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Ludwig Van
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PRIMER | Everything You Need To Know About Koerner Hall's 10th Anniversary Season

By Anya Wassenberg on June 5, 2018

With 102 concerts and events, including 478 Canadian artists, including several First Nations, and representing 27 countries, Koerner Hall’s 10th anniversary season kicks off and ends with mini-festivals, and offers a line-up that can only be called diverse. Representing a range of genres from jazz to roots and world music, the bedrock of their musical programming is a constant stream of classical music concerts, including highly anticipated debuts and returning artists.

“It’s been as diverse as that every year,” points out Mervon Mehta, Executive Director, Performing Arts. While the overall goals for the season were business as usual, however, he did have some special points in mind for 2018-19. “I wanted to invite back people we loved,” he says. In other cases, it’s a matter of finally landing a few big fish. “I’ve been after a couple of big names for years,” he says. They include noted American baritone Thomas Hampson, who will be joined by son-in-law, Italian baritone Luca Pisaroni in a program titled “No Tenors Allowed” on April 30 for the season-closing festival.

Among the good news on the financial side comes the announcement that BMO will sponsor the concert season for the next three years as official Season Sponsor.

The season starts with a splash in the opening festival that includes seven concerts in eight days, three of them free. The Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble will perform works by Carl Nielsen, Jean Françaix, and Ludwig van Beethoven on October 3. Headlining the opening festival is the return of Canada’s latest superstar conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will be bringing the Orchestre Métropolitain with him down the QEW from Montreal for the concert on October 5. “He’s arguably one of the biggest of the young conductors today,” Mehta says, noting that he had just assumed the role of conductor the first time he came to Koerner Hall in 2015. “He just fell in love with the hall.”

The 10th Anniversary Gala on October 2 will feature celebrated soprano Kathleen Battle in a program of classical, jazz, and gospel songs. The proceeds from the evening will go towards Resounding! The Campaign for The Royal Conservatory. The new funding campaign was recently launched with a gift of $20 million donated jointly by three couples, including Michael and Sonja Koerner. As Mehta pointed out during the season announcement event on June 4, Koerner Hall gets less than 5 percent of its funding from government sources. He said about 70 percent of revenues come from ticket sales, with the rest of the tab coming from private and corporate donations.

There’s a lot of advance buzz about the pairing of Chinese pianist Yuja Wang with French cellist Gautier Capuçon (April 13,) a concert that will be recorded live for Warner Classics. It’s a unique occasion, but if you want to get your hands on tickets, you probably should have done so already. Mehta told the audience at the season announcement on June 4 that only about 60 tickets remained for the performance.

The Danish String Quartet will be making their Koerner Hall debut on November 4 playing works by Haydn, Abrahamsen, and Beethoven. “I’ve been following them,” Mehta says. They’re a young and dynamic chamber group. “Watching them play, you feel like you’re watching a rock quartet.”

Among the returning artists is acclaimed violinist Hilary Hahn, (November 9,)  who will be performing a solo recital of J.S. Bach, including Sonata No. 2 and 3 and Partita No. 3. For Baroque enthusiasts, violinist Daniel Hope and Friends will also present AIR – A Baroque Journey on November 3, in a program taken from the Deutsche Grammophon album of the same name. Multiple Grammy Award-winning clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera will be back at Koerner Hall with Harlem Quartet on December 7, with a program that includes Debussy and von Weber, along with his own classical compositions.

The Invesco Piano Concerts feature both Canadian and international artists, with an unexpected result. “There’s a bit of a Chopin theme,” Mehta notes. One of the most highly anticipated is the Koerner Hall debut of Seong-Jin Cho. “He’s a rock star in Korea,” Mehta notes, along with the fact that the concert is almost sold out already. Cho was the Gold Medal winner of the 2015 Chopin International Competition, and will be performing a program of Chopin and Debussy on October 28.

As luck would have it, audiences will also be able to hear from the second place winner in the 2015 Chopin International Competition, Quebecois pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, who will be playing Schumann and Chopin on February 3. “There’s an amazing Canadian talent,” Mehta says. Glenn Gould School alum Jan Lisiecki will also be back on January 3 to perform works by Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Rachmaninov.

21C Festival has been extended for another five seasons, as supported by the Koerners. Among the changes to Koerner Hall’s programming comes the news that the popular new music festival will be switched from May to January as of 2019.

On January 17, the TSO, conducted by Tania Miller, will perform with Glenn Gould School alum Stewart Goodyear in a program that includes the debut of Goodyear’s own composition. While the TSO has performed on the Koerner Hall stage before, Mehta says the TSO approached him with the idea of returning to be part of 21C for the first time.

“The real coup for me in 21C is getting Terry Riley here,” Mehta says. The festival will feature the venerated minimalist composer in a series whimsically (and truthfully) called Terry Riley: Live at 85! The California based composer is widely considered to have launched the minimalist movement with his seminal work In C in 1964, and he will be featured in a concert on January 18 with Tracy Silverman on electric violin and his son, Gyan Riley, on electric guitar. His work will also be played in Stewart Goodyear’s concert, and Riley will connect with Royal Conservatory students during his stay in Toronto.

21C will also include a concert devoted to female composers later in the evening of January 18, including works by Kati Agócs, Carolyn Chen, Unsuk Chin, Cassandra Miller, Linda Smith, and a world premiere by Anna Höstman.

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra will perform four concerts through the season, conducted by Johannes Debus, András Keller, Gábor Takács-Nagy, and Bramwell Tovey. RCM faculty will be featured, as usual, in the Mazzoleni Masters series, along with Songmasters, highlighting vocal faculty members Monica Whicher, Rachel Andrist, and friends.

The Sunday Interludes series presents an interesting smorgasbord of concerts  – all of them free –  including Tom Allen’s The Judgment of Paris on December 2,, based on the music of Debussy and Ravel, and flute rockstar Marina Piccinini on April 7 in a program that includes Copland and J.S. Bach.

Highlights of the Season Finale Festival include pianist Murray Perahia, another programming coup for Mehta, and one of his long time goals. He’ll be making his Koerner Hall debut on May 1. On May 2, the venue will present classical Indian sitar player Anoushka Shankar.

Managing the programming for a busy cultural venue is an art unto itself. In some cases, acts are booked, and it’s only later that patterns may emerge, as Mehta describes the process. “Oh, look – we have three Roma artists performing – can we put them together somehow?” The program includes concerts by fiddler Roby Lakatos (April 5,) jazz pianist Robi Botos (May 4,) and a celebration of Django Reinhardt’s music with the Django Festival All-Stars on November 17.

Mehta describes a situation where each musical genre imposes its own set of rules. In the world of classical music, artists book 18 months up to two years ahead, while with jazz musicians, a 12 month lead time is the norm. “Pop – they book yesterday,” he says.

Looking back, Mehta cites the openness and curiosity of Toronto audiences, and their willingness to try new and diverse artists and genres of music for making his job rewarding. “I’ve opened three different venues in my career, and I tend to last about seven years,” he says. “You tend to repeat yourself, and if your audience doesn’t follow you, you have to leave.” In Toronto, he was able to keep evolving. “Any artist, of any ethnicity, that I can get, I can find 1,000 people in Toronto to come out.”

Part of that success lies in reaching out to Torontonians directly, rather than relying on a few ads to do the trick. “We can find the right people to partner with,” he says, noting that Koerner Hall has made over 100 such partnerships with organizations from the TSO and COC to community ethnic cultural groups. That’s important when you’re programming artists from all over the globe. As Mehta notes, the venue itself has established such a reputation for guaranteeing the highest caliber of talent that his audiences are often willing to take a chance on the unknown.

According to Mehta, Koerner Hall has presented about 800 concerts and hosted another 600 so far in its nine-season run. Along with the classical concerts, Koerner Hall continues to present a diverse variety of music and musicians, including jazz series, the Trailblazers series of groundbreaking Canadian artists like Grammy Award-winning pianist Chilly Gonzales, Roots and Folk series, World Music series, including the return of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and a series titled Quiet Please, there’s a lady on stage featuring Buffy Sainte-Marie and other noted female artists.

Tickets for the 2019-19 season are on sale now.

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Anya Wassenberg

Anya Wassenberg is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn.
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Follow me

Anya Wassenberg

Anya Wassenberg is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn.
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