Local lovers of classical and contemporary music are finally able to enjoy performances in the aesthetically beautiful and acoustically excellent St. Mark’s Anglican Church this weekend.
Ukrainian-born pianist Mykola Suk kicks off the 2022 Music Niagara season this Friday, June 17 with a performance of works by composers Antonin Dvorak and Ivan Fedorovych Karabyts. Suk will be joined by the CamerAtis Ensemble, led by violinist and Music Niagara founder and artistic director Atis Bankas.
Board chair Richard Baker is excited for the return to Music Niagara’s long-time home after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a fabulous venue for music,” Baker affirms. “And Mykola Suk is a great choice to start the season there.”
Suk is no newcomer to St. Mark’s Church or Music Niagara. Bankas reminded The Local that the pianist performed there in Music Niagara’s first season, when the festival was known as the Niagara International Chamber Music Festival.
A professor of music at University of Nevada – Las Vegas, Suk’s career has spanned four continents, taking him to prestigious venues such as the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York City. He has appeared as a soloist with numerous leading orchestras, from the Russian National Symphony under Mikhail Pletnev to the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn conducted by Roman Kofman.
His passion for chamber music has brought him to many distinguished chamber music festivals and collaborations throughout the world, including the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival (Finland), Kiev International Music Festival (Ukraine), Australian Festival of Chamber Music, and International Keyboard Institute and Festival in New York City.
As well, throughout his career Suk has premiered numerous works, especially by Ukrainian composers, most of which were composed for, dedicated to, or commissioned by him.
Suk will be joined by a chamber ensemble led by Bankas and featuring Jasmine (Meng Jia) Lin on violin, cellist Dobrochna Zubek, Troy Milleker on bass and violist Emad Zolfaghari. Friday’s program includes Dvorak’s Piano Quintet Opus. 81 and the Concert Divertimento for Piano and String Quintet by Ukrainian composer Karabyts.
Music Niagara’s second concert follows Monday night at St. Mark’s. Mirror Visions Ensemble (MVE) brings their unique combination of music and text to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The group’s passion for storytelling will turn its focus on the topic of travel via music by the likes of Joseph Haydn, Benjamin Britten, Cole Porter and Kurt Weill and texts from Henry James, James Joyce and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
“They are really fascinating,” an excited Baker says of MVE. “They are absolutely unique and we are fortunate to have them here Monday.”
Soprano Mireille Asselin will be a featured performer Monday. Though it will be her first time performing in NOTL, the Almonte, Ontario resident has visited a few times.
“My husband, Chris Enns, has family in Virgil,” she says. “They are coming to the concert and really looking forward to it. We are very excited to have an excuse to come to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We’re going to come a few days early and load up on strawberries.”
Asselin was born in Ottawa before the family moved to St. John, New Brunswick. They returned to the capitol city for her high school years, following which she earned a degree at Toronto’s Glenn Gould School of Music, before attaining her Master’s at Yale. She spent 2011 to 2013 as a member of the Canadian Opera Company’s Young Artists Ensemble.
The accomplished singer spent five seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, where she debuted as Poussette in Manon.
“It was incredible,” Asselin says. “I never saw myself as someone who would end up on the Met stage, so it all felt a little like an impossible, glamorous blur. I covered a bunch of lead roles and sang some small roles as well. It was a wonderful, inspiring place to work.”
Asselin has been one of 10 singers with MVE since 2017. She quickly learned that the ensemble’s model is markedly different from that of the Met.
“We were always told in school that even though we all love to sing chamber music recitals, there’s not a lot of money to be had in that area,” Mireille recalls. “We’d likely only do a handful of small recitals over our career. The Mirror Visions model is a rare example of a vocal chamber music group that performs often. I’ve been able to do so much more recital work than I ever thought I would be able to.”
A typical MVE performance sees all performers, including pianist and usually three singers, on stage together for the duration of the recital. It creates a warm, inviting, collegial atmosphere that binds the performers strongly with the audience.
MVE has a roster of sopranos, mezzos, tenors and baritones that come together for performances based on the repertoire and depending on people’s schedules. The ensemble’s website lists 16 different themed programs, of which Journeys is one.
“Journeys is our most toured program,” says Asselin. “It’s based on a repertoire about travels, or journeys of a spiritual nature. A big part of our mandate is to perform brand new song cycles or pieces of vocal chamber music. On this program there are about five Mirror Visions commissions by some interesting and wonderful American composers.”
Amongst those commissioned works are composer Tom Cipullo’s Windermere Hotel, which sets an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem to his original music, and Scott Wheeler’s Isabella Letters, an original song cycle based on letters to and from Isabella Stewart Gardner, a leading American art collector and philanthropist from the Boston area.
MVE’s journey to St. Mark’s Church may influence Monday’s performance as well.
“We always have a moment when we come into the space collectively and figure out how we want to present that show in the space for these people,” explains Asselin. “All three singers and pianist make the show whatever feels right to us in our surroundings.”
Tickets for the recitals by Mykola Suk (Friday, June 17) and Mirror Visions Ensemble (Monday, June 20) are available at musicniagara.org. Both performances begin at 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s.