By John Hopkins
Photos curtesy of Stirlingfest
So picture this. You’ve stepped out on a limb and organized a classical and jazz music festival in the village of Stirling, and during a break in the action Guido Basso appears backstage and asks if he can sit-in with the jazz band, the John Sherwood Trio. Yup, that Guido Basso, internationally-acclaimed horn player and recipient of the Order of Canada.
That was the experience last fall of Robert Wright, creator and organizer of Stirlingfest, a three-day musical event running October 13-15 at St. John’s Anglican and St. Paul’s United churches.
“Guido bought a ticket for last year’s jazz concert, bringing his horn along with him, and asked John Sherwood if he might play a couple of tunes with the trio,” recalls Wright. “John, of course, was honoured, and a little nervous, and Guido played two or three tunes with the trio.”
This year Basso will be back, although this time he will not be making a surprise guest appearance; he is on the program along with a slate of accomplished classical and jazz musicians.
“We want to show what Hastings County has to offer,” says Wright, a retired Anglican Minister who was Rector of St. John’s Church between 1986 and 1998. “You don’t have to go to Toronto to hear the best.”
A Quinte native who has now retired to the Madoc area, Wright decided to combine his passion for music and Hastings County in a weekend festival that would also feature the best the area has to offer.
For the most part his roster of musical talent has strong links to the area, and his sponsors include Maple Dale Cheese, The Apple Store and The Village Chocolatier. Tweed’s Potter Settlement Winery and the newly-launched Signal Brewery from Corbyville will also participate in this year’s event.
“I grew up with music and it touches the deepest part of my life,” says Wright in explaining his reasons for launching the festival in 2016. “Classical music has such a rich tradition and people like jazz. Jazz is stuff that moves you; it’s familiar and it’s got a beat.”
To perform the music Wright has been able to assemble a top-notch line-up of musicians, mainly through the help of his Artistic Director, Atis Bankas. Wright and Bankas became friends when Wright was based in Niagara-on-the-Lake between 1998 and 2015 and Bankas founded Music Niagara, a summer music festival.
A native of Lithuania, Bankas has been a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 1982 and is currently a professor at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
Bankas is first violinist with the Gould String Quartet, which will perform classical music on the Friday and Sunday of this year’s Stirlingfest. Other classical performers will include organists Matthieu Latreille and Francine Nguyen-Savaria, music directors at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in Belleville, pianist Victoria Kogan, and Sora Sator-Mound, an eight-year-old violinist and student of Bankas, whose grandfather lives in the Stirling area.
The jazz side features the John Sherwood Quartet, which includes Basso, Sherwood on piano, bassist Dave Young and drummer Brian Barlow. A native of Oakville, Sherwood has played with the likes of Peter Appleyard and Moe Koffman, in addition to Basso. Winnipeg-born Young has shared the stage with Oscar Peterson and Lenny Breau, among others, while Belleville’s Barlow spent 15 years as percussionist for the internationally-renowned jazz band Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass.
A key cog in the classical portion of the event is longtime radio personality Eric Friesen, who will act as something of an emcee for Friday and Sunday’s program.
“Eric will provide some description and context for the music we will be hearing,” Wright explains. “We want to get away from the highbrow image of classical music and bring the people into it, and Eric will be able to do that. We want people to feel that they’ve learned something along the way.”
Another feature of the festival aimed at breaking musical barriers is an opportunity for festival goers to meet the artists at the end of each performance.
In the St. John’s Church Wright feels he has the ideal venue for the classical portion of the festival. Erected in 1860 the church has “a warm and intimate interior and possesses a very suitable acoustic for listening to music,” according to Wright. St. John’s also possesses a tracker action pipe organ, purchased from Gabriel Kney of London in 1989, and in 1995 received a Steinway Grand Piano through the generosity of the Connor family of Belleville.
After sharing St. John’s Church with the classical music last fall, the jazz portion of Stirlingfest will move this year a few blocks west to St. Paul’s United Church.
“With St. John’s we really have an embarrassment of riches, between the history and the instruments,” Wright points out. “They do a lot of music at St. Paul’s and it’s a lovely facility and larger than St. John’s.”
Last year Wright estimates he had 60 visitors for each of the classical concerts and 50 for Saturday’s jazz performances. This year he is hoping to see 100 at St. John’s each day and 150 attend the jazz at St. Paul’s. This time, however, Basso will not be in the paying crowd.
Says Wright, “I have assured Guido that we won’t be charging him admission this year!”
For more information on Stirlingfest, including ticket information, visit www.stirlingfest.com or call (613) 398-7573.