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.