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

TSO at the Drive-In – coming soon! Photo credit Cityview Drive-In“There’s nothing like the sound of 2,000 people applauding,” said Matthew Loden, Toronto Symphony Orchestra CEO, on September 23, as he welcomed back TSO new music director, Gustavo Gimeno, and principal flutist, Kelly Zimba, during the TSO’s Virtual Opening Night event. A video of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No.2, conducted by Gimeno from October 2019, had just finished its online broadcast and Loden was in the process of re-introducing Zimba and Gimeno to viewers for a virtual conversation. 

“I find it uncomfortable to watch myself,” said the conductor – from his home in Amsterdam – in answer to a question by Loden. “My analytic mind wonders ‘Could I have done something different?’ – but the music is moving and emotionally powerful… the human being can’t stop the emotion… I got goosebumps right away... It’s simply wonderful to see the faces of the musicians around me and the audience.”

That October 2019 performance of the Ravel Daphnis and Chloé was Gimeno’s third time conducting the TSO and Loden asked whether it felt different. Gimeno said that he felt a connection to the orchestra within the first half of the first rehearsal he ever had with them. “With the atmosphere, with the sound and the way of making music, I felt in the right place.” And the TSO still feels like his musical family, but now that he’s no longer a guest conductor “the analysis goes much further and deeper.” 

“We were all very excited to work with Gustavo,” Zimba said. “The energy that was onstage was really strong and palpable… We really trusted Gustavo’s musical vision.”

Read more: TSO, RCM, and Sinfonia Toronto: Hybrid solutions for viral times
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