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2017 REWIND | Our Favourite Concerts Of 2017

By Ludwig Van on December 29, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, it offers a chance to reflect on the concerts we’ve been honoured to attend over the past 12 months. From the COC’s Louis Riel to Trio Magnifico, our writers were right there in the front row, celebrating the music alongside our readers.  Ludwig van Toronto’s editorial team reflects on their favourite concert events of the 2017 season.

Brian Chang

Hans Zimmer Live in Concert at the Air Canada Centre. August 1, 2017

From total darkness, a piercing cry emerged: “Nants Ingonyama.” Lebo M himself, the iconic voice of the Lion King soundtrack, was the most unexpected guest at the Hans Zimmer Live concert. I’ve never found myself more spellbound by a live performance in my life. With a rippling sun rising behind the orchestra and choir, the singers began the warm chorus lines we could all hum by heart. This was just one of many guest appearances by That Choir and local Toronto musicians (many from the COC) hired to perform with Hans Zimmer. Arguably the most influential contemporary soundtrack composer alive today, Hans Zimmer rarely performs, and a filled Air Canada Centre shows the mass appeal for complex and grand orchestral and choral music.

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Arthur Kaptainis

The Canadian Opera Company, Louis Riel at the Four Seasons Centre. April 20 – May 13, 2017

It took decades, and the overwhelming pressure of the Canadian sesquicentennial, to get it onto the stage of the Four Seasons Centre. But the Canadian Opera Company and the NAC in Ottawa did produce Louis Riel and confirmed the long-term viability of this epic opera of 1967. Harry Somers’s tough score suits the subject, and Mavor Moore’s libretto (despite the wishes of some to believe the contrary) justly represents the forces at play. The production directed by Peter Hinton incorporated some contemporary elements, including mute characters who were intended to add First-Nations heft to the presentation. Hinton, an old pro, integrated them into the drama. Leading the splendid cast (I heard the second performance, on April 23) was baritone Russell Braun, who sounded every inch an officer of the Order of Canada in the formidable title role. Johannes Debus drew lucid playing from the COC Orchestra. I suspect many who came out of duty left with a new appreciation of this pillar of the national repertoire. We should bring it back before 2067.

Read our review here.

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HyeWon Cecelia Lee

Les Violons du Roy with Philippe Jaroussky at Koerner Hall. April 13, 2017

The best concert I attended in 2017 was Les Violons du Roy with Philippe Jaroussky, 13 April 2017 at Koerner Hall, Toronto, featuring works by Handel, Bach, Fux and Graun.  I have heard Jaroussky only through recordings and online videos up to this point, and though his output is always impressive (especially with the production values), I did wonder what his performances were like, in person. There are some impossible musical feats happening on digital media platforms, thanks to the magic of technology and production, and often it is smoke and mirrors that heavily colour the products.  

It was a bit surreal at the concert.  Once Jaroussky started to walk onto the stage, the hall fell quiet and silent.  He has the incredible ability to sing. Just singing. Nothing more — no struggle, no faltering, no doubts.  Looking at the difficulty of the program (crammed full of vocal baroque fireworks, with plenty of high notes and melismas), I did not think it would be possible to present a selection with such pure grace and ease.

I feel a bit dumbstruck about how few things I have to say about this concert. But it is the truth. The night was memorable and beautiful.
It was true: Jaroussky sings magic.

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Jennifer Liu

A Tribute to Anton Kuerti (Toronto Summer Music Festival) with Jane Coop, piano; Laura Pudwell, mezzo-soprano; Barry Shiffman, violin; Douglas McNabney, viola; Joseph Johnson, cello. Aug. 3, 2017

Tribute events are happy occasions, but it’s seldom the case that the honoree is present at his own celebration. Toronto Summer Music Festival’s homage to Anton Kuerti’s musical career took on a life of its own, and Walter Hall was packed with his fans from all corners of Canada. From a curated lineup of the pianist’s favourite pieces to anecdotes between performances that shed light on his musical life, to the steady stream of well-wishers well after the concert had finished – it was a happy reunion for the living legend and his fans in his first public appearance since his stroke in 2013. Not just a commemoration of Anton Kuerti’s life, the evening celebrated the music that lives and breathes alongside him.

Read our review here.

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Robin Roger

Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s  Seven Deadly Sins with Wallis Giunta (mezzo) and Peter Oundjian (conductor) at Roy Thomson Hall. June 14, 2017

It’s often forgotten that Kurt Weill was a prolific composer of classical works, including cantatas, chamber music, piano music, orchestral works and art song, most of which were not likely to hear performed, though The Threepenny Opera will no doubt be presented again and again. So I was very pleased to have the chance to see and hear Weill and Brecht’s innovative “sung ballet” The Seven Deadly Sins at the TSO last June. And who better to direct an innovative work than the ground-breaking Joel Ivany. The edgy black and white videos created by Jennifer Nichols and Chris Monette also added a “Perils of Pauline” tone to the story of the transgression-prone sisters Anna I and Anna II from Louisiana, whose good intentions inevitably lead them into sloth, pride, wrath, gluttony lust, greed and envy. A cautionary reminder of our moral vulnerability never hurts, especially when beautifully sung by mezzo Giunta Wallis, dancing alongside choreographer Jennifer Nichols, and backed up by Isaiah Bell, Owen McCausland, Geoffrey Sirrett and Stephen Hegedus.

Read our review here.

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Sara Schabas

Amici Ensemble with soprano Mireille Asselin. Mazzoleni Hall, November 12, 2017

Canada’s sesquicentennial year has been filled with celebration, resistance, and more covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” than a folk-enthusiast could ever wish for. But just when I thought I’d had my fill of covers of the iconic song, Amici Ensemble and soprano Mireille Asselin came out with their Inspired by Canada/Notre Pays CD and the most beautiful, classical-esque rendition of the ballad one could imagine. Their CD launch concert at the Royal Conservatory’s intimate Mazzoleni Hall was filled with innovative, sincere, and loving re-imaginings of Canadian songs as beloved as Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” (complete with Serouj Kradjian’s brilliant and subtle allusions to Canadian icon, Glenn Gould), Gilles Vigneault’s “Mon pays,” and Antoine Gérin-Lajoie’s “Un Canadien Errant.” Especially appreciated was the ensemble’s inclusion of works representative of indigenous communities, as in “Mrs. Maqi Denny’s Lullaby” and “Lettre de Louis Riel,” as well as Kradjian’s personal account of being welcomed by Canada as a refugee to preface Vaughan-Williams’ “49th Parallel: Prelude”. Tears were almost unavoidable throughout this moving and deeply Canadian concert.

Read our review here.

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Joseph So

Anna Netrebko, soprano, Yusif Eyvazov, tenor, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone. Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Jader Bignamini, conductor. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. April 25, 2017

My favourite concert experience of 2017, hands down, was Trio Magnifico (April 25), with Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Yusif Eyvasov. We knew Hvorostovsky was seriously ill with a brain tumour. He cancelled nearly all his engagements from December 2016 onwards, but miracle of miracles, he fulfilled his engagement in Toronto. The Four Seasons Centre was totally sold out; the atmosphere was electric, full of eager anticipation by those attending, many bearing bouquets. Dima gave his all. You can tell he was happy to be there, and the incredible ovations energized him. But you could tell he was running on willpower. His “Cortigiani” from Rigoletto, sung with great intensity and considerable struggle on his part, brought tears to the eyes. Seven months later, the great Hvorostovsky left this world. I think I can speak for all the people there that evening — we were privileged to have heard him one last time. It was an unforgettable concert.

Read our review here.

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Matthew Timmermans

Against the Grain Theatre: Bound at the COC’s Hal Jackman Studio. December 14 – 16, 2017

Arguably my choice is more biased than all the other writers in this list. Unlike them, I had the chance to watch several rehearsals to see this show blossom from an idea to a fully realized concept. I would be lying if I denied that this process did not influence my decision. It was seeing how AtG’s performers dealt with such topical and contentious subject matter, including illegal immigration and the refugee crisis, through research and an engagement with people affected by these issues that made the final performance even more fulfilling.

Without seeing this process, many of Bound’s spectators from December 14th to 16th were aware of this process, whether they knew it or not, as witnessed by reviews and being moved to tears in the performance. Of course, this process would have meant nothing if it weren’t filtered through the talent of Joel Ivany, whose inspired text used the quotes of actual victims, as well as Topher Mokrzewski and Kevin Lau, who bent Handel’s music to the will of these ideas. Having seen the rehearsals, I do know that the performance was much greater than just these three, it was also heavily impacted by the performers’ powerful portrayals, and their effort to also shape these characters too. My hat goes off to Martha Burns, Justin Welsh, Danika Lorèn, Michael Uloth, Victoria Marshall, and Asitha Tennekoon for their committed performances. Although they were all truly inspired interpretations, I want to give special mention to the performances of Miriam Khalil and David Trudgen which for me were the most touching and original moments in the show.

Also, of special note were the original and provocative program (reminiscent of a passport), the beautiful marketing materials, and the performers’ headshots illustrated by Dmitry Bondarenko that made the performance more immersive and gave the audience something to remember it with. The best part about this show is that it is still a child and has three years to mature! I can’t even imagine where it will go next, but I am sure we have great things to look forward to.

Read our review here.

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Michael Vincent

New Creations Festival: Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Tanya Tagaq, March 4, 2017

Twenty-seventeen has been a transitional year for Canadian classical music, and more specifically Canadian composition. We’ve been seeing a gradual shift away from the abstract complex works that have come to define the past 20 years in Canada, to a more sweeping, highly emotive aesthetic. Time will tell if this trend sticks around for 2018, but like much of the mood of Toronto music scene lately, it has been a moody, emotional year for music.

Case in point was Qiksaaktuq, a five-movement work composed by Jean Martin for soloist Tanya Tagaq and The Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Backed with an orchestration by Toronto’s Chris Mayo, Tagaq’s mighty voice grunted, yelped and cried. But the most powerful moments were the gently crooned vocal hymnals that brought the audience directly into Tagaq’s inner world. By the end of it all, she was seen looking down to the floor with tears streaming down her face. It was chilling stuff and the highlight of the year for me.

Read our review here.

Correction: January 13, 8:00 a.m.: A previous version suggested that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Seven Deadly Sins video component was created by director Joel Ivany. It was actually created by Jennifer Nichols and Chris Monette.

Ludwig van Toronto

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