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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Ross’s Ramblings: A unique Niagara moment filled with music and memories
Atis Bankas, artistic director of Music Niagara. Dariya Baiguzhiyeva.

Back about 10 years ago, Atis Bankas dusted me during a men’s tennis league night at the Memorial Park tennis courts. While enjoying a cold Oast House’s Barnraiser after the match, I told him he “had played me like a Stradivarius.”

A bit ironic as he is a master violinist, the founder and artistic director of Music Niagara, now in its 25th-anniversary season.

He had learned to play violin and tennis in his native Lithuania and continues to create musical magic. Tennis? Not so much.

Last weekend at Ironwood Cider House on Lakeshore Road, in a unique venue with an appreciative and supportive audience, Atis and his peers created an evening that resembled a musical salon.

A salon is a gathering of people held by a host, in this case Music Niagara. Salons first appeared in Italy in the 16th century, and flourished in France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The concert/salon was sponsored by Patrick Little, the senior partner at Murray and Associates LLP, a St. Catharines law firm. Peter Millard, a member of the Shaw Festival company for some 30 years, was the master of ceremonies, and deftly described Schubert, Schumann, Dietrich and Brahms.

To someone like me from Kirkland Lake and Winnipeg, it was a challenge.

My comfort zone is describing hockey players like Frank Mahovlich, Tim Horton, Ted Lindsay and Allan Stanley – all tough lads from northern Ontario, who used their hockey sticks like violin bows, to make nice passes and goals.

They didn’t play a sonata in A minor or a piano quartet op. 47 in E flat major.

By the way, Stradivarius violins were made by Antonio Stradivari in his shop in Cremona, Italy, until his death in 1737. A true master, and the North American equivalent to such a category leader might be Frank Zamboni.

Zamboni invented the ice-resurfacing machine in California and the Boston Bruins were the first NHL team to use one, in 1954. Since then, thousands of Zambonis have been sold.

The ice-making maestro is in the Ice Skating Institute Hall of Fame, making it clear that Stradivarius and Zamboni were two Italian leaders in their fields. Back now to Ironwood Cider House on Sunday evening.

The venue was sans pareil, with intermission among the peach trees. Light foods were provided by the District from St. Catharines and my Mexican sweet corn tapa was to die for. Especially at $8, with sweet corn, feta, cilantro lime cream, garlic butter and paprika.

And how classy it was to be dining with a light wooden spoon. Ironwood’s Ciderita and other ciders were available chilled to complement the food offerings.

It was spectacular to enjoy the music of Atis Bankas on violin, Victoria Kogan on piano, Liubomyr Kliufinskyi on viola and Jonothan Tortolano on cello. They thrilled us with such wonderful talents at Ironwood, and we counted our blessings to be part of this Music Niagara gem.

There are several more concerts throughout the summer, at various delightful venues, and a special highlight will be on Sunday, July 30, when they celebrate Ukrainian music and culture at St. Mark’s Anglican Church at 4 p.m.

This will be a breathtaking and heartfelt musical experience featuring internationally renowned soloists and musicians. I have a dashing blue and yellow shirt pressed and ready, and invite NOTLers to be at St. Mark’s to show solidarity with our Ukraine fellows.

Bankas has the musical Rolodex of Rolodexes, so please be with us.

Let us delight ourselves. As Peter Millard said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”

Step out of your comfort zones, join other Niagara-on-the-Lake residents and visitors, close your eyes, and let the music overtake your senses for a few hours. You will be a better person.

Music in Niagara with Music Niagara. We are all so fortunate to live in Canada in 2023.

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