Saturday, October 19, 2019

Men with big hearts wearing big heels...for a great cause

Taking another diversion this weekend to write about today's 13th annual Walk a Mile in HER Shoes fundraiser for Gillian's Place held at the Pen Centre.  It is an event I have attended since the very first one held downtown at Market Square, and very near and dear to my heart.

The first year men walked the streets downtown, circling King Street, Queen Street, St. Paul Street and James Street, ending up again on King and winding up at Market Square.  I remember that first year the weather was not all that nice and although the relatively small group of men who took part were game, at least one went down with a serious injury, I'm told.

So after that organizers wisely chose to move the event indoors to The Pen Centre, where it has been held every October since then.  The location is ideal as it is enclosed, the floor is smooth and level for the most part, and it is easier to create an audience with all the shoppers already in the mall to begin with.

I think it was the second year onwards I decided to don heels myself to walk with the men, but I never really got a lot of donations, which you need in order to register.  I made it, but just barely.

The last few years, however, I have been on the sidelines as a financial supporter, cheering on the men in heels.  I opted to heed the advice of a lawyer friend of mine who suggested, quite rightly, considering my new career path as a letter carrier for Canada Post, an ankle or foot injury would not be in my best interests.  Especially considering in those early days I didn't qualify for benefits, so if I couldn't work I wouldn't get paid.

So an enthusiastic bystander I became, although maybe before I retire I will don the heels once again for old time's sake.

Those who chose to walk today were all ages, from all walks of life, sharing a common goal:  to end violence against women.  They are to be commended for their determination and willingness to endure a one-mile walk in heels for the betterment of the community, but it is only one day.

Women who seek shelter at Gillian's Place and other women's shelters in communities large and small across the country endure tremendous pain both mentally and physically at the hands of their spouse or partner for great lengths of time.

It shouldn't be that way, and in a perfect world it wouldn't be.  But the reality is it is happening on a daily basis right here in our communities, perhaps right on your own street without you even knowing it.

An acquaintance of mine confessed to me earlier this year she was once in an abusive relationship and frankly, I was shocked to hear it.  A very kind soul with a good heart, she could certainly hold her own in a difficult situation.  Or so I thought.  She told me she ended the marriage and escaped with her children when the situation became untenable.

That story plays out every day in most every community, so she is no different.  But she is a survivor, and I admire her so much for digging deep down inside herself to gather up the courage to leave for a better life elsewhere.

So men walk on this day every year, in a fun event with a very serious purpose:  to raise much-needed funds for Gillian's Place to keep doing what they do, helping those who need it the most.

I don't have numbers on how many participants there were today although it was as large as ever, if not moreso.  But collectively the men who walked raised $125,000 to continue the good work done every day at Gillian's Place, and that translates into a job well done.

Men walk as individuals, as I always did, or as part of a group from a company or club.  No matter how they walk, the result is the same.  And the money raised is greatly needed now more than ever.

Yes, in a perfect world we would not need a Gillian's Place.  But I can't see that happening anytime soon, unfortunately.  So it is vital we do this every year, either by walking ourselves or supporting those who do.  Because you just never know who might benefit from what Gillian's Place can offer them.  It could be someone you never imagined would be in need at all.

So thanks, gentlemen, for a job well done today.  But keep those heels handy, as next year you will be called upon again to show the community just how much you care, and how much we can change the lives of so many each and every day.

Have a great weekend!

October 19th, 2019.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Giving thanks this weekend for a special place set to close

It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and many of us were out in force today getting what we need for a big family get together and feast to celebrate the annual harvest.  The farmer's market in downtown St. Catharines, for example, was bustling with people packed in cheek to jowl looking for just the right additions to their dinner table.

No matter how you spend your time this holiday weekend and with whom, I want to take a moment of your time to offer my thanks for a special little slice of peace and tranquility just around the corner from our house that is soon to close.

Gwen's Teas moved from downtown on St. Paul Street to a lovely period home at 90 Welland Avenue a while ago, and for the longest time I would drive by early in the morning on my way to work and say to myself I should go in again sometime and check out the new digs.  I did finally do that just over a year ago, and I have been going back regularly ever since.

Gwen's Teas is full of just about every variety of tea you can imagine, available for you to purchase and take home or brewed on the spot in their charming tea room at the front of the house.  There you will also find loads of tea-related gifts for sale along with a few tables for people to sit at as they "take tea".

I have always had a soft spot for tea rooms and have been known to go out of my way to visit one on my travels over the years, no matter where I happen to be.  But this one, located steps from our home, is amongst the finest you'll encounter anywhere.

First off, it is peaceful, as any good tea room should be.  It's not a library, of course, but there are books on tea on the shelves if that's your preference.

Secondly, the shop knows how to brew a proper cup of tea.  That's vitally important in a world where people accept tea bags in tepid water at many dining establishments, accustomed as they are to catering more to coffee lovers.

When I would visit, as I did again this week, I always opt for Scottish Breakfast tea which I find strong, bracing and very much to my liking.  Pair the tea with a scone or two with all the trimmings and you have an afternoon tea fit for a king.

Many visits have included conversations with the friendly proprietor of Gwen's Teas, Pam Cicci, a single mom whom I believe lives upstairs looking after her two teenage children.  Lately though, Pam has been absent more and more from the tea room, and the reason, as reported in The St. Catharines Standard last year, is very sad indeed.

Pam, you see, is battling colon cancer that has already spread to her liver.  Regular visits over the past year to the Walker Family Cancer Centre have not produced the desired result.

Through it all this past year as I visited for tea Pam was always upbeat and cheerful in the face of such heartbreaking news, serving tea with a quiet grace you cannot help but admire.  About a month ago when I visited, I saw Pam for the last time and she confided things had not been going well.  But she remained optimistic and that wonderful smile was there as always.

Volunteers have been running the shop while Pam was battling her cancer but at the beginning of this month Pam made the difficult decision to close the business so she can devote all her remaining time to dealing with the cancer and to take care of her young family.

It was a difficult decision but I think it is the right decision at the right time, and I am sure her many customers will agree as well.  As much as we will miss the tea room and of course seeing Pam there, the focus has to be elsewhere at this moment, so today was the final day for regular tea service at Gwen's Teas.

On Monday, a store closing sale will begin, and run through to next weekend with all tea-related merchandise marked down for quick sale.  There will be no tea service, I'm told, just the sale for this final week.

I spent part of a sunny Thursday afternoon there for my final afternoon tea before the sale begins, and although I was sad, I was also glad.  Glad Pam can spend the time needed to focus on what matters most, and glad I finally chose to stop in over a year ago to rediscover this little gem in our city.

Should you choose to visit the sale this week, be sure to share a memory of one of your favourite things about Gwen's Teas.  Pam I am sure would love to hear it!

Cancer can be ruthless and doesn't play favourites.  But we can at least celebrate a life well lived and richly rewarded in so many ways, offer positive energy, and hope for a better outcome this time.  If ever someone deserves our support, Pam does and it is needed now.

Let's celebrate with tea, shall we?  Pam would never want it any other way...

Be thankful for those around you this weekend, and never underestimate the power of love and hope.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend.

October 12th, 2019.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Elora Festival Choral Concert Series gets underway next month

A sure sign the seasons have changed and we are heading on that downward slide towards winter is the fact all the fall/winter concert schedules are out and the selection is almost endless.  We'll be looking at some of the very best concert seasons over the next few months as time allows, beginning today with a favourite destination of ours.

Elora is one of those places you can visit any time of the year and have a great time.  The trip there is scenic, the village is bursting at the seams with interesting shops to explore, there are great restaurants to tempt you, and of course the familiar Elora Mill Inn is back in business again.

All good reasons to go anytime of the year, to be sure.  But the so-called off-season also brings with it the fall & winter Choral Concert Series for the Elora Singers, and this year looks pretty interesting.

This will be the 40th year for the Choral Concert Series in Elora, and it begins November 17th at the cozy confines of St. John's Church in Elora with a concert entitled To The Hands.  The title comes from the major work on the programme, Caroline Shaw's moving To The Hands.  I have always loved hearing the Elora Singers in their home church any time of year, so if you have the chance you should definitely go.

Any choral group worth their salt performs Handel's great oratorio Messiah on a regular basis, and Elora is no different.  The annual performance takes place December 8th in Fergus at the larger St. Joseph's Church.

Messiah is one of those choral works we all know and yet, year after year choral groups perform it and year after year, we flock to those concerts.  Some, like Chorus Niagara, perform it every other year in order to keep things fresh.  Others, like Elora, perform it every season and bring a fresh perspective to it every time.  This year an interesting aspect will be the fact members of the Elora Singers themselves will be featured as soloists.

Closer still to Christmas the Singers will host their very popular Festival of Carols at St. John's Church in Elora, complete with candles lighting the church for each performance.  There are four in all, in order to accommodate the crowds and they still sell out:  December 17th & 18th, at 5 and 7:30 pm each day.  Plan to book your tickets early for these concerts to be sure you don't miss out!

The new year brings with it another annual tradition to the Elora Singers, the Soup & Song concert.  This season the concert features two early Bach Cantatas with lead in conversations by conductor Mark Vuorinen:  Nach dir Herr verlanget mich and Weinen klaxon morgen zagen.  The concert begins at 2 pm at St. John's Church, Elora, with lunch served prior to the concert at 12:30.

Finally the season closer this season will feature both the Elora Singers and the Elmer Iseler Singers, both celebrating their 40th year this season, coincidentally.  The double choir concert will feature music by Mendelssohn, Brahms and more, with the highlight being the magnificent 36-voice motet by Ockeghem.  The concert moves to Guelph and the much larger space known as the church on the hill, the Basilica of Our Lady.

That sounds like a lot of great music, and certainly worth the drive to Elora for sure!  If you're tempted, you can call the box office at 1-519-846-0331 or go to www.elorasingers.ca.

Have a great weekend!

October 5th, 2019.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Culture Days underway this weekend in downtown St. Catharines

This is a busy weekend throughout St. Catharines, what with the final big weekend of the Niagara Wine Festival underway.  The annual Grande Parade always fills the downtown streets with partygoers, many of whom repair to favourite watering holes such as the Mansion House or the Merchant Ale House after the parade, or if they prefer their imbibing al fresco and in the company of many other like-minded souls, at Montebello Park.

For many of us, however, we prefer a somewhat more subdued celebration in the heart of the city, and for those of us who fall into that category there are the annual Culture Days in St. Catharines on all weekend long as well.

Friday and Saturday were both busy days for activities and events relating to Culture Days, but you have by no means missed the boat if you have been elsewhere the last couple of days.  Sunday promises to be just as busy and full of interesting events to take in downtown.  And the best part is, it is all family-friendly and relating to arts and culture in Niagara.

The weekend long Community Collaborative Mural-Making event is on from 12 noon to 4 pm again tomorrow, presented by the St. Catharines Downtown Association along with artist Jana Simms-Bergsma.  This interactive activity takes place at the corner of St. Paul and Court Streets near the NAC shop/studio, and is suitable for all age groups.  Families can spend up to 30 minutes creating and contributing to the collaborative mural, all guided by a professional artist.

Meantime inside the NAC shop/studio at 433A St. Paul Street you can experience an introduction to screen printing with artist Colleen McTigue.  The 30 minute make & take event runs from 12 noon to 5 pm and participants are encouraged to create their own stencil, or "pull" a unique print from a stencil provided by the artist.  Again it is a family-friendly event.

Over at the Rodman Hall Arts Centre at 109 St. Paul Crescent the art exhibition Task at Hand by artist Carolyn Wren will be open to visitors from 12 to 5 pm.  There will also be guided  tours of the historic home at 2 pm and a tour of exhibitions at 3 pm.

Also at Rodman Hall, artist David Figueroa will capture visitors in a photo to use while they explore creating their very own self-portrait by using an embossing drawing process.  The make & take event runs from 12:30 to 4:30 pm.  There is another make & take event running at the same time featuring artist Rhiannon Barry entitled Keep Calm and Adjust Your Mermaid Crown.  Male & female visitors are encouraged to create their own crown using marine-themed materials.

Artist Metka Manfreda will be offering a make & take event called Printmaking a Monotype Hybrid, in which visitors of all ages can create a hybrid creature by exploring monotype printmaking.  This is created by applying colour to plexiglass and then transferring using a special technique, thereby allowing interesting images to appear on paper.  This also runs from 12:30 to 4:30 pm.

During the same time period at Rodman Hall another make & take event will involve artist Janice Low called Creative Cards for Caring.  This event encourages participants to have fun, learn an art technique and engage in designing and painting greeting cards that can then be given to friends and family members to show they care.

As you would expect, the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre would be a hive of activity during Culture Days, and once again tomorrow the PAC is home to a full slate of events beginning at 12 noon in the Algoma Lobby with Happy Birthday PAC!  Yes, it is the 4th birthday of the new Performing Arts Centre with cake and a community photo event taking place at 250 St. Paul Street.

Also in the lobby from 12 to 3 pm the Niagara Symphony Orchestra presents their popular Instrument Petting Zoo, where visitors can try a variety of instruments with instruction from professional symphony musicians and student volunteers.

In Partridge Hall an interactive dance workshop will be held at 1, 2 and again at 3 pm, presented by Contact Improv Niagara, with artists Dahlia Steinberg, Lisa-Ann-Emmons and Holly Treddenick.  The introductory dance workshop will allow audience members to experience movement and partnering technique, known as Contact Improvisation.  This is a 5+ age event with an adult companion, incidentally.

In the Recital Hall interactive theatre will be held every 30 minutes from 11am to 2 pm, presented by The Foster Festival.  Play with a Pro! allows those ages 14+ to join professional actors from Niagara onstage to read scenes from one of Norm Foster's 60 plays.

The RBC Innovation Studio and the Recital Hall will both play host to interactive improv presented by Improv Niagara.  In the studio it runs from 11:30 to 1:30 and in the Recital Hall from 2 to 4 pm.  Suggested for ages 12+, participants will learn about improv by joining in fun scenes and games with some of Improv Niagara's best performers and educators.

If poetry is your thing, from 2 to 4 pm in the RBC Innovation Studio Mini-Poetry Zines will be presented by the St. Catharines Poetry Slam collective.  Participants can learn how to make their very own mini poetry zine from one sheet of paper.  Hey, you might even find out just what a zine is!

In the Robertson Theatre from 11 am to 4 pm there are five activity events planned involving The Human Bee-In interactive puppet theatre.  From 11 am to 2 pm artist Karen Waterman directs the Make a Pollinator Puppet Workshop; The Busy Bees Band Workshop will feature artist Aaron Robillard; Waterwood Theatre presents a shadow puppet demonstration from 2:15 to 2:45 pm; The 'Bee There for Me' show participatory puppet theatre will be presented by Waterwood Theatre from 3 to 3:30 pm; and that will be followed by an artist meet & greet post-show artist question period with all of the participating puppet artists from 3:30 to 4 pm.

Poetry returns to the RBC Innovation Studio from 2 to 4 pm with the interactive Poetry in Motion event presented by Twitches & Itches Theatre.  Poetry in Motion is a participatory piece in which the audience contributes titles or sentences the ensemble will use to create and present a spontaneous physical "poem".  This event is also accessible for ASL visitors who wish to contribute with sign language.

In the Joy Williams Lobby from 11 am to 4 pm, the Carl Beam:  Us & Everything art exhibition will be featured, including works by contemporary indigenous artist Carl Beam.  The St. Catharines Poetry Slam returns from 2 to 4 pm in the same location for Make a Micro-Poem, where members of the collective will offer a crash course in micro poems and haikus.

Also in the Joy Williams Lobby interactive story-telling will take place from 11 am to 12 pm with Indigenous Storytelling being featured.

The upper Film House mezzanine will host Poetry at the PAC from 12 to 4 pm, featuring artists Kevin Hobbs, James Millhaven and Kim Van Stygeren, where you can have a discussion with a poet and return later for a poem based on that very conversation!

There will also be a series of short films curated by ImagineNATIVE in The Film House, running continuously from 11 am to 3 pm.  The six short films are curated by the largest presenter of Indigenous films.

In the Cogeco Lobby at The Film House entrance, there will be an interactive display of Historical Architecture presented by the Niagara Society of Architects from 11 am to 3 pm.

Once you leave the PAC there is still plenty more to explore around St. Catharines.  For example, in the Oddfellows Temple downtown at 36 James Street on the third floor, Essential Collective Theatre will present Essential Designers Behind the Curtain.  Sessions will be held at 12:00, 12:45, 1:30, 2:30, 3:15 and 4pm, and visitors will learn more about costume and set design courtesy ECT.

The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre at 1932 Welland Canals Parkway will host a number of museum exhibits throughout the day from 9 am to 5pm, illustrating the history of St. Catharines and its people.

The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts downtown will host the art exhibition Home, From Above by artist Kira Pretty in the VISA Gallery at 15 Artists' Common from 12 noon to 6 pm.

And finally, Start Me Up Niagara will host a couple of make & take events at their Work Action Centre at 203 Church Street:  Make a Fall Centrepiece with artist Linda Phillip at 12:15, 1:15, 2:15 and 3:15 pm, and Introduction to Linocut Printing with artist Steve Plews at 12:30, 1:45 and 3 pm.  This event is for ages 15+ due to safety concerns, and you need to pre-register for both Start Me Up Niagara location events by going to www.stcatharines.ca/culturedays.

So there you go - lots to see and do beyond the Wine Festival in St. Catharines on a Sunday.  For more details go to www.stcatharines.ca/culturedays.

Enjoy your weekend!

September 28th, 2019.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Season 72 about to start for the Niagara Symphony Orchestra

If you need any more reminders the summer season is ending fast (autumn in fact arrives about 3:50 tomorrow morning around these parts...) you need look no further than the number of fall & winter concert seasons about to get underway.  Earlier this month I wrote about the Bravo! Niagara season getting underway just under a month from now, and others are set to begin their seasonal programming shortly as well.

But today, let's look at the beginning of the new Niagara Symphony season, their 72nd, which happens this afternoon in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  The word that comes to me with this season opener is symmetry.

It's been awhile since I've attended a Niagara Symphony concert, and I really don't know why.  It just seems to slip by me when I am looking at what's coming up of interest.  Not that I am wanting for musical stimulation these days but what are you going to do?

This year I resolve to do better...

So, on to today's Masterworks 1 concert, featuring Maestro Bradley Thachuk and guest artist, Canadian cellist Cameron Crozman, the NSO will feature two mainstays of the concert repertoire from the late 19th century:  Brahms epic Symphony No. 1 and Dvorak's Cello Concerto.  Both have been performed by the NSO in the past, of course, but the Brahms symphony not since 2012 and the Dvorak Cello Concerto not since 1991.  That was over 25 years ago with another Canadian cellist of note, Ofra Harnoy...yikes!  I think I remember attending that concert!

It's interesting the Dvorak comes up again today along with the memory of Ofra Harnoy, especially since Ofra will be making a rare return appearance to Niagara later this fall in a recital for Bravo! Niagara.

Symmetry...

I have memories of the Cello Concerto that go back even further, in fact, as I had for many years an old Angel LP of the concerto performed by the late, great cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, which I really have to see if I can find again sometime...

Rounding out the programme today will be Canadian composer and violinist Alice Hong's work known as Phoenix.  She appeared along with Cameron Crozman on CBC's 2018 "30 under 30" list of classical musicians.  Bradley notes the work deals with the continuous cycle of death and rebirth, as in this case of seeking new beginnings.  For Maestro Thachuk, this season marks the tenth anniversary with the orchestra, which I find hard to believe.  Where has the time gone?!

Symmetry...

The Symphony No. 1 was Brahms' first large scale work, and the Cello Concerto was Dvorak's final solo work.  Again quoting Maestro Thachuk, "the historical friendship between Dvorak and Brahms is quite well documented; Brahms was a champion of Dvorak's and the two composers shared similar views towards composition in the late 19th century."  So the two works and composers do go together like hand to glove, as it were.

Today's concert, entitled Jewels in the Crown, is presented in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre beginning at 2:30 pm.  For tickets, call or visit the box office at the PAC or go to their website at www.FirstOntarioPAC.ca.  The phone number is 905-688-0722.

You can also see the entire season and find more information at the NSO's website at www.niagarasymphony.com.

Also coming up this week is a free lecture by Music Director Bradley Thachuk in the Mills Room of the Central Branch of the St. Catharines Public Library on Tuesday afternoon at 2 pm.  The lecture and discussion will compare two well-known symphonies written in the Classical style despite being written over 120 years apart:  Haydn's Symphony No. 104, the "London" and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1, the "Classical".  Despite the difference in time period the two share many similarities all the while highlighting the progress of music from the Classical era of Haydn to the early 20th century of Prokofiev.

Should be a great discussion and I might even try to join it myself on Tuesday afternoon...

Have a great weekend!

September 22nd, 2019.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

With a little help from her friends...

I am changing up my scheduled blog post for this week to include a special request for you to help out a friend in need here in Niagara this week.  Let me set the scene for you...

I became friends on Facebook with Ann-Marie B. Zammit a few months ago after watching her performances as part of the regular Oh Canada Eh? dinner show in Niagara Falls.  Oh Canada Eh? remains one of the great entertainment values in Niagara for both visitors and locals alike throughout the year, as I have written in the space in the past.  The theatre finds great local talent and gives them each a stellar opportunity to show what they can do in an ensemble setting as well as with solo numbers.

Ann-Marie performed in the tribute to 70s pop music last year with a circus theme, offering a spellbinding turn as the Ringmaster for the musical mayhem unfolding onstage.  Earlier this season we caught her in more standard fare in the newly-updated musical tribute to all things Canadian, again knocking it out of the park with her solo numbers in a show full of exceptional local talent.

As is the case in the Oh Canada Eh? shows, the performers are also the servers, and it was our good fortune to have Anne-Marie serve our table that early summer evening.  On both occasions, also the custom following the shows there, we met the entire cast in the receiving line and I had a chance to chat briefly with Anne-Marie and her fellow cast members.

I recall thinking at the time, is that the same person I saw as the Ringmaster last year?  Nothing against Ann-Marie in the least, but her turn as the Ringmaster had such an aura of mystery and intrigue around it, it was hard to believe I was talking to the same person both times!

That of course is the magic of theatre and especially musical theatre.  It is such a transformative medium you can immerse yourself in the magic of the moment and let your imagination guide you along.

Although Ann-Marie doesn't appear to be in the Oh Canada Eh? cast at the moment, she is busy with lots of other musical and family-oriented things, such as managing the group Acoustic Diamond.

Born in Fort Erie and now residing in St. Catharines, Ann-Marie possesses a strong and expressive voice and has that magical ability to turn a mundane song into something special.  It's not something every singer can pull off, I might add.

The reason I am profiling "AMZ" as she is affectionately called in the halls of Oh Canada Eh? is because right at the moment, she's working hard to fulfil a dream many of us likely have had in the past:  to take her performance to the next level and secure a professional gig on a big stage south of the border.

Now normally I don't pay much attention to so-called reality talent shows, but this is a little different. The Opening Act competition is an opportunity for up and coming talent to perhaps win a chance at being the opening act for none other than Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers in Hollywood.  The winner receives, along with a certain amount of cachet of course, a cool $10,000 in prize money.

Asked what she would do with the money, Ann-Marie says she would use half of it to record an EP, and put the other half in her daughter's college fund.  Oh yeah, moms are practical that way...

So far things have been going pretty good with the voting, as Ann-Marie was in first place in the opening round but now that the semi-finals are underway she has fallen to 3rd place.  Still a respectable place to be given the number of competitors but, well, not good enough to win it all.

That's where we come in, and I am sending this request out to all of you should you be so inclined to get involved.

We get to vote for who we would like to see as that opening act, and the more votes you get the better your chances.  Simple, right?  Of course it is!  Oh, and I should mention you can vote only once per day, as I have been doing since this whole thing started a little while ago.  Voting is free, but you can also buy votes if you choose to, and there are even special 2 for 1 opportunities that come up as well.

The semi-final round ends at 8 pm PDT on September 19th, so there is still time to boost those numbers for a local girl who does great things both on and off the stage.  It would be nice to see Canadian talent wow the crowd at the Swift concert in Hollywood, wouldn't you agree?

You can check out Ann-Marie's Facebook page for more information (Ann-Marie B. Zammit) and to link to the voting page, or you can just go here:  https://TheOpenAct.com/2019/Acoustic-Diamond.

Thanks for considering this request, and have a great weekend!

September 15th, 2019.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Bravo Niagara set to kick off 2019-2020 season in style

Now that September is here, the music usually moves indoors from the pavilions, bandshells and even large barns utilized by many music festivals in the province.  We grab a light jacket and stash the shorts for slightly more formal wear and head inside for some great music making throughout the fall and into the colder winter months.

So I thought this month I would spotlight some of the music festivals taking place in the great indoors throughout the province this season, beginning with a festival I had the pleasure of discovering last season, the Bravo Niagara Festival of the Arts.

Bravo Niagara is the vision of Artistic Director Christine Mori and her daughter, Executive Director Alexis Spieldenner.  Together they have been staging recitals and concerts in several venues in and around the Niagara-on-the-Lake area and beyond, including some rather interesting locales such as inside a winery amongst the vats and other wine-making paraphernalia.

This past month they announced the 2019-2020 season for Bravo Niagara, and it looks like a varied and interesting mix of young up-and-coming artists and more established musicians we may not of heard from in awhile.  So let's run down the season and see what's coming this season in Niagara...

The season kicks off October 19th in downtown St. Catharines as Bravo Niagara expands to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre's Recital Hall.  Canadian superstar soprano Measha Brueggergosman is makes a rare return appearance in Niagara, hopefully fully recovered from illness that kept her on the sidelines this past summer, including the cancellation of a performance at the Elora Festival.

I first saw Measha very early on in her career when she performed as one of the soloists in a Chorus Niagara performance of Verdi's Requiem in the Lake Street Armouries just around the corner from my house in central St. Catharines.  Even then she was earmarked for greatness I recall...

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Measha while doing a series of articles for the old Brock Centre for the Arts magazine publication, prior to her last appearance in Niagara up at Brock about 5 years ago.  I remember having trouble connecting with her by phone on that day as she was driving down on the east coast of the country with her newborn showing promising vocal technique in the background on occasion.  She was a delight to talk to and I found she had a real affinity for Niagara and the artistic scene here.

November 8th the Voices of Freedom concert takes over the larger Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, featuring a jazz pianist I first discovered in my early days in radio back in the 70s, Monty Alexander.  Monty recorded an album that proved to be the very first jazz album I ever acquired, featuring his Trio.

Monty will be joined by opening act Larnell Lewis and his band, along with South African bass player Bakithi Kumalo, who has performed with Paul Simon and many others.  The concert is part of a larger Voices of Freedom Festival running from November 7th to the 9th, and you can find out more at bravo niagara.org/vof2019.

Towards the end of November St. Mark's Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake will play host on the 30th of the month to iconic Canadian cellist Ofra Harnoy.  Winner of no less than 5 JUNO Awards and the Grand Prix du Disque, Harnoy will push the boundaries of traditional classical music with her recital coming up at St. Mark's.

I have known and enjoyed Ofra's many varied musical projects for about a quarter-century now, going all the way back to her early Fanfare recordings in Toronto including the celebrated collection of Beatles music in more formal dress with the Armin Electric Strings.  Since then she's recorded about 40 solo albums for several labels.  This will mark a rare sighting of Ofra in Niagara.

Jazz vocalist Kurt Elling performs at Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on Valentine's Day 2020 at 8 pm, performing a varied concert ranging from jazz standards to his own material.  I have not had a lot of exposure to Kurt's music thus far, I'm sad to say, so this will be a good opportunity to hear more of what has made him such a reliable jazz artist for many years.

Bravo Niagara returns to St. Mark's in Niagara-on-the-Lake on March 15th for Montenegrin-born guitarist Milos Karadeglic making a solo recital appearance.  This will act as a follow up of sorts to the release of his highly-anticipated album Sound of Silence.

The London-based musician has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon and has been dubbed "classical music's guitar hero" by BBC Music Magazine.  Guitar music brings a certain elegance and grace to a recital that few other instruments can match, the intimacy of the instrument matching well with the intimacy of the space at St. Mark's, so this should be a very special concert indeed.

It's back to jazz and back to the Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines for the Brubeck Brothers Quartet on April 5th.  2020 will mark the Centennial Year of jazz great Dave Brubeck, whom we lost just a few short years ago.  He performed until very near the end of his life and left behind a legacy of jazz and more classically-themed albums that still sell well today.  His sons Chris and Dan honour their Dad's legacy with a multimedia show with their own Brubeck Brothers Quartet.

As May begins Bravo Niagara hits show tunes with a concert entitled From Broadway with Love at St. Mark's Church on May 2nd at 7:30 pm.  Music of the Great White Way will bring together three artists with a love of musical theatre that goes way back:  Jason Forbach, Siri Howard and Joseph Spieldenner.  Music will be from such shows as South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Les Miserables and many more.

The final concert of the upcoming season will be especially interesting, as it pairs Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker with iconic violinist Cho-Liang Lin in a recital ranging from Beethoven to Bernstein.  Lin plays a 1715 "Titan" Strad that will no doubt accompany him on the trip to St. Mark's in Niagara-on-the-Lake on May 3rd for an afternoon performance.

So does that tempt you enough to enjoy music in the great indoors for another season?  For more information and ticket enquiries go to www.bravoniagara.org, email music@bravoniagara.org or call the office at 289-868-9177.

It should be a great season of music making with Bravo Niagara Festival of the Arts!

Have a great weekend!

September 8th, 2019.