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FEATURE | Stratford Summer Music Makes A Promise To Music

By Michael Vincent on June 17, 2016

John Miller (Photo: Irene Miller)
John Miller (Photo: Irene Miller)

While many festivals struggle for years establish themselves against dwindling attendance and funding, Stratford Summer Music seems somehow, to make it all look easy. But that’s the mark of a classical music summer festival that has made a reputation for being warm and welcoming.

It’s a promise Artistic Producer John Miller made sixteen years ago when he stepped in with an entrepreneurial spirit and a mission to revive summer music in Stratford, Ontario after the Stratford Festival eventually decided music was too expensive to produce.

“This is our sixteenth season, and it has been amazing to watch the festival’s reputation still growing after all these years,” says Miller. In fact, “we’ve all the energy, variety, and fun of a teenager.”

Case in point is the continuous stream of world-class artists like celebrated pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who will return to Stratford on July 21-23 to perform repertoire by Glass and Schubert. Of course, no Dinnerstein concert will be complete without her signature Goldberg Variations, which being Stratford, holds a special significance. Glenn Gould would use Stratford’s civic stages early in his career as a testing ground for new repertoire between tours, including the Goldbergs.

Dinnerstein will also conduct an all-Bach masterclass with hand selected Toronto-based pianists, Anastasia Rizikov, Vladimir Soloviev, and Charissa Vandikas on July 22.

Miller professed he has Gould’s scarf, hat and gloves tucked away in a shoe box sitting in his closet somewhere, and if they’re lucky, may bring them along for inspiration.

The pull for notable pianists to Stratford includes superstar pianist Jan Lisiecki, who will be returning for his sixth year in a row. Piano upstarts Tony Yike Yang, the young Canadian pianist who made waves by placing as a finalist in the 2015 International Chopin Competition, and Italy’s Luca Buratto, Prize Laureate of the Honens Piano Competition, will also be making their Stratford debuts this summer.

Miller stated that it is the unique mix of an idyllic location and the sense of artistic community that Stratford evokes that makes his job a lot easier. Stratford’s renowned theatre festival also drives a lot of people with varied musical tastes, which has Miller to expand the music festival to include a variety of artist from all musical genres, like Harlem Gospel Choir, Jazz pianist Joey Alexander, alt-country trio Sunparlour Players, and even The Artie Shaw Orchestra.

New this year, the festival are doing three Bach Walks lead by Canada’s first and only flute quintet Charm of Finches, who will perform music during early morning jaunts along the picturesque T.J. Dolan Trail, which will highlight the six-week festival’s free outdoor events along the picturesque Avon River.

After the success of the inaugural The Stratford Summer Music Vocal Academy last summer, a star-studded faculty will return with baritone Phillip Addis, tenor Michael Schade, and soprano Krisztina Szabo — who will each lead eight emerging singers selected from across Canada through 10 rigorous days of masterclasses and lessons.

In its sixteen years, Miller says he has found his stride for a festival that could easily rest on its laurels. But he doesn’t take anything for granted.

“Each season offers a new year, new mistakes, new opportunities, and new artists,” Miller said.  “Some people just have a vision and a knack that make something happen, and I don’t want Summer Music to be any less than that. I want it to be greater than it is now.”

The Festival runs July 18 through August 28. For the official Stratford Summer Festival Calendar, as well as tickets, and lodging info, visit stratfordsummermusic.ca, or call 1-866-288-4313.

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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor for over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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