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Stratford Summer Music Festival drums up six weeks of fun and music

By Michael Vincent on May 2, 2014

Yesterday, Stratford Summer Music Festival announced the program line-up for their fourteenth season, starting July 14th through August 24th.

The six-week festival will feature over 100 concerts and festivities, including music from Canada, Cuba, Germany, Haiti, Ireland, Russia, USA, and even Zimbabwe.

Highlights to the festival this year include a TorQ Percussion Quartet residency on Tom Patterson Island, renamed – “Tom Percussion Island”. Visitors will find a slew of percussion instruments to try, including a large drum made from the trunk of a hollowed-out tree, a labyrinth of gongs, and a dinosaur made out of musical instruments for the kids to explore.

Artistic Producer John Miller, said, “it’s all about showing young people that percussion is fun, and who better to help us do that than TorQ.”

TorQ Percussion Quartet. Photo: Bo Huang
TorQ Percussion Quartet. Photo: Bo Huang
Yan Lisiecki and Hilary Hann
Jan Lisiecki and Hilary Hann
pianist, Daniel Clarke Bouchard and Ellen DeGeneres
pianist, Daniel Clarke Bouchard and Ellen DeGeneres

A big draw will also be Jan Lisiecki and Hilary Hann, who will be performing Brahms:  Violin Sonata #1, and Chausson’s Concerto for Violin and Piano with String Quartet, Op 21, (with guest artists, The Annex Quartet).

Young pianist Daniel Clarke Bouchard, who recently made an appearance on Ellen this past April, will also be stopping by for his first appearance at Stratford Summer Music. Of course the ever-popular Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra will be back with two programs of works by Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi.

“You just have to recognise it’s the diversity of tastes,” Miller states. “We try to reflect the Canadian fact as well…We’ll have a choir from an orphanage in Haiti, we’ll have some Zimbabweian marimbists.”

Other fare includes Montréal indie band Stars, as well as the world-famous Glenn Miller Orchestra. There will also be a tribute to the late Stompin’ Tom Connors, featuring Whiskey Jack and festival favourite Seán Cullen.

John A. Miller photo by V. Tony Hauser
John A. Miller photo by V. Tony Hauser

At a time when other festivals seem to be struggling to survive, one can’t help but notice the Stratford Summer Music Festival’s ever-growing popularity.

Besides old-fashioned hard work, John Miller chalks up some of the success to fate. It was back in 1993, after buying a summer home Stratford, that providence first came knocking.

Miller describes, “…the moving truck was there. I was tired, exhausted, and hungry, and I went downtown and the first person I met was the mayor [David Hunt]…” who asked, “So when can we have music again in Stratford?”

Miller recalled the moment vividly, “It was the first question, of the first man I met, on my first day back, December 16, 1993 – and that planted the idea.”

The second push to rekindle music in Stratford came in 1999, when Miller found himself sitting across from cellist Yo-Yo Ma, “The great figure of music at that time…” Ma had been in Stratford to receive the Glenn Gould Prize, and had spent the evening watching David Young’s play Glenn. When the night was over and everybody else went to bed, Miller and Ma started chatting about the potential for a music festival in Stratford. “And at the end of the night, he said to me “Okay John, you get it started, and I will come.”

That was the final push Miller needed, and wasted no time setting up a home office to administer the new festival. And as if the fate had approved, “…I went to the post office and asked what boxes they had.” One of those boxes “was number 1013 – my birthday is October 13th, and I thought, alright let’s do it,” Miller explained.

By the year 2001, the Stratford Summer Music Festival has become nothing short of a dream come true for Miller, who confessed that though Yo-Yo Ma still hasn’t taken him up on his offer to come yet, he is confident it will happen eventually.

One of the features that sets it apart from the festivals bigger brother, (the Stratford Festival), is affordability. “About a third of our programs are free, ”Miller stated. Looking at the ticket prices most are well within reach to the average music lover, mostly hovering around the $45 mark.

Miller said he was able to keep the tickets low with the help of, “Key institutions that really saw the merit of what we were doing…”  He names the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund as being central to keeping the festival in the black.

In terms of programming, it takes years and years of planning. “If I want Yo-Yo Ma, I can’t just phone up his agent in New York and ask what’s Yo-yo doing this summer,” Miller says. “The agent would say, ‘if you’re talking July 2017, then maybe we can talk.’”

Besides hunting for funding and the day-to-day operation end of things, Miller is most at home on the programming end of things. He says he takes great pride in hearing feedback from the festival’s patrons. “I really love it when we go shopping… and people will stop me and say: ‘I never thought we would like such and such a group.’”

Miller has learned that in many cases festival patrons will come to the festival planning to enjoy one particular form of music, and leave with a totally unexpected appreciation for another. “Time and again, I’ve learned of people that started with their kind of music and they’ve ultimately moved over and tried something else,” Miller said. “I can’t think of any artists, when leaving us said anything other than, ‘I want to come back.’”

After chatting with Miller, I couldn’t help but walk away thinking about what it takes to create a world-class music festival, one which feels charged with a mission to achieve something great. It takes a leader, someone who can paint an image that people are attracted to.

Miller adds, “I think I am a teacher in a way; that’s a good metaphor, and an important part of what I do.”


For the official Stratford Summer Festival Calendar, as well as tickets, and lodging info, visit here, or call 1-866-288-4313.

Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent
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