Lucas Debargue at Koerner Hall. Photo by Vladimir Kevorkov.When he was 24, Lucas Debargue finished fourth in the 2015 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition but, more importantly, the Moscow Music Critics Association bestowed their top honours on him as “the pianist whose performance at the Competition has become an event of genuine musical significance, and whose incredible gift, artistic vision and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience.” 

Just before the COVID-19 protocols took effect in March 2020, Debargue made his third Koerner Hall appearance headlined by ten Scarlatti sonatas in support of his SONY recording released in 2019. He returns to Koerner Hall on October 29, just days after his 32nd birthday in an intriguing recital titled “An Evening in Paris.” It features music written by composers who lived in Paris or wrote the music while staying there – pillars of the repertoire by Mozart (Sonata for Piano No.8 in D Minor, K310) and Chopin (Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38; Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45; Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61; and the rarely performed tour-de-force, Alkan’s Concerto for Solo Piano, Op.39 No. 8, Op.39 No. 8). 

Arguably Canada’s greatest living pianist, Marc-André Hamelin – whose own recital on October 16, also at Koerner, features an exploration of works by Fauré – made his early reputation mining the treasure trove of music by 19th-century composer-pianists, including the enigmatic Alkan. When Hamelin recorded the Concerto for Solo Piano for Hyperion, their website called it “one of the great pianistic high-wire acts – an epic work which demands unprecedented levels of technical ability and physical stamina. It is conceived on a breathtakingly grand scale and is rich with both orchestral sonorities and lyrical pianistic passages.” 

Read more: Pianistic High-Wire Acts and More

The Canadian Brass PHOTO NINAYOSHIDA NELSENAs live music venues open up, summer music festivals get ready to party like it was 2019. Here, I am going to focus on just two of them, in no small part based on my own lifelong predilection for the piano.

Festival of the Sound

The roots of this venerable attraction extend back to the summer of 1979 when renowned pianist Anton Kuerti purchased a summer home near Parry Sound and organized three concerts by outstanding Canadian musicians. The enthusiastic response to these programs inspired him to propose an annual concert series, and the 1980 Festival of the Sound became Ontario’s first annual international summer classical music festival. In 1985, James Campbell began his tenure as the Festival’s second artistic director, a position he still holds today.

This year’s festival is not all about the piano, though. It opens Sunday night, July 17, with a joyous celebration of choral music by the Elmer Iseler Singers; July 18’s sold-out evening concert marks the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Brass. Then, after clarinetist Campbell and the Rolston String Quartet perform Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet, among other works on the afternoon of July 19, the festival takes an unusual pianistic turn, hanging its musical summer hat on a piano festival featuring some of Canada’s finest keyboard artists, with 20 concerts underpinning a cleverly designed series of connected recitals. Jazz, personified by Dave Young, Heather Bambrick, Campbell himself, and others, then takes over the last weekend of July.

Read more: A piano-lover’s feast at Parry Sound and Lanaudière

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!
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