Stewart Goodyear Photo credit: ANITA ZVONARThere are hopeful signs of live-music life at the RCM’s Koerner Hall. On November 27, virtuoso pianist Stewart Goodyear, joined by the Penderecki String Quartet, perform the world premiere of his piano quintet based on themes from Beethoven, after which Goodyear takes on Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 9, in Franz Liszt’s transcription for solo piano and voices, accompanied by members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, soprano Jonelle Sills, mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender, tenor Zachary Rioux and baritone Korin Thomas-Smith, all current or recent students of The Royal Conservatory. I caught up with Goodyear for an email conversation that touched on his response to the pandemic, his relationship to Beethoven and how he is feeling about his first public appearance in Toronto since the pandemic.

Read more: Goodyear, then Lisiecki at Koerner; RTH at 60% capacity for Gimeno’s TSO return

The Esmé QuartetAs various musical presenters of all sizes either hunker down for another few months or take a deep breath and take the plunge for a return to live concertizing, it’s particularly heartening to see Music Toronto, going into their 50th season, among those diving right in. So I started out by speaking to Music Toronto’s artistic producer, Jennifer Taylor, for her take on the new season.

WN: With the Parker Quartet opening the strings section of your season on October 21 and David Jalbert opening the piano portion on October 26, I wonder if you can tell me how you approached building your line-up for this special anniversary. You must have acted during the depths of the pandemic.

JT: We originally planned years 49 and 50 together – 2020/21 and 2021/22 – choosing many artists we considered friends of the house, so much of the planning was done before the pandemic. Then COVID meant we cancelled all of 2021/22. So some artists – such as Stephen Hough, Vanessa Benelli Mossell and the Miró Quartet – we had planned in 2020/21 we asked to move to 2021/22.

We always welcome back the St. Lawrence Quartet and the Gryphon Trio; we also wanted to include the Lafayette and Ensemble Made in Canada. The legendary Juilliard are enjoying a renaissance in the 75th year of the franchise, and the young all-female Korean quartet, the Esmé, fulfil our mandate to always introduce new artists to Toronto. The Parker gave us a bright and energetic opening, and we asked David Jalbert to play the work we commissioned from Kelly-Marie Murphy for our 50th.

Read more: Take the plunge now? Or wait and see?

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
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