Community Academy and Chamber Music Institute Concerts. Toronto Summer Music Festival. Walter Hall. August 5, 10 a.m.— 6 p.m.
Finale Concert. Toronto Summer Music Festival. Walter Hall. August 5, 7:30 p.m.
Since it began three summers ago, the Community Academy of the Toronto Summer Music Festival has been challenged to find the best way to showcase the talents of its participants and the polished outcome of their week of tutelage and rehearsals. The first year there was a very long, jam-packed Sunday morning recital, without an intermission, that was not able to accommodate many of those who wanted to perform and left others with extremely full bladders. Last year, in addition to a final concert, some of the chamber groups got their star turns at other points in the week at Heliconian Hall, which worked quite well, but being off site, wasn’t easily available to participants in other branches of the program.
The culminating performances are a critical part of the Community Academy experience, especially for the chamber musicians and the chamber choir, who have spent the entire week putting together their parts, which they’ve been working on individually before the program starts. Rehearsing and honing the pieces is a great learning process but the ultimate test is going before the audience and that can only happen in a true concert. For the piano master class, of which I was a member, it is not quite the same experience: each of us arrives with a polished program at the beginning of the week, which is critiqued in front of the class, and then we work privately afterward. There is no collaboration on the work itself, though the instruction has its influence on the participant. In addition, many of us, in order to prepare for the moment at the keyboard with peers and guest faculty watching, have already given practice performances, whereas the chamber musicians often don’t assemble until the first day. Even so, many of the piano master class participants prepare extremely ambitious programs, and deserve the opportunity to perform.
So this year, it was all-music-all-the time at Walter Hall, with concerts beginning at 10 a.m., and then running continuously except for a lunch break until 7 p.m., after which the Finale Concert began at 7:30. When the plan was explained to us at the welcome session at the beginning of the week I was a bit puzzled how an entire day could be filled, and even more skeptical that there would be enough people willing to attend each section. But that was partly because I hadn’t fully recognised how many ensembles hadn’t gotten to perform their pieces in previous years, and that there was also overflow from the Chamber Music Institute of the Festival, the program for emerging professional musicians that takes place throughout the entire Festival. For the same reason, I wasn’t aware of the wealth of repertoire that would be available in this immersive experience, which proved to be a revelation.
A little after 10 a.m., as I listened to the Brahms Piano Quartet No 3 in C Minor, performed by TSMF fellows Dmitri Yevstifeev, Rebecca Shasberger and Geoffrey Conquer with their Academy Artist Mentor Barry Shiffman, I realised that it was an extremely pleasant way to start my day, and in the sealed environment of Walter Hall, I could truly immerse myself in music and put the busyness of everyday life out of mind. Eleven hours later, after the Finale concert at around 9 p.m. someone referred to the intense rain during the day, and I realised that my retreat had even protected me from the elements.
Not that I stayed from beginning to end—there was a drop in/drop out mood to the day, with audience members leaving to re-emerge on stage as performers, performers returning to the audience after their programme, and friends and supporters arriving and departing, so that the numbers expanded and contracted and the mood modulated as much as the music being performed. There were inflections of anticipation by those who were waiting to perform, relief and elation by those who had finished performing, combined with the satisfaction and pride felt by the friends and family members in the audience. A lot of post-performance debriefing took place in the lobby, where musicians who pulled it off described the micro-lapses, distractions, desychronisations, and imperceptible flaws that threatened their performance. This too is educational, as you never get to ask a professional performer what they were really experiencing during a performance. The award for Olympic levels of focus during distraction goes to Lee Stratton, of the piano master class, who had to continue his performance of Ravel’s Sonatine while a metal water bottle bounced down a set of stairs in the Hall. I for one would be willing to undergo metal detection at all future concerts to prevent such an unfair intrusion from occurring.
A very gratifying aspect of the day was new exposure to works that I’m not likely to hear live anywhere else, such as the Martinů Madrigal Sonata H.291 for flute, violin and piano, the Allegro appassionato from the Dohnányi Sextet in C Major, Op. 37 for clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano, and the Beethoven Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn in C Major, Op. 87. It was a revelation to discover what a significant difference there is between a French Horn and an English Horn. Listening to these ensembles perform made it clear to me how vital a program like the Community Academy is, to allow these musicians to work with the range of instrumentalists that some repertoire calls for.
It is also very heartening and inspiring to see the collaboration between the amateurs and the professionals who play with them on stage and coach them throughout the week. Solo pianists may feel gratitude towards and support from their mentors, but they don’t take a bow together once the performance is over. More than once a delighted mentor threw his or her arm around an elated performer as they received their applause. The generous spirit displayed between all the players must be an outcome of working so closely as a team to bring the music to life. It impressed on me again the strength of music to build communities and how critical it is to recognise its worth as a social force.
The spirit of support was especially evident during the Finale Concert when the first movement of the Dvořák Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major Op. 81 was performed in loving memory of Elaine Ling, who had been a board member of the Festival, a cellist in the first Community Academy, a sponsor of cellist Nicholas Denton-Protsack who played in the Quintet, and the life partner of John Chong, who was the pianist in this performance. At many of Nicholas’s earlier performances I had been struck by how emotive his face is as he evokes the diverse moods of his music, and when he stated to the gathering that he believed that Elaine’s spirit lives on in every note that is played it confirmed for me what a sensitive young man he is and how piercing a loss this is for John. I hope that the attentive and appreciative listening of the audience provided a modicum of consolation.
Edit, August 7, 2017, 11:58 a.m.: additions made of official TSMF photos.