Niagara did a superb job of marking the centenary of International Women’s Day. Barely twenty-four hours after the business community came together at Club Roma for a champagne reception, meal, silent auction and a pair of irreverent comediennes (Andrea Murray and Shelly Kidwell provided the colourful zingers—many of which were decidedly blue) Primavera Concerts hosted a five-hour artistic extravaganza in St. Barnabas Church.
Once again the business and arts community got their respective acts together.
In the boardroom (Fern Krausman, Assistant – Vice President Legal Affairs, Business Development Bank of Canada, brought greetings from the capital source for entrepreneurs—BDC continues to be the event’s Exclusive Diamond Sponsor) or on the podium (105.7 EZ Rock’s Lori Love kept the packed room informed, engaged and on time) or behind the scenes (the tenth annual luncheon is the brainchild of Women In Niagara), the fairer sex delivered a class event.
Over on Queenston Street artistic director Anne McPherson amassed three sets of music, spanning the Middle Ages to the present day. Karin Di Bella, Assistant Professor of Music, Brock University outlined the role women played in music (~1100-1950) during her post-repast remarks before soprano Agnes Zsigovics brought the small, deservedly enthusiastic audience into the realm of vocal excellence extraordinaire with an astonishing performance of Hildegard of Bingen’s (1098-1179) Ave Generosa. None of this delectable musical feast would have been possible without the financial support of Canadian Heritage, The Ontario Trillium Foundation, the City of St. Catharines and The Co-operators.
On both occasions, I was one of the few males in the room. My companion was Royal LePage Sales Representative Maria DePalma (a volunteer for the WIN afternoon and an avid arts supporter through JWR’s Adopt an Arts Organization™ program). I learned much about the impressive dedication of the Region’s female movers and shakers, even as my colleague expanded her musical horizons.
The concert began with largely baroque-era selections from Musathena. Valerie Sylvester and Sheila Smyth, a pair of baroque violinists (ever-treacherous gut strings are used instead of steel), baroque cellist Rebecca Morton and harpsichordist Sara-Anne Churchill blended well together and demonstrated a fine sense of balance in Isabella Leonarda’s Sonata No. 11. While most decidedly unwelcome in the Church of the seventeenth century, nuns like Leonarda were able to develop their artistic abilities in convents. The highlight from their offerings was the world première of Elizabeth Raum’s Astrea, A Dialogue Between Two Shepherds. Soprano Katherine Hill was literally foiled by up-and-coming countertenor Timothy Wong as the vocally fascinating couple argued their way through Mary Sidney’s Shakespearean text, beautifully crafted by Raum’s sense of drama and melodic acumen. (The only blemish was an overdose of finger wagging: he/she doth protest too much, methinks). The delightful pen name of Mrs Philarmonica (no typo here!) was responsible for Sonata No.4, which can trace its lineage to Arcangelo Corelli’s famed Concerti Grossi if not their harmonic palette. Barbara Strozzi’s zesty tale of revenge (La Vendetta) served as a fine farewell.
Oriana Women’s Choir (Toronto) most certainly had something for every taste. Selections from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater were notable for fine ensemble and diction (“Fac ut ardeat cor meum”), individual solo lines (especially soprano Doreen Marriott) and a spirited “Amen.” Conductor William Brown (a St. Catharines native) demonstrated his considerable ability to shape melodic phrases and sculpt diminuendos with extraordinary care. Ruth Watson Henderson’s The River was an unforgettable example. Two spirituals (“Ride on, King Jesus” and “I’m Goin’ up Yonder”—the encore) added much appreciated contrast to the more serious fare. Whether a dress rehearsal for paying patrons or—later that day—the “real” world première in Toronto, Derek Healey’s Psalm 121 is destined for a long, consonant life in the choral repertoire.
Ably assisted by accompanist Gergoly Szokolay (perhaps a touch drier bass line in the Pergolesi would have better contrasted the legato voices), it did seem a touch “off message” to have men in the primary musical roles.
In the closing group, Zigovics’ emerging artistry dared her talented colleagues (Ashiq Aziz, harpsichord, John Corban, violin and Justin Haynes, viola da gamba) to keep pace, yet the ensemble (once again the bass lines—in this instance those shared between Aziz and Haynes) lacked razor-sharp tightness even as death, love and remorse filled the air (Rameau’s Orphée and Montéclair’s Le Mort de Didon). Once everyone settled into the acoustical challenges, the music pushed and pulled as required—particularly in “Bid the Virtues, bid the graces,” where the conversational tone amongst friends and Zigovics’ invigorating melissmatic lines combined to excellent effect.
The twin celebrations proved conclusively just how far women have come in terms of corporate leadership and artistic development. Now, let’s set them all to the task of ensuring that the next musical banquet is just as crowded as the WIN extravaganza. Such excellent presentations should never have an empty seat. JWR