Friday, May 31, 2019

The end of one musical season and the start of the next

It has been a busier week than usual for your intrepid arts reporter, as I got out to attend a couple of events over the past week.  So I thought I'd touch on both events and look forward to the musical futures for both.

Last Saturday evening amid the thunderstorms thrashing Niagara, Sophie & I made our way up to St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the closing gala concert for the Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts.

I've gotten to know Christine and Alexis, co-founders of the festival that began life back in 2014.  The pair, Artistic Director and Executive Director respectively, are a mother-daughter team dedicated to presenting world-class Canadian and international classical talent as well as rising young stars, in what they describe as innovative, inspiring concert experiences in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

From what I've seen in my recent experiences attending Bravo Niagara concerts, they are hitting the mark bang on.  The latest concert, and indeed the season closer, was by a collective of young Canadian pianists known as Piano Six:  The Next Generation.  The six on Saturday night were Marika Bournaki, David Jalbert, Angela Park, Ian Parker, Daniel Wnukowski and Godwin Friesen.  All are accomplished pianists in their own right, and together they make a most formidable team of musicians.

Piano Six:  The Next Generation patterns themselves after the original Canadian Piano Six that included such luminaries as Janina Fialkowska, Angela Cheng, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Andre LaPlante Jon Kimura Parker and Angela Hewitt.  You think today hearing all six of those artists on one stage at a single concert would be almost unfathomable.  But there will likely come a day when these present six pianists engender the same reaction.

The music had a decidedly French feel to it, ranging from Francis Poulenc and Gabriel Faure to Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, but there were other composers represented as well, including Gershwin, Bill Evans and Leonard Bernstein.  There was also a New Generation Rag written especially for Piano Six by Darren Sigesmund, which featured all six pianists sharing but two concert grand pianos.

The quality of the music was uniformly exceptional, with perhaps the first half closer of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue being the most exceptional of all.  This two-piano arrangement featured Ian Parker and Daniel Wnukowski and they literally brought the audience to their feet with stellar performances from both sides of the stage.

Incidentally if you have not had your fill of Piano Six:  The Next Generation yet, you can catch them again in July as part of the Elora Festival's 40th season.  They'll be performing at the Gambrel Barn on Saturday, July 13th at 4 pm.

Looking ahead from here, Bravo Niagara! will announce their 2019/20 season in about a month or so, but already things are looking promising with early bookings of superstar singer Measha Brueggergosman opening up the season on October 19th followed by jazz piano icon Monty Alexander on November 8th and Milos Karadaglic on classical guitar on March 15th of 2020.  We'll report on the rest of the upcoming season once the details are made public this summer.

For more information or tickets, call 289-868-9177 or go to

This past Wednesday evening we made the short walk from our house down to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines for the 2019/2020 Hot Ticket lineup announcement.  This has become something of a tradition for followers of the performing arts in the city as the PAC celebrates 5 years entertaining us come this fall.

Just looking at a few of the artists lined up to perform this coming season, you get a sense people are noticing what a fine performing arts centre we have in the centre of the city:  Jeremy Dutcher, the Bay City Rollers (!), Sloan, Crash Test Dummies, Hawksley Workman and Sarah Slean, Kim Mitchell, 54-40, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, Bruce Cockburn, Manteca, Whitehouse, Maceo Parker, Max Weinberg's Jukebox, Rheotatics, Matt Anderson, Colin Mochrie and Asad Mecci, Tanya Tagaq and many others.

The artists come from literally all over the globe, with a heavy emphasis on so-called world music as well as some of the best local talent around these parts.  Presentations and co-productions with local arts groups will continue with Carousel Players, Essential Collective Theatre, The Foster Festival, Brock University's ENCORE! series and the TD Niagara Jazz Festival.

Of special note is the third annual Celebration of Nations gathering to kick off the season once again, running from September 6th to the 8th.  This gathering of indigenous arts, culture and tradition has been a popular seasonal kickoff in the past and this season promises to be no different.

On Wednesday evening and again Thursday evening, capacity crowds in the PAC's Partridge Hall heard all the details of the lineup from Sara Palmieri, Programming and Marketing Manager and Annie Wilson, Programming Supervisor, and were treated to short live performances by such artists as Sarah Slean, Frank Meschkuleit and others.

Personally I would have preferred a little less gushing on the part of the co-presenters Wednesday evening but hey, the capacity crowd was just as enthusiastic as they were so who am I to question their approach?!

Those who choose to become Hot Ticket members right away will gain early access to tickets and stuff, but orders need to be submitted by June 4th in order to gain all the perks.  Regular online ticket dates are June 20th at 10 am for Hot Ticket Members and September 5th at 10 am for the general public.

You can call the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office at 905-688-0722 or go online to

Have a great weekend!

May 31st, 2019.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Canada's Only Renaissance Music Summer School has a concert in London this weekend

There is something about Renaissance music that soothes the soul yet at the same time feeding it, and for me at least, it conjures up images of choirs in large Gothic cathedrals with tremendous acoustics.

Recordings abound of music from the Renaissance period with some of the very best produced by The Tallis Scholars, many of which occupy a considerable amount of shelf space in my basement music room.

Canada has not exactly been at the forefront of the Renaissance movement, but we did have able purveyors of the musical form as far back as 1966 when The Huggett Family in Ottawa took their love of the music from that era to concert stages and the recording studio.  They produced a number of LPs, a couple of which I believe I still have in my personal collection, although none that I can see have ever made it to CD.  They for many years conducted workshops and classes for music students studying the musical era until they finally disbanded about 1982.

If you think Canada's contribution to the art form ended there you would be sadly - yet also happily - mistaken.  Enter the Canadian Renaissance Music Summer School (CRMSS), based in London, Ontario.  Now only in its second year, the school is the only Renaissance choral music workshop of its kind in the country.

Directed by internationally-acclaimed baritone and choral workshop leader Greg Skidmore, this year the school has been taking place all this week in London.  The school is aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at undergraduate students, graduates and of course young professional singers.  They are all dedicated to the study and performance of Renaissance polyphonic vocal music of the highest calibre.

Internationally-acknowledged tutors from the worlds of performance and academia are working with the students all this week, immersing themselves in the music the entire time.  There will be both rehearsals and performances all this week, culminating in performances this weekend at several venues, including the magnificent St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica.

Now while the weekday sessions are largely closed affairs, this weekend the public is invited to come out and attend a number of performances, all of which are free of charge.  A retiring collection will be shared between the summer school and St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica.

Throughout the week there have been daily evening services where the choir has sung Vespers, Compline or Evensong as a way of coming together and sharing their scholarly experiences during the day in performances of plainsong and a few simple motets.

Last evening, in fact, public performances began with Choral Evensong at 5:30 at All Saints Church on Hamilton Road in London, and this evening at 5:30 Choral Vespers will be presented at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, St. Peter's Seminary.  This will be a rare treat to hear music appropriate to the space not normally open to the public.  The presentation will include a Catholic service entirely in Latin, following the pre-Vatican II rite many of us remember growing up with and found in the Liber Usualis.

The main performance of the weekend comes Saturday evening at 8 pm in the pristine acoustics of St. Peter's on Dufferin Avenue in London with a concert entitled "Musical Transalpina".  This final performance of the week will be a tour de force for choral music enthusiasts like myself to revel in the glory of the human voice in a magnificent and appropriate ecclesiastical setting.

Finally, on Sunday morning at 10 am the choir will perform a large scale a cappella polyphonic Latin mass setting along with accompanying motets at the Sunday morning Eucharist at St. Paul's Cathedral.  There might just be some Gregorian chant propers sung at this service as well.

So if you have no plans on the weekend and don't mind hitting the road for a short jaunt to the lovely city of London, Ontario, you will be richly rewarded with the fruits of the labours of many choral scholars both young and old.  What better way could there be to welcome in the wonderful feeling of spring that is finally in the air as well?

For more information on the school, workshop leaders and individual performances this weekend, go to or call 1-519-574-4297.

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Niagara Symphony covers two centuries this weekend

This may be the holiday weekend marking the beginning of summer, but for the Niagara Symphony this weekend marks the end of their current season, and they are going out with a musical bang.

Masterworks 7 is entitled A Wild Ride on the Opera Train and brings 19th century music into the 21st century with the help of modern technology.  Yes, the NSO is introducing subtitles for tomorrow afternoon's finale featuring assorted soloists and the combined forces of the NSO and Chorus Niagara.

I remember when subtitles were first introduced at the opera probably in the 80s, at The Met if I'm not mistaken.  Purists were aghast at the thought but people quickly warmed to the idea of having an entire opera translated for them right before their eyes.  Today, it would be almost unthinkable to attend an opera performance without them.

They are not perfect, of course, as they don't always literally convey the message envisioned by the composer in his or her native language.  There have also been cringeworthy moments when occasionally the subtitles try to convey the feelings behind the lyrics, not always to great effect.

That being said, they have come a long way over the years and helped unravel many a convoluted plot line along the way.  This modern technology will be on full display in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre tomorrow afternoon.

Also on display will be some pretty high-powered soloists as well, including sopranos Claire de Sevigne and Aviva Fortunata, tenors Adam Luther and Matthew Dalen, and baritone Justin Welsh.  If you love the sound of the bass-baritone as I do, you'll want to hear the low notes of both Christopher Dunham and Domenico Sanfilippo.

Along with the 100-voice Chorus Niagara forces on stage to provide the big choral parts, they will be joined by the Chorus Niagara Children's Choir as well.  So by my estimate you'll have about a couple hundred voices and musicians doing their thing in unison on stage tomorrow, and that is worthy of our attention.

Most of the big opera arias and choruses will be featured, including no doubt Libiamo from Verdi's La Traviata.  The famous drinking song is known far and wide both within and outside opera circles.

Interested?  Tickets I'm told are selling fast, so you can purchase them online at or by phone by calling 905-688-0722 or toll free, 1-855-515-0722.  The box office will be open this evening until 9 pm and tomorrow afternoon starting at 1:30, although I wouldn't advise waiting that long to get tickets if you have not already done so.

Incidentally, after tomorrow afternoon's concert the box office staff will be accepting in-person 2019-20 subscription renewals only.

So there you go.  Nicer weather is here, and great music tomorrow afternoon for you to hear.  What could be better than that?

Have a great Victoria Day holiday weekend!

May 18th, 2019.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Summer Music Festival season is fast approaching!

I was out Friday afternoon doing some errands and out of the corner of my eye at one shop I visited I found the brochure for the 2019 season for Music Niagara, one of the best local summer music festivals around.  It got me to thinking, the season is almost upon us already for summer music, so this weekend I thought I would touch on a couple of the more notable ones I've had the pleasure of attending in the past.  Music Niagara is one, of course, and the other is the Elora Festival.

But before summer we have the remainder of spring, and there are still two concerts remaining in the current Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts to enjoy.  Today being Mother's Day, what better way to celebrate with your Mom than a drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake and enjoy an afternoon recital at Stratus Vineyards?  I was at Stratus last month for a performance by the Cheng2 Duo I wrote about last month in this space and it really is a nice location for a concert.

This afternoon at 2, James Parker and the New Gen will be performing at Stratus, and I hope there might still be some space available should you wish to attend.  Parker is of course one of Canada's leading classical artists, a pianist of international renown.  The New Gen aspect involves Parker teaming up with two of Canada's rising classical musicians for a concert of solo and chamber works.

The final concert of the season for Bravo Niagara! is at St. Mark's Anglican Church in the heart of the Old Town for Piano Six:  Gala Concert.  Again the performance highlights next generation classical artists including Marika Bournaki, David Jalbert, Angela Park, Ian Parker, Anastasia Rizikov and Daniel Wnukowski.  The idea is modelled after the original "Piano Six" that included such luminaries as Angela Cheng and Angela Hewitt, among others.

That final concert is at 7:30 pm on May 25th.  Tickets and more information on either performance can be had by calling 289-868-9177 or logging on to

After spring comes summer, of course, and with it two very established music festivals I have had the pleasure of attending for many years now:  Music Niagara and the Elora Festival.

Music Niagara celebrates their 21st season this year, the brainchild of longtime Artistic Director Atis Bankas.  It has in recent years produced a fruitful partnership with the Niagara TD Jazz Festival that broadens the musical spectrum somewhat to include more jazz performances along with humour and more traditional classical performances.  But there are concerts of choral, pop and country included as well, so just about anyone will find something of interest this year.

Things get underway this season on July 14th at 4 pm with the opening gala at St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake featuring Countermeasure.  This will be a concert of a cappella singing featuring some of Canada's top young vocal talent.

Other performances through the three week festival include such artists as soprano Inga Filipova, the "Jeru" Quartet, the Odin String Quartet, The Retro Ramblers, pianist Janina Fialkowska, the Elmer Iseler Singers and so many others.  There is even a Last Night of the Proms concert scheduled for St. Mark's Church on July 22nd!

One of the nice features is the Young Virtuosos series, featuring emerging musicians ages 8 to 18 and students of the 2019 Music Niagara Performance Academy.  There are Young Virtuosos recitals scheduled for July 22nd, 26th, and 28th, all afternoon performances.

If you, like me, are a fan of CBC Radio you'll be interested in performances featuring Tom Allen on July 28th and Julie Nesrallah on August 3rd.

The season finale is an all Beethoven programme at St. Mark's on Saturday evening, August 10th at 7 pm, a celebration in anticipation of Beethoven's 250th anniversary next year.

If all this sounds tempting, you can find out more by calling Music Niagara at 905-468-2172 or 1-800-511-7429, which is the Shaw Festival box office, or by going online at

Finally the 40 Anniversary Elora Festival is set to get underway July 12th in the picturesque village of Elora, just northwest of Guelph.  It's an easy hour-and-a-half drive from Niagara and worth the trip any time of the year.

The Opening Night Gala on July 12th will be in the Gambrel Barn and feature soloists with the Elora Singers in a performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, among other works.

The Singers will also collaborate with many of the guest artists during the two-week festival including Natalie MacMaster, the State Choir LATVIJA, Festival of the Sound Ensemble and Unforgettable:  Nat King Cole Story.

As always, the Elora Singers also perform Evensong and the usual Sunday services at St. John's Church which I try to attend every year if time permits.  With all those performances and music to study I honestly don't know how these talented singers manage to pull it all off, but they do!

There are a host of performances by solo artists and ensembles as well, including Canadian superstars Daniel Taylor on July 21st and Measha Brueggergosman on July 27th.

You'll also find a number of performances by young and up-and-coming artists at Elora as well, including the Cheng2 Duo on July 20th at St. John's Church.  So we've come full circle from my first visit to Brava Niagara! last month in Niagara-on-the-Lake!

For tickets and more information on the Elora Festival, call the box office at 519-846-0331 or online at

Have a great weekend and Happy Mother's Day!

May 12th, 2019.