As Koerner Hall approaches its tenth birthday, Mervon Mehta is keeping things ever-fresh at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
Whatever your musical tastes, there will be around 100 concerts to peruse in the coming 2018-19 season, in line with past years’ numbers. Subscription sales are now underway, and individual tickets will be available Feb. 2 at 10 a.m.
“Fifteen, twenty years ago, you only went to classical or jazz concerts, and you poo-pooed the other ones,” says the RCM’s executive director of performing arts. “I don’t think that’s the case anymore; people are much more ecumenical in their choices.”
Though the RCM has made its name in classical music, Mehta’s mandate has been to expand musical horizons since day one of Koerner Hall’s existence. Yes, classical and jazz concerts still make up the “bread and butter” of early ticket sales, but Mehta says that non-traditional presentations sell just as well — and sometimes better.
Mehta took Ludwig van Toronto through the engagement process of selected artists.
A standout from the season shortlist is Murray Perahia’s Koerner debut. A household name for decades of pianists, Mehta had been in hot pursuit of him for the last ten years. “It took longer for him to get his head around coming here,” Mehta says of the pianist who hasn’t played Toronto since before the turn of the millennium.
Seong-Jin Cho will perform Chopin and Debussy, composers featured on his recent Deutsche Grammophon releases. “After three days of sales [to RCM subscribers], he’s doing pretty well,” Mehta says of the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition gold-medal winner.
Charles Richard-Hamelin, runner-up at the same competition, also performs a full recital in Koerner Hall next season. “When you have Charles-Richard Hamelin winning the silver medal at the Chopin Competition, of course, you want him on your stage,” says Mehta. “The fact that he’s Canadian is a nice little bonus,” while emphasizing that his nationality came secondary to his talent in the booking process.
Richard-Hamelin is one of about 16 Canadian artists forecasted for the upcoming season. “When we started, there had always been a mandate as a Canadian arts organization to [include] a lot of Canadian artists,” Mehta says. “But frankly, I never think we need to have a quota of Canadian artists. There are just so many good ones that we want on our stage – it’s never really planned.”
Keeping in mind the number of piano aficionados in the Toronto area, Mehta makes sure to program a significant number of pianists in the lineup.
Baroque violin music enthusiasts will also get their fill: two big names perform within one week to kick off November. Hilary Hahn will play an all-Bach program, while Daniel Hope will perform with his AIR Baroque chamber ensemble.
Violinist Nicola Benedetti was a priority re-engagement after a successful performance in March 2017. “We should do a straight recital one day,” Mehta proposed to her immediately afterwards, to which she replied, “I’d love to come back.” Shortly afterwards, the formal offer was drawn up. “She came up with this beautiful program. The deal was done very quickly.”
Among high-profile quartets, the Danish String Quartet is the lone season representative.
Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero — whose improvisational prowess has earned Martha Argerich’s endorsement – makes her Koerner Hall début in November.
Mehta and three others on his team work on crafting and marketing each season. It is a wholly in-house operation – from making programming decisions, to drafting contracts, to ensuring a comfortable stay for guest artists.
“We bounce ideas — do we need something that’s a little more sellable on this program, or is it fine? This person’s making their debut — what can we do to market that person who may or may not be known by the classical public, to make sure to get enough people to see them?”
Trickier bookings involve European or Asian artists whose Koerner Hall performance must coincide with their week-long or two-week North American tour. Next to their engagements in places like New York, Chicago and Montreal, Mehta says it’s about “moving the chess pieces around.”
At Koerner Hall, annual attendance runs from 45,000 to 55,000 under the RCM banner, and a total of 100,000 patrons attend Koerner Hall performances each year. About 50% of their audience resides in central Toronto stretching from Lake Ontario to Lawrence Avenue, and from the Don Valley Parkway to around Bathurst or Ossington streets.
As executive director of performing arts, Mehta attends nearly every RCM concert. He draws programming ideas from audience members, and also fields suggestions from RCM faculty and students. There is no formal survey — ideas may stem from a conversation with a Glenn Gould School student who recently heard an up-and-coming string quartet at a music festival.
“We don’t book anything that we don’t think is the absolute best in their field,” Mehta affirms. “There’s no slumps in here.”
Full programming details will be unveiled in June, including series such as Mazzolini Masters, 21C, and Music on Film with Hot Docs Cinema. The live announcement will showcase three or four of the new season’s artists: expect two or three classical acts, with world music and jazz numbers. At the reception to follow, the impending season will be one to toast over a glass of wine.
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO
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