JWR Articles: Preview - Music Niagara (Artistic Director: Atis Bankas) - July 20, 2009
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Music Niagara

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A version of this article also appeared in the July 16-22, 2009 edition of Pulse Niagara
Let the concerts begin!

A sure sign that summer is well under way comes when Music Niagara begins its always ambitious, never dull four-week season (July 20-August 15) of concerts in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In 2009, the 200th anniversary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s passing (the father of the string quartet is affectionately known as “Papa”) will be remembered in many ways, including a performance by pianist Ellen Annor-Adjei on July 24 of his Piano Sonata in G Major. Part of the Beethoven and Beyond series, that program also includes Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata and a Mendelssohn piano trio. Curiously, Felix Mendelssohn was born in the same year that Papa went to that big concert hall in the sky, so there’ll be many occasions to hear and celebrate the genius of both.

From the other side of the street comes jazz giant Benny Goodman. Clarinetist Julian Milkis will bring his considerable skills mark 100 years since the birth of the King of Swing. That special remembrance takes place on July 30—joining the party are legendary pianist Dick Hyman and the Gould String Quartet (led by the festival’s ever-creative artistic director, Atis Bankas).

If opera is your bag, don’t miss Carlo Pedini’s Iago (July 23). This Opera on Concert Stage performance will be presented by five singers and a narrator, all members of the International Opera Theater—a troupe dedicated to producing operas based on Shakespeare’s plays.

Voices of a different kind will be heard in a Cabaret Evening (July 26: soprano Patricia O’Callaghan—backed by bassist Andrew Downing and pianist Robert Kortgaard—sings multi-language repertoire from the likes of Kurt Weill, Leonard Cohen and Astor Piazzolla). A further NOTL homage to Noël Coward (August 15: “Where Are the Songs We Sang?” soprano Zorana Sadiq and baritone Alex Dobson present a fascinating selection of songs penned by the famous playwright Ivor Novello) concludes the fest.

This year’s ever-popular Shaw and Music installment (August 10) features Christopher Newton’s readings from George Bernard Shaw’s voluminous music criticism. Bankas has chosen string quartets by J.B. McEwan and Haydn as the “subjects du jour.”

Jazz buffs will have three chances to enjoy the John Sherwood Trio. Jazz After Play sessions (July 25, August 1 & 8) all start at 10:15 p.m. After an earlier program of more serious fare, these musical sherbets are an ideal way to complete the day’s artistic journey. To further assist the transition, all of these performances take place on the terrace of the Epicurean Bistro and Restaurant (the majority of concerts are held at St. Mark’s Anglican Church—Music Niagara’s colour-coded brochure makes finding all of the half-dozen venues a snap). “Twelve O’clock Jump”—July 26 with the Doug Mundy Trio—will also get the toes a tappin’.

Tomorrow’s artists can be heard today during the Showcase of Young Virtuosos (July 27, August 3). This season’s headliner is, appropriately enough, Amadeusz Kazubowski-Houston performing Anatoly Liadov’s Variations on a Polish Theme. Plan now to attend: you won’t believe your ears!

Friends of Antonio Vivaldi are on for several treats. Over three nights (July 25, August 1 & 8) Vivaldi Underground comes up for air in the Barrel Room of the Inniskillin Winery. Bankas and the Festival Strings will play all manner of concerti from the Italian master’s L’Estro Armonico—clouds of resin will demonstrate the care, craft and energy that go into every delectable bar.

Those who crave a helping from the vast repertoire for solo piano should make tracks to Janina Fialkowska’s solo recital (August 1). With music by Mozart, Schumann, Ravel and four selections from Chopin, seats are bound to vanish. Here’s one not to miss.

The St. Petersburg String Quartet makes a welcome return (August 2). Two Russian offerings from Glazunov and Borodin will be balanced with Mendelssohn’s invigorating Op. 44, No. 1.

Music Niagara’s “Gala Opening” (July 20) is truly a special event. This musical cannon that launches the coming avalanche of sound features a specially-written work by Peter Tiefenbach, J.S. Bach’s glorious “Wedding” Cantata and a double dose of Mendelssohn’s concerto-writing skills. The soloists are soprano Marie Fischer, Annor-Adjei and violinist extraordinaire, Bora Kim.

Niagara is truly fortunate to have such high-quality selections of music from which to choose. Here’s to another successful season: let’s fill the houses and savour the artistry, skill and fun! JWR

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Artistic Director - Atis Bankas
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