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PREVIEW | A Rough and Tumble Guide to Summer Festivals in Ontario

By Sara Schabas on June 23, 2017

Canadian Brass (Photo: Bo Huang)
Canadian Brass (Photo: Bo Huang)

As the days turn long and the temperature rises to varying degrees of sweltering, there’s nothing like hot sun on the pavement to make Torontonians head for the hills. For those looking for a musical oasis, look no further than our list of Ontario’s numerous summer music festivals to provide a rejuvenating break from that sweltering heat.

Festival of the Sound

Dates: July 21 – August 13

What makes it special: “Lamps and kerosene, up in the north country…” So sings Jason Collett in his beautiful song, “Parrysound.” And even if this year’s Festival of the Sound won’t feature Jason Collett, visitors can expect beautiful scenery and world-class performances from artists including Stewart Goodyear, Russell Braun, and Cameron Crozman. This year also features specially-themed concerts in honour of Canada’s Sesquicentennial, celebrating Leonard Cohen, Glenn Gould, Tom Thomson, and Oscar Peterson. More details here 

Harbourfront Centre Summer Music in the Garden

Dates: June 29 – September 17

What makes it special: Every Thursday and Sunday this summer, Toronto audiences will be treated to free concerts from both Canadian and international musical ensembles. Expect a diverse array of programs, ranging from the Cecilia String Quartet, to Japanese taiko drumming, to Brazilian soul music, to Edwin Huizinga and William Coulter’s Fire and Grace, all while soaking up the breeze of Lake Ontario. More details here

Music and Beyond

Dates: July 4 – 17

What makes it special: Having a hard time deciding between attending a theatrical, visual art, dance or music festival? Ottawa’s Music and Beyond Festival is for you. Boasting 75 concerts in 14 days, this multi-disciplinary festival will include performances from superstar violinist Sarah Chang, Measha Brueggergosman, American baritone John Brancy, Wallis Giunta, the Elmer Iseler Singers, Kronos Quartet and more, paired with many other cultures and artistic disciplines (including an exploration of wine… Sign me up!). More details here 

Stephen Hough (Photo: Rebecca Reid)
Stephen Hough (Photo: Rebecca Reid)

Ottawa Chamber Music Festival

Dates: July 22 – August 4

What makes it special: After our nation’s capital calms down a bit from Canada Day on July 1, chamber music fans can head to Ottawa to hear the creme de la creme of Canada’s chamber ensembles. This year’s line-up includes the Miró Quartet, British pianist Stephen Hough, programs of Piazzola and Vivaldi from the Chamberfest’s in-house orchestra, Angela Hewitt’s Bach Odyssey, and Andrew Burashko’s Art of Time Ensemble in a special Sgt. Pepper fusion concert. More details here

Stratford Summer Music Festival

Dates: July 17 – August 27

What makes it special: For six weeks in the summer, Canada’s theatrical mecca becomes even more of an artistic hub as world-renowned Canadian musicians take the stage in Stratford. Expect performances from Ron Sexsmith, Angela Hewitt, Patricia O’Callaghan, Jan Lisiecki, James Ehnes, the Cape Breton Celtic Ensemble, the National Youth Orchestra, and Dan Taylor’s Theatre of Early Music. If you’re in the mood for all-day musical affairs, SSM also offers musical brunches, lectures with Robert Harris of the Globe and Mail, and Bach walks in the woods with Stratford Field Naturalists. Bach with the birds? I’m sold. More details here

TD Toronto Jazz Festival

Dates: June 23 – July 2

What makes it special: Catch it while you can! Opening June 23, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival features performances from legendary artists Aretha Franklin, Joss Stone, Randy Bachman, Choir! Choir! Choir!, and many more. Better book your tickets now! Aretha waits for no one. More details here

James Ehnes (Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)
James Ehnes (Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

Toronto Summer Music Festival

Dates: July 13 – August 5

What makes it special: In celebration of Canada’s Sesquicentennial, this year’s festival (in its first season under artistic director Jonathan Crow) will celebrate the best and brightest of Canada’s classical music performers. Expect performances from Canadian superstars James Ehnes, a tribute to Anton Kuerti, the St. Lawrence and Rolston String Quartets, Canada’s National Youth Orchestra, and performers in the TSM Academy. Performances take place at Koerner Hall and Walter Hall, and one special all-Bach program featuring Crow and friends will be held at Church of the Redeemer. More details here


Dates: July 2 – August 6

What makes it special: Looking for a rustic barn experience and can’t live without opera and Chopin? Then head to Campbellford Ontario’s Westben Music Festival, where you can experience exactly that. This season, the barn will feature performances from Michael Schade, Angela Hewitt, Jan Lisiecki, the Canadian Brass, the Arrogant Worms, as well as jazz and broadway concerts. If I were you, I’d check out newcomer pianist Rashaan Allwood’s concert “Bird Songs,” featuring the music of Messiaen and illustrations by Toronto artist Avery Kua, followed by a guided ornithological walk the next morning. Who knows, maybe Messiaen-esque synesthesia will overwhelm you too. More details here 

Western 360 Summer Music Festival

Dates: August 11 – 13

What makes it special: Filling a classical music void in London after the demise of Orchestra London in 2015, events at this festival will feature workshops on Alexander Technique, First Nations drumming, performance anxiety, and Canadian music. Helmed by Scott St. John, this festival will look at music through a multi-cultural, all-encompassing lens. If you’re in London in August, check it out! More details here



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Sara Schabas

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