JWR Articles: Live Event - Opening Night and Overview (Artistic Director: Atis Bankas) - August 12, 2006 id="543337086">

Opening Night and Overview

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A version of this article appeared in the August 3-9 edition of Pulse Niagara.
Ambitious season; What's in a name?

The eighth season of the Niagara International Chamber Music festival promises an intriguing assortment of over fifty programs of music. The concerts range from solo recitals to wind bands to orchestra—even jazz! But hold on to your treble clefs, this three-week event is not to be confused with the Niagara International Music Festival—that’s an annual five-day choral fest in early July. What’s a tourist to think?

In an era when cultural enterprise—especially in the so-called “serious” music category—struggles for audience, coverage and funding (corporate or government), branding and niche, there are two keys to success. Even in the Niagara Peninsula, it’s a crowded artistic landscape, so identity and consistency of purpose are just as vital as larger markets.

Only a few days ago, the newest theatre troupe in town, Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, held a soirée in NOTL to celebrate the completion of incorporation, meet the board (chaired by Alan Dyer), introduce the artistic brain trust (co-founders and life partners Ric Reid and Kelly Daniels) as well as announce plans for the coming season (Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? kicks things off in the fall).

More theatre in the shadow of The Shaw? No worries, opined artistic director Jackie Maxwell during her gracious toast to the new company. “We’re not in competition … more professional theatre can only help everyone. With talented actors like Ric [Reid], I’m sure you will have success.” Not surprisingly, Lyndesfarne’s presentations will hit the boards during the Shaw Festival’s downtime: off-season work for the actors, extra plays for the public. Who could ask for anything more?

Quite wisely, The Shaw also figures into NICMF artistic director (and indefatigable violinist), Atis Bankas’ plans on two fronts. For the first time, the repertory theatre’s box office will handle the ticket sales, which should be a major assist to both the patrons and the volunteers/staff. On the musical front, don’t miss “Shaw and Music” (7:30 p.m. August 7, 14). James Mainprize and Christopher Newton will add their considerable acting skills and, reading from Shaw’s criticism, shed insight and introspection onto the chamber works of Bruch, Vaughan Williams, Paderewski and Parry. Newton also reprises his role as narrator in last season’s highlight, Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (2:00 p.m. August 7, 14). As well, the Market Room at the Court House is the venue for a series of Musical Mornings with Mozart (10:15 a.m., August 5, 6, 12, 13)—coffee and Köchel numbers: yum, yum!

2006 would have seen Mozart turn 250 and Dimitri Shostakovitch become a centenarian. Fortunately, only their bodies have decomposed. Join the celebrations by taking in “The Birthday Boys” series (August 6 and 13; 2:00 and 7:30 p.m.). For the August 6 evening show, which takes place at the NOTL Public Library, film/Shakespeare buffs will enjoy King Lear (1971)—er, but wouldn’t that be a better fit at Stratford?

This season’s opening party also lifted off with a salute to Mozart. The newly minted Orchestra of St. Marks, conducted by Niagara Symphony maestro, Daniel Swift, filled the stage and the capacity crowd’s ears with a slight divertimento. After an untidy opening, the music settled down but failed to find its centre. The middle movement had more shape, yet the truncated phrase endings spoke more “bonjour” than “adieu.” The oddly reconstructed Sinfonia Concertante for Violin (Bankas), Viola (Rie Watanabe) and Cello (Olga Laktionova)—a flute, oboe and a pair of uncertain French horns were added to the strings—was a fun romp through what might have been. Not surprisingly, the best measures came from the cadenza when the three soloists had the limelight to themselves and played, well, like the excellent chamber musicians that NICMF is designed to showcase.

Ay, there’s the rub. Imagine buying seats for a doubles tennis match only to be given two hours of Australian rules rugby. Chamber music is one of Western culture’s greatest contributions to humanity. It revolves around one person per part and is filled with deeply personal statements—often the composer’s most intimate thoughts. The repertoire is vast and will provide a variety of programming for years to come. Slipping an orchestra into the line-up seems at odds with the stated intentions of the organizers, and might surprise or offend the newcomer who is expecting trios, quartets and the like.

Yet isn’t this “mission drift” symptomatic of many senior arts organizations whose artistic administrators try to stem the tide of red ink with the sure-fire success of popular culture. Hello Dolly in Stratford; High Society in our own neck of the woods …. Ah well, at least it seems unlikely that a revival of Lord of the Rings will bail out another Canadian Arts & Entertainment producer anytime soon. Still, wouldn’t Spamalot, the chamber opera put everyone on the map?

Let’s call a spade a spade: make tracks to the Niagara Summer Music Festival! Your mind and soul will thank you. JWR

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Artistic Director - Atis Bankas
Conductor - Daniel Swift
Viola - Rie Watanabe
Cello - Olga Laktionova
Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Cello - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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