Saturday, June 16, 2018

It's time for summer music and fun all around us!

With the start of summer now just days away, a lot of people are already thinking of the myriad of summer music festivals in and around Niagara, or just a short drive away.  There are far too many to list in this space all at once, but occasionally we'll touch on them a few at a time over the summer months and give you some detail of what's to come.

This weekend, three festivals will be highlighted, featuring blues, jazz and lots of classical music to cool you down on these sultry summer days and nights.

The TD Niagara Jazz Festival has grown since its inception just a few short years ago to now encompass two full weekends in July plus numerous events before and after the two core weekends.  This is the first year for a two-weekend event, and Festival Executive Director/Artistic Producer Juliet Dunn along with Co-Creator & Artistic Consultant Peter Shea feel the time is right to expand the event to two weekends now.  The 5th Annual TD Niagara Jazz Festival has all the makings of being the marquee music event of the summer right here in Niagara.

The Flagship opening event on the weekend of July 19th to the 22nd takes place at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines; the second weekend will feature the hugely popular "Jazz in the Park" events in Simcoe Park in Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake July 28th and 29th.

In addition, new this year will be the inaugural World Music on the Beach event hosted by the TD Niagara Jazz Festival in Port Dalhousie.  Four community stages will be filled with music from around the globe, located from Lakeside Beach at the Rotary and Pavilion stages to Hogan's Alley, to the all-new Lock One Stage (Tow Bridge Stage) honouring the historic first Welland Canal.  The best part of all, this is a free community event for the entire family, featuring music, dance, kids play zones, artisan vendors, wine and craft beer stalls as well as local culinary favourites.

Juliet Dunn says its an opportunity to "show how World Music plays such an integral part in the world of jazz", adding bands will be showcased from Jamaica, Japan, Holland and the Ukraine, as well as local, home-grown World music artists from around the province.

One of the nice touches is a secure 'Bike Valet' area, so patrons can ride their bikes to Port and walk around and enjoy the sights and the music without having to worry about their bikes.

The day-long World Music on the Beach event takes place on Sunday, July 22nd during the first weekend of the Festival.

For more information and to order Festival tickets and passes, go to www.niagarajazzfestival.com or call 1-844-548-5299.

Over the border in Lewiston, New York, the Lewiston Council on the Arts has announced their summer schedule, including everything from the ever-popular Summer of '69 concert in the park to the 34th annual Key Bank Chalk Walk Competition.  The summer schedule runs from July 9th to August 20th, with events scattered throughout the fall season as well, ending in November.

One of the more popular events for several years now have been the Blue Mondays concerts in the Gazebo on Centre Street.  In its 24th year now, the Blue Mondays series has been the recipient of Blues Beat Magazine's prestigious "Muddy" award and for many is considered one of the best Blues venues in Western New York.  Best of all, the concerts are all free, so pack a picnic dinner and grab your lawn chair and catch acts such as Marsha McWilson on July 9th all the way to Maria Aurigema on August 20th.

The aforementioned Summer of '69 concert takes place on Friday, July 13th at 6 pm, and again is a free event.  The annual concert reunites Lewiston-area rock musicians who have moved on since their heyday in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Featuring the Lewiston All Stars, Loved Ones, the County Orphanage, the Invaders and special guest, Grammy Award winner Gary Baker.  All the participants gather on stage for a grand jam finale.  The Summer of '69 concert is in the Hennepin Park Gazebo at the corner of 4th and Centre Street.

The 52nd Lewiston Art Festival closes off Centre Street to vehicular traffic and visitors can amble the streets to view works by more than 175 artists and crafters.  The Art Festival takes place the weekend of August 11th and 12th all day, and is also free.

Want more information on events happening this summer with the Lewiston Council on the Arts?  Go to www.artcouncil.org or call 716-754-0166.

Finally, one of my all-time favourite summer music festivals is set to kick off July 13th and run to the 29th in the lovely town of Elora, Ontario.  The 39th season now encompasses three weeks of musical performances of every description and this season will honour the memory of Michael Purves-Smith, the founding Artistic Director of the predecessor to the Elora Festival, the Three Centuries Festival, in 1979.  He passed away back in January of this year.

The Festival features performances by a wide range of artists from Isabel Bayrakdarian to Chantal Kreviazuk, but the heart of the Festival remains the glorious Elora Singers, the choir-in-residence of the Elora Festival.  They present their own Choral Concert Series, of course, including a choral tribute to Leonard Bernstein on July 21st featuring the Chichester Psalms to The Elora Singers Unplugged on July 22nd.  They also perform more sacred music at the Choral Evensong performance on July 26th and as part of the weekly Sunday Service on Sunday mornings at St. John's Church.  This to me presents the Singers in their purest, most radiant form, and I never miss a chance to attend the 11 am service during a weekend visit to the Festival.

The Opening Night Gala concert in the Gambrel Barn on July 13th is in partnership with The Canadian Opera Company and features The Elora Singers along with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Isabel Bayrakdarian, Danika Loren, Andrew Haji and Samuel Chan, followed by a public reception and of course, fireworks to cap the evening off.

Something new this year for the 39th season is a special fundraiser being held at the newly refurbished and restored Elora Mill Hotel and Spa, closed for many years.  The July 18th event features cocktails at 5:30 pm and dinner at 7.  It promises to be the Big Event of the summer season in Elora.

The Elora Singers are certainly Canada's preeminent chamber choir and hearing them on their home turf is for me, a summer must-do each year.  If you are so inclined, and you should be, Elora is a pleasant two-hour drive from Niagara just northwest of Guelph.

For tickets and more information, go to www.elorafestival.ca or call 519-846-0331.

So there you go - a trio of summer events designed to get you out of the house and out of your rut, and enjoy some great summer music and culture not that far away from home.  We'll look at some other great ideas shortly in this space.

Enjoy your weekend!

June 16th, 2018.


Friday, June 1, 2018

News and notes in the Arts

As the first weekend of June unfurls in all its glory, a few items of news and notes from the local arts scene and beyond to get you going for the weekend...

Last night I had the pleasure to attend the 2018/19 Hot Ticket lineup announcement at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  This was the second of two consecutive nights, as the large Partridge Hall was filled almost to capacity both nights.  That tells us something about the local arts scene:  truly, if they build it, we will come.  And we do.  Last year for example, more than 75,000 people filed through the doors at the PAC to take in a performance of some sort.

What I love about this stat is it comes after barely three years of existence, as the PAC opened in the fall of 2015.  This fourth season announcement stokes the fires even more so, and helps to put to rest once and for all the notion the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre would not be supported and embraced by the community at large.

Guests the last two nights got to sample food from sponsors Wind, East Izakaya and Ma Chinese Cuisine along with Niagara wines in the lobby before the event inside Partridge Hall, and also experienced other notable sponsors in Robertson Hall including Critelli's Fine Furniture, The Peanut Mill and Elite Spa Group, among others.

Once inside the theatre a combination of performances both live and pre-recorded outlined the upcoming season in both the banner Hot Ticket series as well as performances by local music and theatre organizations such as Carousel Players, Essential Collective Theatre, Suitcase in Point, TD Niagara Jazz Festival and Twitches and Itches Theatre, among others.

Both Executive Director Steve Solski and Mayor Walter Sendzik spoke glowingly about the way the PAC has helped to breath new life into downtown St. Catharines with quality performances to satisfy most every taste.  It was left to Programming and Marketing Manager Sara Palmieri and the rest of her talented team to outline the upcoming season in greater detail as the evening progressed.

Of particular note the second annual Celebration of Nations, a gathering of indigenous arts, culture and tradition will once again kick off the new season September 7th to the 9th in and around the PAC.  It will be expanded this year, feeding off the momentum of the inaugural event last season with something for most everyone in both music and theatre as well as other art forms.

Tied in with that event, which Mayor Sendzik highlighted last night, was the celebration of the late Gordon Downie scheduled for October 18th.  Walking the Path of Reconciliation will be a celebration by Canadian artists of the impact of Gord's art and work.  Downie of course died last year after completing his final tour with The Tragically Hip, and not before making a special effort to shine light on the reconciliation with Canada's First Peoples.  The concert is a collaboration with The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund and will feature artists ranging from Twin Flames, Bruce McCulloch, Tom Wilson and Danny Michel to Trent Severn, Matthew Barber, Damnhait Doyle and others.

For tickets and more information on all upcoming performances, go to www.FirstOntarioPAC.ca or call the box office at 905-688-0722.

This coming Sunday afternoon in the Cairns Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Gallery Players will present the final concert of the current season, Opera in Concert - "Folly in Love" by Alessandro Scarlatti.  Directed by Bud Roach, the performance features Capella Intima along with Members of the Nota Bene Baroque Players from the Guelph area, along with soloists Sheila Dietrich, soprano; Vicki St. Pierre, mezzo-soprano; Bud Roach, tenor; David Roth, bass; along with instrumentalists including Julie Baumgartel and Rona Goldensher on violins, John Wiebe on viola, Margaret Gay on cello, Borys Medicky on harpsichord and Terry McKenna on lute.

The opera is full of comic themes including mistaken identity, sibling rivalry and of course, love at first sight.  It was the first opera for the then eighteen-year-old Scarlatti, premiering in Rome in 1679. The public quickly embraced this new, youthful voice in the world of opera, in spite of the fact there was a papal decree against such scandalous behaviour as women on stage and even the ban on the church's employment of theatre musicians.

Tickets to Opera in Concert are available in advance by calling Gallery Players at 905-468-1525, or you can pick them up at the PAC box office on Sunday afternoon.

Finally, Hamilton-based composer Robert Bruce's "Blues Hologram" debut concert comes up next Wednesday evening, June 6th at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in the Tanenbaum Pavilion.  This will be the first public presentation of the group's intriguing musical style and sound, integrating both live music and a cinematic experience in a multi-media concert performance.  Each song will be performed while accompanying a specially-produced short film.

The performance will highlight the vocal duets of classically-trained Amy Dodington and the more earthy, gospel-infused style of Martina Aswani performing the compositions of Robert Bruce, blending both classical elements and basic blues elements he grew up with and learned throughout the 60s and 70s in the areas of popular and rock music.  Four of the songs have been recorded already, in fact, and featured in Bruce's first full-length feature film, "Love Bonds", now in the final stages of post-production.

Bruce and singers Dodington and Aswani will be joined by Hamilton percussionist Dave Simpson, who has worked with Bruce several times over the last ten years.

The event next Wednesday, June 6th begins at 7:30 with the doors opening at 7.  Tickets are $20 and available at the door, or in advance via PayPal at www.robertbrucemusic.com.

Lots to see and do in Niagara and beyond this week and in the months ahead.  Enjoy!

June 1st, 2018.