About us

Music Niagara Festival Photo: Cosmo Condina

Music Niagara’s

Unique | History


 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.

Atis Banks

Atis Bankas

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

Patrick Little, Chair

Edward Barisa, Vice Chair

Paul Shelestowsky, Secretary

Daniel Rafii, Treasurer

Cindi Lorforti Lepp, Director

Kekoo Gatta, Director

James Hall, Director

Sally Miller, Director

Elaine Mayo, Director

Tom Smith, Director

Stacey Mullholland, Director


H A Patrick Little


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.

Edward Barisa

Vice Chair

Ed has a bachelors’degree from Universite de Montreal and a Masters from McGill. He holds a CAE designation granted by the Canadian Society of Association Executives. He has also attended professional development seminars for senior executives at Harvard and M.I.T. on topics such as strategic planning, risk management, negotiation and change management.

Ed began his career as a high school geography teacher and then department head in Montreal. Six years later he was appointed Curriculum Co-ordinator for the Council of Ministers of Education,Canada,a coordinating body for education across the country. From there, as his academic background included a heavy dose of geography, he was appointed Executive Director of the Intergovernmental Committee on Urban and Regional Research, reporting to a Board of Directors consisting of deputy ministers of municipal affairs and housing from across the country and the President of CMHC.

Next came a move to Ottawa, from Toronto, following his appointment to head up the Canadian Bar Association. Four years later, Ed was hired by the consulting arm of Ernst and Young to lead the World University Service of Canada ,an International Development Agency, out of receivership. Mission accomplished, WUSC is still in business some thirty years later.

Toronto beckoned and Ed moved back to head up the Canadian Chiropractic Association. Once again,a search firm called and Ed was appointed as CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, a position that he held for 17 years until his retirement.

Ed has served on the following boards at various times during his career:

Canada Studies Foundation-director and Chair

Canadian Bar Services Inc.-director


Law for the Future Fund-director

Canadian Real Estate Association-director

Real Estate Executives Council-director and Chair

National Association of Realtors(U.S.)-director

Canadian Society of Association Executives-director,Chair-elect and Chair.

Paul Shelestowsky


Paul is the Investment Advisor with Meridian Credit Union working out of Niagara-on-the-Lake. He has been in the financial industry for over 30 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.

Tom Smith


After graduating from Amherst College in 1971, Tom worked in publishing for a year in New York, earned a master’s degree at the University of Leeds, and taught English at The Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey. He then earned a PhD at Rutgers University in English, which led to teaching at the University of Georgia in Athens for two years. The rest of his university career was spent at campuses of Penn State University, teaching courses ranging from developmental writing to introduction to poetry to advanced literary theory. From 2006-07 and again from 2012-15, he was Head of the Division of Arts and Humanities at Penn State Abington in suburban Philadelphia, where he supervised 100 full- and part-time professors. From 2008-10, he was the Director of the Advising Center at that campus, coordinating academic advising for 3500 undergraduates. In both positions, he managed budgets, supervised annual employee evaluations, and implemented University policies.

In addition to publishing many scholarly articles on autobiography from the 1980s through the 2010s, from 2006-12 he edited Ufewriting Annual, a serial publication of scholarly and creative essays on biography, autobiography, memoir, diaries, and letters. He has recently rejoined the Annual as a Consulting Editor. He has been an Editorial Board member of the journal a/b: Auto/Biography Studies since its founding in 1986 and has been a member of the Executive Committee of the International Autobiography Association (ABA) since its founding in 1999 in Beijing. He has served on executive committees of various interest groups devoted to life writing within the Modern Language Association (MLA}, the leading professional organization of university-level language professors in Canada and the US. Since retiring in 2015, he has continued to review submissions to the above two journals and attend conferences in his field.

Growing up, Tom Took piano lessons for 12 years, played bassoon and saxophone, and sang in school and church choirs and his college Glee Club. As an adult he is an avid classical music fan, having been a subscriber for years to the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, and the smaller Philadelphia­area ensembles Vax Amadeus, Tempesta di Mare, and Piffaro. This season he will be attending performances of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra., the Canadian Opera, and Tafelmusik.

Kekoo Gatta


I was born in Uganda. Our family escaped Idi Amin’s military rule and my family of five settled in Thorold and I grew up going to Thorold High School. After graduating high school, during the recession of the mid eighty’s, I spent five years in Toronto getting my mechanic’s licence. Missing the Niagara region and knowing that I had a passion for buildings and not cars, I came back to Niagara and started dismantling old homes and rebuilding them.

After 2 years of older homes, I decided to start Gatta Homes in 1989, and have been building high end, energy efficient custom homes in Niagara-on-the-Lake ever since. Award winning developments like Mariner Bay Estates, Bayberry Lane, Avalon Place, Harmony Lane, Butlers Creek, Royal Albion Place, Settlements at St. David’s etc.. all pushed us to higher and better energy efficient homes.

Having raised five kids in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I am pleased that three of them have joined the family business, with the other two pursuing equally successful careers in their own fields. This gives me more time and energy to give back to the community that embraced us decades ago.

Over the years, we have donated land to the YWCA for a shelter for abused young women, we have made a three-year commitment to provide a facility to house the first ever Canadian Centre for Men and Families of Abused Men. We have supported many local organizations  such as the Shaw Garden Tour, Niagara Falls Soup Kitchen, the Rotary Home Tour, the Santa Claus Parade, The Voices of Freedom Park and many hockey and soccer teams.

I also mentor young boys and girls from underprivileged backgrounds to encourage them to aim for post-secondary education by coaching wrestling at Eden High School and at the Brock Junior Badgers Wrestling Program.

James Hall


James is an enthusiastic and dynamic member of the Music Niagara Board of Directors, bringing a burst of energy and a deep-seated passion for the Niagara region. His journey with Music Niagara began during his student days at Brock University, where he developed a deep appreciation for the Niagara region and its thriving cultural landscape. Those unforgettable moments at Music Niagara events not only filled his student life with melody and rhythm but also laid the foundation for his future involvement with this organization.

Following his time at Brock, James ventured to the coastal charm of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he successfully pursued a law degree and a master’s in health administration at Dalhousie University. These qualifications have not only shaped his professional journey but have also solidified his commitment to community service and healthcare excellence.

James’ return to the Niagara region marked not just a homecoming but the start of an exciting chapter at the law firm of Sullivan Mahoney LLP. This return to his roots is where his professional aspirations and personal passions intertwine. As an active member of Rotary International, James dives into community initiatives with enthusiasm, championing causes that resonate with his commitment to healthcare and community vibrancy.

James’ role at Music Niagara is more than a position; it’s an extension of his personality – full of verve, dedication, and a contagious excitement for community enrichment through music. He’s all about connecting people, celebrating heritage, and making every Music Niagara experience an unforgettable one.

Daniel Rafii


 Bio coming soon…….

Elaine Mayo


Elaine was born and educated in the London area of England to a musical family – both professional and amateur.

Elaine Studied Meteorology with the Air Ministry before joining British Airways as a flight attendant.

She helped with her husband’s electronics businss in the accounts offices, which eventually brought them to Canada in 1981 and eventually to the U.S. and became a Canadian citizen in 1985.

Elaine spent nearly 20 years in the UK from 1986-2005 where she ultimately returned to Toronto in 2005, after selling her company.

Since retiring, she has taken several volunteer positions mainly with the Garden Clubs, and is now a lady of leisure!



Cynthia LoForti Lepp


Cindi resides in the town of Niagara on the Lake. She recently served 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 served as the Co-Chair of the YWCA Regional Capital Campaign, assisting in the raising of $7.4 million. Cindi also served on the Capital Campaign Cabinet for Pathstone Mental Health which raised over $7 million on behalf of children’s mental health.

She has been 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, Cindi 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.

Cindi 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.

Cindi 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.