As the calendar crawls through November en route to the December holidays and the sun has not even begun its long trek back to seasonal dominance, it’s a ray of hope to peruse the listings and discover how, throughout the community, live music by large ensembles is reasserting its presence after being completely uprooted by the pandemic. Take, for example, the orchestral explosion on December 10, when seven orchestras brighten up the evening in concerts beginning between 7 and 8pm.
Classical and Beyond
The new International Orchestra Series announced October 6 is an exciting addition to the Royal Conservatory’s dance card. The upcoming first visit to Toronto by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (their first since 1914) is an intriguing prospect that prompts a few questions. Who better than Mervon Mehta, the Conservatory’s executive director of performing arts, to fill us in?
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.”
As 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.
Toronto 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.