As Music Niagara's summer concert season comes to a close, artistic director Atis Bankas is looking back fondly, and looking forward to shows in the fall and winter.
Even though the summer season forced cancellation of conventional live concerts, the organization, which has been putting on world-class shows in Niagara-on-the-Lake for 22 years, adapted, learned and forged new relationships, Bankas said.
“You know, as bad as it is, it presents challenges but also different opportunities,” he said in an interview with The Lake Report.
One of those opportunities is partnering with Niagara College to broadcast live concerts.
On Monday, they filmed the final broadcast of the season, at the McArthur Estate on John Street, formerly the home of artist Trisha Romance. The show, featuring acclaimed Canadian jazz trumpeter Steve Dade, will be broadcast on Thanksgiving Monday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
One other concert in the At Home series was filmed this week at Chateau des Charmes with comedian David Green as emcee. The show, “Last Night of the Proms,” features British favourites performed by the Niagara Proms Orchestra, conducted by Sabatino Vacca. It will be broadcast on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Filming the season's shows, Bankas said, was “not on the books” before COVID-19 hit, but arts groups were forced to get inventive.
“For everybody, for all the organizations. I'm playing in the Toronto Symphony for many years and we're doing the same thing,” he said.
“There are many, many positive things coming out.”
“First of all, our reach out is way bigger” with the broadcasts. “And that goes for everybody. You could reach out to people, not just locally or Ontario or Canada but internationally as well.”
He said he thinks music has helped keep people’s spirits up during the pandemic.
“Clearly people are hungry for not just entertainment, but meaningful entertainment,” he said.
“And the morale is a very important part of the situation to keep everybody sane and healthy at the same time, because if you're not sane you're not healthy.”
“If you asked me, 'Would you have preferred to do live concerts only?' Yes, if it was normal, definitely.”
Karen Lade, general manager of Music Niagara, said the season was “fantastic.”
“We offered 15 virtual concerts,” she said, adding there’s been great feedback.
“The comments we're getting are really, really, really positive that they can watch our concerts at any time,” she said.
“We planned 30 concerts at the beginning of our season. We were ready to launch our season come March and then COVID-19 hit,” she said. “So, we really had to look at 'How can we do things differently?' ”
She said they picked 15 performances and partnered with Niagara College to film them.
It’s gone so well that she said the festival will continue to have a virtual component moving forward.
“What's nice is that people who don't feel comfortable to go out, say, next year when we can sell tickets, that they'll have an online option because our audience is 55-plus, to be completely honest, and we're not sure how many people are going to be comfortable coming out.”
She’s not sure yet when in-person concerts will resume.
“We don't know what the future holds, but what we're thinking is, we're going to have to continue our home series, just to stay safe,” she said.
Bankas said though the summer season is ending, Music Niagara is headed “straight into fall and winter,” with two shows planned, one on Nov. 11 and another for Christmas.
More show information can be found at www.musicniagara.org.