The Toronto Summer Music Festival often takes its theme from a major milestone or anniversary in the world at large. In 2017, the Festival’s programming focused on Canada 150. In 2015 events were tied to the Pan American Games with the theme of Music of the Americas. This year, to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War I, the Festival’s theme is Reflections of Wartime. From July 12 to August 4, The Toronto Summer Music Festival will showcase masterworks created in response to armed conflict.
Not that the Festival will be a total descent into lamentation and despair. “It won’t all be grim and dour, ” states Artistic Director Jonathan Crow. “Some of the most beautiful, emotional and challenging music has been written during times of war and conflict as artists struggled to find meaning and give expression to the horrors gripping the world.”
A glance at the concerts lined up for this summer shows how musically rich this theme is.
Many of the pieces that will be performed this summer have significant meaning for their performers who still have personal connections with the turmoil of the last century. The Opening Night concert, when The Borodin Quartet will perform Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 8 in C minor, Op. 110, dedicated “to the memory of the victims of fascism and war” will make this powerfully clear. Now in its third generation, The Quartet, which was founded during the last year of World War Two, has had a unique relationship with Shostakovich since the original musicians played each quartet for the composer before their premieres. The Quartet will join Russian pianist Lukas Geniušas the next evening to perform the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G Minor, Opus 57. Geniušas will also play Prokofiev’s Sonata No 7 in B flat major, composed during the Second World War, renowned for the superhuman intensity of its final “precipitato” Toccata.
A wealth of brilliant pieces generated by the strife of the 20th-century will be performed during the Festival. At a late night concert at Koerner Hall Jonathan Crow, Julie Albers, Miles Jacques and Natasha Paremski will perform Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time, which was composed and premiered while Messiaen was interned in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. The New Orford Quartet will bring Steve Reich’s Different Trains to the Lula Lounge. Reich’s piece contrasts his experience of happy train rides taken as an American child during World Two with the simultaneous horrific train transports to death camps forced upon European Jews.
Music from other eras and zones of conflict includes the Lamentations of Jeremiah, three 16th-century polyphonic compositions that will be performed by Studio de musique ancienne de Montreal. From the year 1673, Jonathan Crow and the TSM Academy Fellows will perform Heinrich Biber’s Battaglia, a sound painting of a battle scene with a lament for the wounded.
Beloved music that has kept peoples’ sprits up in times of adversity will also be part of the program. O Happy Day with Ben Heppner and the Toronto Mass Choir, an entire evening of Gospel Music, will no doubt blow the top off of Koerner Hall. A Big Band Celebration featuring the music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller, lead by Gordon Foote with JUNO award-winning singer Renee Lee will be an uplifting evening of the sounds that kept the home front and the troops going during World War II. Another legendary figure who devoted himself to performing for troops as well as concentration camp survivors, Yehudi Menuhin, will be the subject of a Tribute concert that will include Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata as well as works by Ravel, Kreisler and Corelli, performed by Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu.
Many of the big-name performers at the Festival are also teaching in the Toronto Summer Music Festival Academy for elite emerging musicians. The concerts these Fellows give with their Mentors known as the reGeneration series include a wide selection of Art Song and Chamber Music. This includes afternoon and evening concerts as well as master classes open to the public. Mentors this year include lyric tenor Christoph Prégardien, who will make his recital debut with one of the world’s leading collaborative pianists, Julius Drake.
The gravitas of this year’s theme is balanced by the new name of the Festival’s weekday PWYC concerts: TSM Happy Hour, at the Heliconian Hall. Other free events include TSM Connect and free noon concerts at the Heliconian. On Wednesdays at 11, TSM Kids Concerts will take place at Walter Hall. Introduced last year by Crow, these events were enthusiastically attended by flocks of kids gathered from summer programs taking place around Philosopher’s Walk and the University of Toronto. One event that is bound to be sensational will be the program given in English and Arabic by Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh. There are three other musical centenaries being recognized in the programming: works by Leonard Bernstein and Claude Debussy will be performed, as will Stravinsky’s L’Histoire de Soldat.
Though not mentioned at the Season Launch, 2018 is the fourth year of the Festival’s Community Academy, a week for committed amateur musicians to learn from and perform with musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Choir Conductor Mattias Maute, and piano virtuosi such as this year’s faculty, Angela Cheng and Philip Chiu. It culminates in an entire day of celebration and performance that concludes with the TSM finale at Walter Hall on Saturday, August 4.
Contemplating the wonderfully rich line up for this year’s Festival leaves me in a state of eager anticipation, not only for the 2018 exploration of Reflections of Wartime but also for the 2019 Festival, which I hope will be called Reflections of Peace, a theme to which I’m sure the Festival could do justice.
To purchase your Festival Pass and for further information go to torontosummermusic.com