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.

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