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Music Along the Niagara Celebrates 1812

Atis Bankas

The Music Niagara Festival returns to Niagara on the Lake

The Music Niagara Festival, in picturesque Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, opens with a gala concert event at St. Mark’s Church on Friday, July 13 at 7:30pm. The festival was initially launched as Chamber Music Niagara, but several years ago it changed its name to Music Niagara to acknowledge that it had morphed into something other than simply a chamber music festival. While chamber music performances still make up a majority of concerts, the three dozen events in this year’s festival include choral and jazz concerts, a folk fiddle performance, a military band and a new children’s series.

Music Niagara artistic director Atis Bankas explains that both folk fiddling and small group jazz performances are, in effect, types of chamber music. “When you’re playing in a jazz or fiddle group, you’re listening to the other players in the group,” says Atis, “exchanging parts and listening to each other, responding to each other with your own playing, doing the same kind of things that chamber musicians do while performing a classical work. I think that the saying that ‘variety is the spice of life’ happens to be true, and I’m proud of the variety of musical events that we’ve included in this year’s festival.”

Here is what is going on during just the first two weeks of the festival, with all events taking place at St. Mark’s Anglican Church, unless otherwise indicated.

The opening gala this Friday features Toronto-born and Juilliard-trained pianist Stewart Goodyear, who has appeared as a soloist with both the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, in Beethoven’s mighty Emperor Concerto, composed the year before the outbreak of the war of 1812. The evening opens with the quintessential chamber music work for a summer evening, Schubert’s beloved Trout Quintet, performed by the Gould Ensemble.

Terry Riley’s In C at the Burchfield Penny

On Friday, July 13 at 9pm as part of M&T Second Fridays at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, video artists from Squeaky Wheel will screen new compositions to accompany a rare, live performance of In C, Terry Riley’s 1964 seminal minimalist work. In C has had a lasting influence on the work of composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams, as well as popular music groups like Pink Floyd and The Who.

The Creative Associates of the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY Buffalo, under the leadership of Lukas Foss, gave the New York City premiere of In C in 1967 on a concert program in the influential Contemporary Music at Carnegie Hall series. A recording of the work made in conjunction with that performance, under the direction of the composer himself, has remained available in the catalog up to the present day.

Percussionist Jan Williams, who took part in that 1967 Carnegie Hall performance, will be joined for this performance by his daughter Amy Williams, professor of piano at the University of Pittsburgh, on keyboard, who will play “The Pulse”—two C notes on the piano for the entire length of the work—along with percussionist John Bacon, bass flutist Michael Colquhoun, with Don Metz on electric guitar. Video artists represented include Patrick Cain, Tony Conrad, Andrew Deutsch, Vince Mistretta, Scott Puccia, and a collective work by Squeaky Wheel Board/Staff Members.

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On Saturday, July 14, Stonechurch Winery on Irvine Road is the venue, described as “acoustically superior” by Atis Bankas, for a “Music and Wine” performance at 11:30am featuring the Gould String Quartet playing works by Haydn and Mozart. Other events at Stonechurch Winery include a Sunday night Cabaret on July 15 at 7:30pm featuring songs and duets from favorite musicals and on Friday, July 20 at 7:30pm, the B Flat Sisters, fiddlers Kimberly Holmes and Sherryl Fitzpatrick playing Quebecois jigs and traditional Irish tunes.

The Saturday performance at 7:30pm is a very special event in this year’s remembrance of the War of 1812. England’s highly regarded Trinity College Cambridge Choir is featured in a concert honoring the almost 200 years of peace that has existed between Canada and the US. That war will also be remembered on Monday, July 16 at 2pm, in the Pumphouse on Ricardo Street, when pianist Robert Kortgaard and tenor Lawrence Wiliford offer a program of English, Canadian, and American songs from the era.

The innovative “Classics in Context” series begins on Monday, July 16 at 7:30pm when CBC announcer Tom Allen hosts a discussion featuring, among others, the Shaw Festival’s former artistic director Christopher Newton, and WNED’s favorite midday radio host, Peter Hall, debating the famed rivalry between Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, with musical illustrations provided by soprano Grace Lee, pianist Michael Berkovsky, and violinist Atis Bankas. The next event in the serie,s on Monday, July 23, features professor Leslie Kinton explaining how Dvorak’s romantic Piano Quintet, Op.81 “has such an extraordinary power to move us,” followed by his performance of the piece together with the Gould String Quartet.

On Thursday, July 19 at 7:30pm, Russia’s Borodin String Quartet makes its Music Niagara debut. The Borodin Quartet has a remarkable history, including many world premiers, stretching back for over 65 years, but for this concert they will reach even further back, performing Glinka’s Quartet No. 2 and a pair of works by Tchaikovsky.

Saturday, July 21 is a busy day, starting with a young artist event in the Pumphouse at 11:30am, and ending with the first in the “Jazz on the Patio” series at 9:30pm, featuring the Larry Bond Trio, at the Epicurean Bistro on Queen Street. At 7:30pm, one of the more intriguing concerts on this year’s program will feature the internationally touring pianist from the Czech Republic, Norbert Heller, a winner of the European Union’s Gustav Mahler prize, along with the rising, young Canadian cellist Rachel Mercer who performs on the 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius cello and violinist Atis Bankas in a program of Beethoven, Hummel, and Dvorak that includes Smetana’s Piano Trio.

The noon concert at the Pumphouse, on Sunday, July 20, the first “Music for Families” event, will include Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf as well as Copland’s Cat and Mouse. Toronto’s Shevchenko Choir performs in a free concert at 2pm in the Simcoe Bandshell, along with the Two Row Dancers & Singers, who perform various North American Native styles of song and dance and encourage audience participation.

For more information visit or call 1-800-511-7429.

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