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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

FEATURE | What Does Multiculturalism Sound Like?

By Michael Vincent on October 12, 2016

Mervon Mehta in Koerner Hall. (Photo: Nicola Betts)
Mervon Mehta in Mazzoleni Hall. (Photo: Nicola Betts)

With the weather cooling off, and the concert season warming up, business has never been better at the Royal Conservatory.

Since starting as RCM’s Executive Director of Performing Arts eight years ago, Mervon Mehta has established himself as the quick-witted sure-hand steering the course of music programming at The Telus Centre.

“The stakes are high, but things aren’t as scary as they used to be,” Mehta said during an early afternoon chat backstage at Koerner Hall. “We are able to take more risks because we know what works… as much as you can anyway…”

At 56,  Mehta seems to be just the kind of guy you’d want to have around when the path forward for classical music poses more questions than answers. The son of the great conductor Zubin Mehta and soprano Carmen Lasky, music has been the Mehta family business for generations.

Speaking with an enthusiastic yet laid-back style, Mehta drops names from the worlds of popular, jazz and classical music with ease. Besides booking artists, Mehta manages the shows and keeps the Box Office happy.

RCM’s 2016–17 season totals 105 events, making them the second most active concert hall in Canada, just behind Roy Thompson Hall. But it wasn’t that long ago when Koerner opened in 2009 with a season of just 50 or so concerts. “We’ve grown exponentially,” Mehta said with a proud grin.

The growth is a testament to the amount of world-class talent coming through Toronto these days. RCM have also added may new series events, including a free Sunday interlude series and an expanded film series with the Hot Docs film festival.

With Canada’s 150th celebration this season, RCM have made it a central focus this year. For RCM, it means flushing out the programs with more Canadian artists and commissions than ever. But the biggest news this season is the launch of the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra, which just wrapped up auditions in mid-September with David Buchbinder as the Artistic Director.

The New Canadian Global Music Orchestra brings together 15 musicians from all over the world. These artists, mostly living in the GTA, will collaborate on new musical compositions which will be featured during their debut concert on June 2 at Koerner Hall.

The impetus came when Mehta was watching the televised election debate between Harper, Trudeau, and Mulcair last September. “Harper let slip his now infamous ‘old-stock Canadians’ comment in regards to the right to revoke the citizenship of refugee claimants,” Mehta said.”Then Trudeau later said,  “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

That moment shored things up for Mehta, who decided to form an orchestra that reflects what Toronto looks and sounds like.  “It really says something that this would happen at our Canadian Sesquicentennial,” Mehta said. “I don’t think it would have ever happened for our 1967 Canadian Centennial… It’s a totally different country now, and Toronto is a totally different city.”

The auditions included 75 musicians from 47 different countries. Applicants must have been newly arrived immigrants to Canada and able to come to the GTA for rehearsals. “Once we form the ensemble (probably by the end of October) we will then start meeting and workshopping with small shows at the Aga Kahn and Lula Lounge, ending with the final concert here on June 2nd,” Mehta said.

“One minute we had an Iranian Tar player, then an Ecuadorian guitarist the next. One Syrian guitar player, who had only been here 3 and a half weeks, just totally blew me away.”

“The challenge is bringing the various ways they each create music from each culture together. Some read music and others do not. One of the questions I asked David Buchbinder is how we will start rehearsals,” said Mehta. “We can’t just bring everyone together and just start playing.” Bookbinder astutely replied, “Especially my South Asian people, we have to have tea before we do anything.”

“We want the band to look and sound like Toronto, today.”

They are currently planning a weekend retreat at a farm about an hour away from Toronto, where the musicians will be able to not only play, but also go for hikes and share their experiences with each other. “It’s an opportunity for them to become part of a music community,” Mehta said. Despite a few established musicians applying to join the orchestra, Mehta said the focus is on those poised to be Canada’s future established artists.

You can find more details about RCM’s 2016–17 season, including more about the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra, see here. For those not able to attend, you can catch the “Live at Koerner Hall” live stream of the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra concert, here.

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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is Publisher of Ludwig Van. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor 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.
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