A recording session at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City: Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu performing Beethoven Sonatas for this summer’s festival.Toronto Summer Music’s 16th edition – New Horizons – will be entirely virtual this year, with a combination of free livestreamed and pre-recorded hour-long concerts from July 15 to August 1. “For three weeks in July, New Horizons looks beyond the challenges of the pandemic, and forward to a better future,” said TSM artistic director, TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow. “We celebrate this summer with a wonderful assortment of music from both past and present, showcasing the resilience and creativity of our featured artists.” 

This year’s festival was launched on June 7 over Zoom with Crow performing Reena Esmail’s solo violin piece from 2020, When the Violin, while standing at the foot of an empty Walter Hall. Inspired by Hafiz’s poem – When the violin can forgive the past, it starts singing… When the violin can forgive every wound caused by others, the heart starts singing – and based on a Hindustani raag, it begins mournfully, expanding into four emotional minutes of mesmerizing beauty. It was a subtle nod to the series of five filmed concerts comprising the complete cycle of Beethoven’s ten Sonatas for Piano and Violin that Crow and pianist Philip Chiu will present along with five new compositions. When the Violin is the featured contemporary work in the first of their traversal, July 18, along with the first and fifth sonatas, filmed at Salle Raoul-Jobin in the Palais Montcalm (Quebec City). 

Sonatas Nos. 3 & 7, with Kevin Lau’s if life were a mirror, will be presented July 19; on July 25, the program consists of Sonatas Nos. 2 & 9 “Kreutzer”, with Jessie Montgomery’s Peace; Sonatas Nos. 6 & 8, with the world premiere of Alice Hong’s for all is not lost, comprise the July 26 recital; and Sonatas Nos. 4 & 10, with the world premiere of Gavin Fraser’s like years, like seconds, play August 1. All were filmed at Koerner Hall and, as will be the case with most concerts in the festival, will be free and available to view for a week after their initial performances.

Read more: Resilient Creativity at TSM and TSO

bannerJoyce El -Khoury (left), Serouj KradjianAs I write this while an early spring blooms beyond my locked-down window, music presenters are trying their best to surf COVID-19’s Third Wave. The venerable Women’s Musical Club of Toronto – founded in 1898 – calmly announces on its website, “We’ve been here before… and we’ve survived.” After all, they have been holding Music in the Afternoon concerts since well before the flu pandemic of 1918/1919, enduring two World Wars, depressions and recessions, and our current devastating virus. “We will survive this one too.” 

Their 2020/21 season has pivoted to live streaming and video on demand. 2019 Banff International String Quartet Competition winner, Viano String Quartet, has just concluded an on-demand run from April 1 to 25. May is devoted to Lebanese-Canadian soprano, Joyce El-Khoury, and Armenian-Canadian pianist, Serouj Kradjian, in an on-demand recital that mixes songs by Bizet, Fauré, Chausson, Ravel and Saint-Saëns with 20th-century Lebanese songs in Arabic. El-Khoury and Kradjian are preparing an extensive project involving music and instrumental artists from their home countries culminating in a CD that will include these Lebanese songs.

Read more: Surfing the Third Wave

Photo by Dahlia KatzOn February 22, in response to the continuing uncertainty about when the Ontario government would ease the COVID-19 lockdown protocols disproportionately affecting the live performing arts, the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), which represents 164 professional theatre, dance and opera companies, sent Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries “an urgent plea requesting regulatory fairness with the television and film industry.” 

The letter continues: “Restrictions preventing professional theatre, dance and opera companies from doing the same [as TV and film companies] threaten the survivability of our sector. We are planning to return to engaging our communities in our theatre venues when it is safe to do so. In the meantime the creation of digital content has become the only form of artistic practice for the professional theatre, dance and opera industry in Toronto, and our members have found new and creative ways to continue to operate and connect with our audiences.” 

Meanwhile, even though many TAPA member companies have temporarily shifted to hybrid theatre, dance and opera models that include livestreaming, pre-recorded film and digitization, “entertainment concert venues, theatres and cinemas (includes drive-in or drive-through events) [are] closed for all purposes, including rehearsing or performing a recorded or broadcasted event, artistic event, theatrical performance or other performance.” However, the letter points out, the Businesses Permitted to Open and Sector Specific Restrictions (14) have allowed film and television to continue to operate: commercial film and television production, including all supporting activities such as hair, makeup and wardrobe.”

Read more: From limbo to grey zone: Inconsistent lockdown protocols hamper the live performing arts

Koerner HallOn January 14, the Herculean efforts of The Royal Conservatory to save as much of their extensive 2020/21 concert season as possible suddenly turned Sisyphean when the Ontario government extended and tightened restrictions for everyone in the province. It was a cruel act of whiplash, after the RCM had managed to slow-walk a schedule that included four remarkable mid-December concerts (which I had the good fortune to attend virtually) celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

In a subsequent press release detailing the postponement and rescheduling of all concerts and livestreams until February 11, RCM added that because of the restrictions they were no longer able to have artists or production staff create livestreams. “This is a profoundly disappointing blow to all of us at The Royal Conservatory and to our artists who were so looking forward to performing.”

I contacted Mervon Mehta, RCM’s executive director, performing arts, to share his perspective with WholeNote readers. He confirmed that everything had changed since January 14. “We cancelled 18 days of concert livestreams, rehearsals and recordings from January 14 to February 11… Our entire 21C Festival has been postponed.” Is the RCM lobbying the government, I wanted to know. “Yes,” he said. “Us along with many others.”

Read more: Regulatory Whiplash on the Livestream Scene

As Beethoven’s 250th birthday approaches – thought to have been born on December 15 or 16 he was baptized on December 17, 1770 – there are several notable chamber music concerts being livestreamed from December 5 to December 13, the last remnants of what was to have been a year-long celebration that was curtailed by the pandemic.

Goodyear and Ehnes

Internationally acclaimed superstar and Canada’s preeminent violinist, James Ehnes, will be joined by virtuoso pianist Stewart Goodyear for a complete traversal of the ten sonatas for violin and piano in three recitals – to be livestreamed from Koerner Hall December 11, 12 and 13. Goodyear is celebrated for prodigious pianistic feats like performing all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas on the same day. 

Despite the marathons and the prodigious technique and memory that they require, the basis for Goodyear’s appeal is his empathetic relationship with the music he performs and his ability to communicate that to an audience. 

Read more: Chamber Beethoven As His Birthday Beckons
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