The opening concert of the Leith Summer Festival last Saturday evening, June 24, was an enchanting experience that has left me asking what took me so long to discover one of the richest musical experiences Grey Bruce has to offer. The venue itself inside the 157-year-old Leith Historical Church intrigued me. I was quite taken with the remarkable acoustics and the relaxed and welcoming feel.
It was the performance by two outstanding musicians, however, that has left a lasting impression.
Saturday evening’s From Bach to Benny Goodman with Dr. Michael Bridge and Dr. Kornel Wolak was truly memorable. From the moment Bridge and Wolak bounded on stage, they radiated energy and exuberance. Their love of music and of performing, their rapport with their audience and their wit were… well what can I say, I was enthralled.
Bridge and Wolak are a remarkable accordion and clarinet duo – as Wolak suggested, perhaps the only digital accordion and clarinet duo in the world. They are also educators and leaders in the performing arts who are committed to teaching and mentoring youth in all aspects of the performing arts. Bridge teaches masterclasses on the music business and accordion performance. He is described as a leader in the movement to elevate the concert accordion and digital accordion. Wolak is currently an adjunct assistant professor at the Queen’s University DAN School of Drama and Music. He mentors undergraduate and graduate students on all aspects of the music industry, from performance to creation, teaching and leadership.
Wolak plays the clarinet and piano. Bridge, on the other hand, plays a digital accordion that defies any preconceptions I may have had regarding the accordion. The digital accordion is an instrument you have to hear at the hands of a virtuoso like Bridge to fully comprehend. Saturday evening’s performance started with baroque, followed by the music of Benny Goodman, and ended with a variation of what Wolak described as a popular radio jingle from his childhood growing up in Poland that he called Polka in Blue. The most moving piece during the concert, for me, was Digital Stardust, a collaboration that arose from their personal experiences during the pandemic, and one that resonated with each of us in the audience in our own personal way. It brought to mind the haunting sounds of isolation, oppressive quiet, and agitation in the early days of the pandemic.
The festival has featured highly-acclaimed vocalists, duos, ensembles, and quartets annually since 1997. Judging from Saturday’s concert, this year promises to be no exception. The Penderecki String Quartet performs on Saturday, July 8, at 7:30 p.m.; the Gryphon Trio, Sunday, July 23, at 2:30 p.m.; the Tango Payadora Ensemble, Saturday, August 12, at 7:30 p.m.; and La Fiammata Piano Duo on Sunday, August 27, at 2:30 p.m.
For more details on the upcoming concerts during the 2023 Leith Summer Festival and other summer events at the Leith Historical Church, visit leithchurch.ca.