Unique | History
HISTORY OF MUSIC NIAGARA FESTIVAL – Where the World Comes to Play
In 1998, Atis Bankas came to Niagara-on-the-Lake with the dream of founding a music school and summer music festival. He had discovered the perfect location – one of Canada’s most beautiful towns on the shores of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the magnificent Niagara River, an area of great historical significance, surrounded by orchards and lush vineyards.
During the first years, the festival was small in scope. By the third season, audiences grew as residents and tourists began to discover the delights of the festival. The success of these early seasons moved Music Niagara Festival (then known as the Niagara International Chamber Music Festival) to a new level of performance, with 2004 introducing more performances in the three-week festival and the introduction of several new long running series.
Over the years, Music Niagara Festival has evolved into a world-class summer music festival that runs approximately five weeks, featuring Canadian and international musicians performing a variety of music genres.
The festival has established itself as an annual cultural event, with a core audience and a capacity for networking with other arts, heritage and cultural organizations within the Niagara Region. The associations and partnerships that have developed amongst these organizations allow the festival to present unique and diverse artistic experiences year after year. Audiences are able to combine their enjoyment of great music with a deeper appreciation of Niagara’s rich heritage and history, its other cultural offerings and visits to wineries.
In a world of specialty festivals, Music Niagara Festival is proud to offer performances of the highest quality that span the musical spectrum—chamber music, choral, vocal, contemporary, country, folk, jazz—stimulating audiences with the diversity of its programs and artists. The Music Niagara Festival is recognized as a world-class summer music event, attracting locals and tourists from across North America and around the world as well as a passionate and loyal local following.
In 2014, Music Niagara Festival, with the help of an innovative sponsor added a unique and creative element to support young performers: The Music Niagara Performance Academy. On summer weekends during the Festival, The Academy, with resources from the Shaw Festival, provides an innovative program of specialized performance training for gifted young musicians, pairing students with senior members of Niagara’s performing arts community to mentor and guide their on-stage presence.
Today, our Young Virtuosos series presents some of Canada’s finest emerging talents, at the formative stages of their budding professional careers. Young Virtuosos in the Schools enables teams of exceptional young musicians to travel to regional primary and high schools to present concerts and introduce students to the wonder of music. The program also supports the development of young musicians through in-school master classes and the Music Niagara Instrument Bank, making high-quality instruments available to deserving young musicians.
Music Niagara Festival also presents other musical events throughout the year. They include an annual Remembrance Day concert, raising funds for veterans and their families. In its 20th season, the Festival announced its Inaugural Young Musicians of Niagara Competition.
In November, 2019, Music Niagara’s ChoralFest, featuring 8 concerts with the participation of 9 choirs over 10 days, made its debut.
In 2020, Music Niagara responded quickly to the pandemic. Being a small organization, we had the ability to pivot quickly to an online virtual series called the “At Home Series”. Music Niagara’s online pivot was successful due to the new partnership with Niagara College’s Broadcasting Team. This new online series showcased 34 New Generation Artists, while employing and engaging 80 musicians and engaging 20 Niagara College students. We also simultaneously introduced a new virtual Performance Academy featuring 4 new Junior Faculty that taught and mentored younger musicians through Zoom. Maintaining the educational arm of our organization was extremely important to us, as just because we were unable to gather in the same room together did not mean the next generation of young musicians should be bereft of their opportunity to learn from industry professionals.
Impact: Fiscal 2020 – COVID
Concerts: 15 virtual concerts, 0 ticketed
Attendance: 5676 views on YouTube
Community Impact: Partnered with Niagara College (NC) Broadcasting Team.
Engaged 20 NCS tudents. Created new partnerships to host and film concerts. New partners include Niagara College, Chateau de Charmes, McArthur Estate, NOTL Museum, and Willowbank.
Musicians Impact: Employed 80 Ontario/Artists/Musicians
In 2021, our At Home Series continued with a few LIVE performances, including a very successful LIVE Brahms Oktoberfest. Brahms Oktoberfest presented a unique slate of evocative and accessible classical concerts centred around the works of Johanne Brahms, performed by Ontario-musicians, in partnership with 4 Niagara-area-breweries.
Impact: Fiscal 2021
Concerts: 20 virtual concerts, 6 ticketed events
Attendance: 9603 views on YouTube and 218 live audience members
Community Impact: Partnered with Niagara College (NC) Broadcasting Team. Engaged
20 NC Students.
Musicians Impact: Engaged and employed over 100 Ontario artists/musicians
At Home Series YouTube Stats since the pandemic:
Views since the pandemic: 23,399 views
Niagara visitors who find Music Niagara Festival for the first time, still marvel at the stature of our performers and how wonderful it is to experience them in the intimacy of our special venues—churches, parks, wineries and restaurants, to name a few. Music Niagara Festival has become an important component of the cultural landscape in Niagara and is considered a force in supporting Niagara-on-the-Lake’s reputation as a major North American centre for the performing arts.
Founder and Artistic Director
Lithuanian born Canadian violinist extraordinaire Atis Bankas has performed as a soloist in Canada, Europe, the United States, Korea, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and with orchestras under the direction of Nejme Jarvi, Iona Brown, Andrew Davis, and JoAnn Falletta among many others. Chamber music collaborators include pianists A. Laplante, S. Goodyear, R. Silverman, R. McDonald, N. Kogan, among many others. Atis Bankas is dedicatee of numerous new works by composers such as G. Kulesha, H. Freedman, D. Varelas, M. Bronner, V. Bartulis, A. Navakas, G. Samsonas, D. Hyman, S. Burbi, A. Shenderovas, P. Tiefenbach, and many others.
Atis Bankas is the first violinist of the Gould String Quartet, a member of Potsdam Trio, leader of Ensemble CamerAtis and Leader and Artistic Director of of the Canadian Chamber Academy Orchestra.
Mission & Values
Music Niagara presents world-class, diverse music experiences in unique and intimate settings that connect the community and beyond, educate and inspire audiences and artists, and enhance Niagara-on-the-Lake’s rich heritage and culture.
Quality & Cultural Affordability
We believe that everyone should have access to high quality musical performances, and in partnership with our donors, sponsors, and volunteers we offer affordable and meaningful musical experiences.
Diversity & Heritage
We promote diverse Canadian artists and heritage, with an emphasis on classical music.
We are committed to promoting music education by offering young and emerging artists with performance and training and providing audiences with context and meaning through program notes, lectures/readings, and creative presentations.
We value creativity and celebrate innovation.
We believe that by working in collaboration with community partners we can enrich the cultural life of the community and its visitors.
Board of | Directors
Richard H Baker
Early musical exposure during childhood in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires came from the radio. Piano lessons started in Toronto after a family move to Canada in 1956. However, unlike several famous composers who fled the law to write music, Richard did the opposite, by opting for a life-long civil litigation practice in Toronto, from which he retired in 2016. Imbued with an enduring delight in classical music, formative experiences included naval training during university days, adventures in the 1970’s Toronto art scene through his friendship with Jack Pollock, and, in the course of things, a fellow-feeling for Spanish-speaking immigrants. Along the way there was much voluntary and gratifying work with Commissionaires (Great Lakes), Canadian Council for the Americas, University Naval Training Divisions Association of Canada (UNTD), Riverbrink Art Museum Inc., Gallery Players of Niagara, and others. He has lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake since 2011.
H A Patrick Little
Vice Chair, Chair of Governance
Senior Partner, Heelis, Little & Almas, LLP, St. Catharines, ON
Patrick began his legal career with the City of St. Catharines in 1976, and entered private practice in 1979, concentrating his efforts in the areas of administrative, municipal and criminal law, government relations, real estate development and wills and estates. Patrick has served the community as the President/Chair of several organizations, including the Lincoln County Law Association, St. Catharines Chamber of Commerce and St. Catharines Club and as Director of the St. Catharines General Hospital, St. Catharines Downtown Association, St. Catharines Museum and St. Catharines Golf Club. He is a past Chair of the United Way of St. Catharines and District, past President of Croquet Canada, Chair of several organizing committees for the Tall Ships visits to Port Dalhousie. He is currently chair of Willowbank School of Restoration Arts. He is also an Honourary Trustee of Trinity College, University of Toronto and former Governor of Trinity College School, Port Hope.
Treasurer, Chair of Finance
Randy is a CPA who was a tax partner at KPMG for 29 years and while there he started and led a specialty tax practice and built it to be the largest of its kind in Canada. He was a frequent speaker at tax conferences in Canada, the US and Europe and authored a special section of one of Canada’s leading Income Tax Services.
He has also volunteered at the leading hospital in Pinehurst, NC and in preparing US income tax returns for low income people through AARP. With his wife Lynne, co-chaired the 2012 Willowbank Jazz festival which resulted in the biggest profit it had ever made (over $35,000).He has sat on the Boards of The Salvation Army Hospital, Theatre Beyond Words NOTL Golf Club.
Chair of Fundraising, Director
Michelle is a recently retired Senior Executive who achieved the respect of the senior ranks of the Canadian Food Retail, Packaging and Distribution sector. Her reputation was gained through a series of significant contributions each of which was achieved as she assumed roles with increasing responsibility. Michelle has an affinity for people and an ability to secure consensus even when confronted with a group with strong personalities. She welcomes the opportunity to contribute in challenging situations. Michelle has enjoyed attending supporting events and many concerts of Music Niagara over the past few years. Michelle provides significant support to the organization specifically in staging events as well as raising funds.
Co-Chair of Marketing, Director
Mary Powers is President of MPowers Communications, specializing in communication and marketing in the international visual content marketplace. The company’s diverse client roster has included multiplatform content producers and distributors, broadcasters, studios, industry trade conferences and associations.
A media industry veteran, Mary spent most of her career with CHUM Limited, at the time one of Canada’s leading media companies, where she directed domestic and international communications and investor relations. She became SVP Corporate Communications for CT Globemedia (now Bell Media) prior to launching her own company.
Mary is Past Chair of the Banff World Media Festival and international content marketing association Promax, and a past board member of The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television among others.
Experienced member with a demonstrated history of working in the philanthropy industry. Skilled in Non-profit organizations, Shamanism, sailing, photography, and event planning. Strong business development professional with an Associate of Arts (A.A.) focused in Painting/drawing/lithography/ from OCAD University.
Cynthia LoForti Lepp
Cynthia resides in Niagara on the Lake where she owns and operates her interior design business. From 2008 to 2014, Cynthia was employed by the Federal Government as Chairperson of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees for the District of Niagara and District of Hamilton where she directed proceedings during hearings and made decisions on all issues arising from Employment Insurance appeals.
In 2015, 2016 and 2017 Cynthia acted as a Canadian delegate for the United Nations traveling to New York, New York to represent Canada on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW.) The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the empowerment of women and gender equality.
Cynthia currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity Niagara Region. She is the past president of the Board of Directors for the YWCA Niagara Region and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the YWCA Regional Capital Campaign, assisting in the raising of $6.5 million to date. Cynthia served on the Capital Campaign Cabinet for Pathstone Mental Health which raised over $7 million on behalf of children’s mental health.
Cynthia has served on the Youth Without Secure Housing Committee, a committee that consists of representatives from various agencies and government officials in the Niagara Region, to address the needs of homeless youth.
Cynthia acted as a Niagara Early Years Steering Committee member on behalf of Provincial Parliament. The Early Years Committee was responsible to create and oversee Early Years infrastructure and champion local early years parenting initiatives. They worked with the Ministry of Community and Social Services to assist in reviewing and assessing the Early Years Challenge Fund submissions and make recommendations.
Earl was the founder of E.L. Shore & Associates in 1968 after graduation from Ryerson University in 1966. His high level of productivity set the pace for the firm. He specialized in searches for Presidents, Chief Executive Officers and Senior Executives. He had completed assignments in a broad cross section of business sectors, including retail, venture capital, financial services, high technology, automotive, manufacturing and service industry. He had a substantial number of international contacts and had been very successful at locating key executives interested in moving to Canada.
Earl possessed the business acumen required to understand the client’s unique culture and to match the candidate to that culture. His energy, drive and determination provided the base from which each search was performed with speed, thoroughness and professionalism.
Earl was an active member of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario and has been a Director of a number of organizations including Big Brothers, Mabin School, Leo Baeck School and Holy Blossom Temple.
Currently he is retired and, having moved to NOTL in 2015, he is an active member of the Niagara On The Lake Golf Club as well as the NOTL Tennis Club. He is also mentoring 3 High School/University students in Naples, Florida under Champions for Learning charity which provides the first 2 years of college tuition to needy successful grade 8 who complete a 5 year program of obtaining scholastic standing, community volunteer work and weekly sessions with their mentor. In addition he also mentors 2 recipients of awards from Risehelps.ca, a charity set up by the late Joe Rotman, to assist start-up entrepreneurs who have had addiction and or mental health issues. In his spare time he enjoys turning wooden bowls and vessels on his lathe which in turn he gives to his friends.
Co-Chair of Marketing
With over 20 years in the luxury hotel, spa, and restaurant industry, Ryan brings a wealth of experience in providing world-class guest experiences. He has served on numerous community and industry boards and has a history of volunteering and event planning for local charities such as Distress Centre Niagara, Red Roof Retreat and Project Share Niagara. In his previous career, Ryan worked in marketing as founding partner and President of Templatech Designs, a website and graphic design firm. It was during this time that he was presented with the Top 30 Under 30 Award by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) for his development and subsequent work with template-based website designs. He has a passion for cycling, design, travel and music and is excited to have the opportunity to blend one of his passions with volunteering.
Paul is the Senior Wealth Advisor with Meridian Credit Union working out of Niagara-on-the-Lake. He has been in the financial industry for over 25 years and has lent his expertise to many national news outlets, including The Globe & Mail, the Financial Post and the Toronto Star, as well as appearing on BNN and CTV News Network. Paul earned an honours degree in Music from McMaster University in 1997 and is happy to be able to match his lifelong passion for music with his volunteering.