New Orford String Quartet, left to right: Brian Manker, Sharon Wei, Andrew Wan and Jonathan Crow. Photo by Dahlia KatzToronto Summer Music (TSM) is back, bigger than ever – July 7 to July 30 – with “Inspirations” as its theme. Toronto’s go-to summer classical music event will present an ambitious program of 26 mainstage concerts. Eight of them will showcase the TSM Academy Fellows and Mentors, highlighting one crucial aspect of the festival’s mandate – to offer high-level training to emerging musicians. The details of those eight Regeneration concerts will be announced in June; the contents of the other 18 were made public in late April.

I took the opportunity in early May to discuss the “Inspirations” theme with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow, now in his sixth year as TSM’s artistic director. (This interview has been edited for length.)

WN: In the festival release, you describe inspiration as “deeply motivating moments that connect us to one another.” Given that the backbone of Toronto Summer Music is the TSM Academy with its Mentors and Fellows, there is clearly a wealth of inspiration to be had, in any TSM season, in terms of teachable/performing moments. But how did you make the leap from that to basing the whole festival on that theme?

JC: I don’t think the leap came about because of one specific moment, but rather from thinking about how we’ve put together themes these last five years at TSM. There are so many things that come into play when tying music together – the specific reasons for the composition, the actual inspiration of the composer, the meaning of music to the artists… I thought it might be interesting to explore more explicitly the reasons behind how we program great music.

Read more: Inspired by Inspiration at TSM

Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason. Photo by JAMES HOLE

The fearlessness it takes

Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s meteoric rise began when his passionate playing won him the 2016 BBC Young Musician Competition. Then he upped his fame quotient when he performed three short pieces at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for an audience of more than two billion viewers. Now, he and his older sister, pianist Isata (b. 1996), both of whom are acclaimed Decca recording stars, will be making their much-anticipated Toronto debut on May 6 at Koerner Hall.

The young cellist (b. 1999) told The Violin Channel in November, 2016 that he has been very lucky to be surrounded by his family. “My six siblings, all of whom are also classical musicians, have been there to support me, give me advice, perform with me and generally keep me concentrating on the music. Coming from such a supportive musical family has been a great strength and has always made my approach to music a collaborative one. Although I love solo playing, I feel that it is in the interaction between soloist and accompanist, or within a chamber group, orchestra and concerto soloist that music comes alive.”

Read more: A house full of richness: Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason

Gustavo Gimeno and TSO cellist Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron Photo: STUART LOWEIn what promises to be an unforgettable night, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is bringing all five of their living music directors to the Roy Thomson Hall stage on April 9 at 7:30 for a unique historical event. The five conductors’ tenures span the last 47 years, as the TSO eases into its hundredth year. Former TSO music directors Sir Andrew Davis (1975-1988; 2018-2020), Günther Herbig (1989-1994), Jukka-Pekka Saraste (1994-2001) and Peter Oundjian (2004-2018) will join current music director Gustavo Gimeno and host Marion Newman for this special Centennial Season event – a program of orchestral showpieces highlighting key moments in TSO history. 

Marion Newman Photo: HOWARD J. DAVISDavis starts the evening off by taking the podium for Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture which has been conducted by seven of the TSO’s music directors, notably by Davis as part of the TSO’s Canadian Odyssey tour of the North in 1987. Davis also leads the orchestra in Delius’ The Walk to the Paradise Garden, paying tribute to Davis’ British roots. (British-trained Canadian, Sir Ernest MacMillan, is the only other TSO music director to have performed it.)

Read more: Across the board, there’s a spring in the seasonal step!

“It’s just a flesh wound!” says the Black Knight, after King Arthur chops his arms off in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Just as it seemed live music was reasserting its presence in the GTA and beyond, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 forced the Ontario government to pivot to new lockdown guidelines that nipped reopenings in the bud, and effectively curtailed live music for most of January. The new guidelines however offer hope. If they stick, from January 31 to February 21, live music attendance can resume, albeit capped at “50 percent or 500 people, whichever is smaller” a measure impacting disproportionately severely on the smallest and the largest venues. After February 21, barring setbacks, progress accelerates: 50 percent capacity, no matter the venue size, until March 15; and then, barring a further re-assessment, permission for a return to live performance at full capacity. 


Unlike the ill-fated fall reopening, when the TSO waited for the 50percent capacity cap before resuming, this time they are in, boots and all even at the 500-capacity cap. They have announced a full slate of diverse live programming over the next six weeks, with music director Gustavo Gimeno leading the orchestra, February 2, 3 and 5, in Schumann’s FIrst Symphony, “Spring,” composed in January and February of 1841 in anticipation of better weather ahead. Also on the program is Scylla, Jordan Pal’s concerto for trombone and orchestra written as a showcase for TSO principal trombone, Gordon Wolfe.

Even before the February feast begins, there will be an appetizer available: a performance of Gimeno conducting Beethoven’s jovial Symphony No.2 Op.36, to be streamed live on January 28 and available on demand until February 4. In that concert, Beethoven’s Second proves to be a fruitful muse for Odawa First Nation composer Barbara Assiginaak, whose Innenohr meditates on the German master’s storied love of nature. Missy Mazzoli’s evocative Dark with Excessive Bright also draws inspiration from the past, bringing Baroque-era techniques into the 21st century through the skillful bow of TSO principal double bass, Jeffrey Beecher.

Angela Hewitt CREDIT: Richard TermineThere’s something for everyone in the mix. On February 12, the TSO and conductor Lucas Waldin celebrate Valentine’s Day (well, close enough!) with a selection of romantic songs from musical theatre and the movies, including favourites from The Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, La La Land and the iconic “Love Theme” from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet

Then celebrated pianist Angela Hewitt takes charge on February 16, 17 and 19, leading a varied program from the keyboard. Two well-known concertos – Mozart’s No.12 K414 and Bach’s No.2 BWV1053 – anchor the concert. Two lesser-known works complete the program: Saint-Saëns’ charming Wedding Cake Op.76, a valse-caprice for piano and strings written as a nuptial tribute to pianist Caroline Montigny-Rémaury; and Finzi’s Eclogue for Piano and String Orchestra Op.10.

Chinese-born Xian Zhang leads the TSO on February 26 and 27 in Beethoven’s energetic Symphony No.4; principal flute Kelly Zimba is the soloist in Nielsen’s masterful Flute Concerto. Then, on March 9, 10, 12 and 13, 32-year-old American, Ryan Bancroft, the newly appointed chief conductor of the the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, leads the TSO in a concert featuring crowd-pleasing works that were shared digitally during the early days of the pandemic: Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No.8; Beethoven’s Violin Romance No.2; Mozart’s Symphony No.29 K201; Vivian Fung’s Prayer; and Aaron Copland’s restorative Appalachian Spring.

Read more: Orchestras and others buying into hope

Vikingur Olafsson ARI MAGGVikingur Ólafsson’s Toronto debut was in 2014 – when I heard him play the Goldberg Variations at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre and speak about how thrilled he was to be performing in Glenn Gould’s hometown. Since then, the 37-year-old Icelandic pianist has released critically acclaimed recordings for Deutsche Grammophon (works by Glass, J.S. Bach and Rameau/Debussy) and has been named Gramophone magazine’s 2019 Artist of the Year. His Toronto return – to Koerner Hall on January 13 – finds him performing his just-released CD, Mozart & His Contemporaries

What follows is largely gleaned from Martin Cullingford’s April 20, 2020 story in Gramophone, Katherine Cooper’s interview in Presto Music, April 9, 2021 and an EPK interview for Deutsche Grammophon coincident with the release of his newest recording.

“When I play Mozart I often feel like the ink has just dried on the page,” Ólafsson said on the DG website. “Despite the fact that the music was written 230 to 240 years ago, Mozart seems to reflect your innermost core.” On the DG site, he describes playing Mozart since he was five or six years old; one of his most vivid memories from his musical childhood is of playing the C Major sonata which is on his new DG recording (and in his upcoming Toronto recital). “It’s so serene, it’s almost impossible to play it,” he said. “It’s so perfect by itself that you almost dare not touch it – it’s like holding a newborn child – it’s so fragile, the beauty of it, that you just marvel at it. Mozart was so above us – what he did was so perfect.”

Read more: Ólafsson on Mozart, as momentum builds toward 2022
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