazed at how quickly they all signed on for this.”
“The collegiality of each of the artistic directors was wonderful,” Campbell adds. “We’re all in this together. We’re all friends, and this shows how united the classical music scene is in Ontario. They all get it, that the more people know about all the festivals in Ontario the better it is for everyone.”
Campbell agrees that the online presentation can only serve each festival well in giving them a chance to bring their offerings to new audiences. And it should benefit the musicians, too.
“We have a program for young artists, and our (Festival of the Sound) video features a wonderful young pianist,” Campbell says. “My hope is that people will see him and he will get invitations to play at other festivals.
The festival’s name, with ‘Canada’ in its title rather than ‘Ontario’, hints at potential future plans to expand the offerings beyond the provincial borders. And Campbell and the others are hoping that the website created to deliver July in January becomes an ongoing frequent stop for classical music lovers worldwide looking to expand their horizons.
CFMC’s inaugural online festival launches Jan. 28 via the website classicalmusicfestivals.ca, and will remain available for an undetermined time following that day. It’s free of charge, and visitors can peruse any or all of the 11 participating festivals. Viewers are encouraged to support the participating arts organizations by donating through links on the website.