When it comes to summer classical music in our fair city of Toronto, one can’t help but feel a bit deprived these days. Long gone are the years when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played in Ontario Place — I even remember a scintillating Mahler Symphony No. 7 under the baton of the pre-knighted Andrew Davis. Opera fans still wax nostalgic about the free Altamira Concerts at Harbourfront, with the late Richard Bradshaw at the helm. The Black Creek Festival that was supposed to put TO on the summer music map? It lasted all of one season due to financial mismanagement.
However, there are many options for the classical music fan — the Toronto Summer Music Festival is right here in downtown TO. Within striking distance from the GTA are the Elora Festival, Westben Festival, Festival of the Sound, Brott Music Festival, Festival Players of Prince Edward County, and Stratford Summer Music. A bit farther afield in Ottawa are Music and Beyond and the Ottawa Chamber Fest.
Here’s our rundown of the highlights this year, in no particular order. There’s seems to be more operatic offerings than in previous years, plus the usual choral, chamber and instrumental concerts that will whet every appetite:
Toronto Summer Music Festival
(July 12 – Aug. 4) Under its new Artistic Director Jonathan Crow, the TSMF theme this year is Reflections of Wartime, commemorating the centenary of the end of World War One. Lots of goodies, including the Escher Quartet (July 12), a staged version of L’Histoire du Soldat (July 19), Ben Heppner sings Gospel with the Toronto Mass Choir (July 26); a recital by German tenor/pedagogue Christoph Pregardien (July 17), and Russian pianist Lukas Geniusas playing Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich (July 13). Not to be missed is Jonathan Crow playing A Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin (July 30).
(July 13 – 29) Mark Vuorinen is the newly appointed Interim Artistic Director. The Festival opens with an Opera Gala in partnership with the Canadian Opera Company and starring former Ensemble members like Isabel Bayrakdarian, Danika Loren, and Andrew Haji (July 13). To mark the 50th-anniversary of the death of Canadian composer Healey Willan, the Elora Singers is presenting Healey Willan Through Song, Word and Images (July 19). The Festival closes with Handel’s Te Deum and Mozart’s Mass in C, with soprano Claire de Sevigne (July 29).
(June 9 – Aug. 5) The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is presenting Bach & His World, featuring the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and excerpts from the Goldberg Variations (June 30). There’s even a Don Giovanni in Concert with piano accompaniment (July 7) starring Alexander Dobson (Don Giovanni), Joel Allison (Leporello), and Colin Ainsworth (Don Ottavio). The great Marc-Andre Hamelin joins the Danel String Quartet in works by Feinberg, Chopin, and Shostakovich (July 28).
Festival of the Sound
(July 20 – Aug. 11) A two-hour drive north of the GTA is picturesque Parry Sound and the 39th season of the Festival. The Elmer Iseler Singers presents Times of Trouble, Times of Joy, a concert of music of Bach and ends with an audience sing-along of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Hymn to Joy (July 22). Pianist Stewart Goodyear and the Penderecki String Quartet and the Festival Chamber Orchestra join forces for a program of Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Tchaikovsky (Aug. 2).
Brott Music Festival
(July 5 – Aug. 16) Taking a line from the last act of Die Fledermaus, Brott Music presents Blame it on the Champagne, an evening of Viennese bon-bons (July 5), with the audience invited to bring their dancing shoes. There’s performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute with young singers (July 19) and Sibelius Symphony No. 5 (July 26).
Stratford Summer Music
(July 16 – Aug. 26) Pianist Angela Hewitt returns to Stratford (Aug. 11 & 12) to give a recital Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. Orchestre de la francophonie under the baton of Jean-Philippe Tremblay presents a program of Mozart, Ichmouratov, and Tchaikovsky (July 21).
Festival Players of Prince Edward County
(July 12 – Aug. 31) Not a classical music festival per se, but I am including this because of the presence of Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble. They are joined by Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies fame for an evening of songs by Randy Newman, Radiohead, Elvis Costelo, Barenaked Ladies, Leonard Cohen, and Page himself (July 12).
Music and Beyond
(July 4 – 18) Les Violons du Roy plays Vivaldi in the beautiful Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (July 10). Daniel Taylor and his Theatre of Early Music performs Dido and Aeneas (July 5), with Ellen McAteer (Dido) and Geoffrey Sirett (Aeneas). Taylor himself is the Sorceress. Mezzo Wallis Giunta sings a Tribute to Bernstein (July 8) with pianist Bryan Wagorn. Soprano Mireille Asselin joins the Amici Chamber Ensemble to perform selections from their recent CD (July 17).
Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival
(July 26 – Aug. 9). Led by Jean-Marie Zeitouni, I Musici de Montreal plays a program of Schumann, Prevost, Gougeon, and Britten (Aug. 9). In its 25th-year, the Gryphon Trio plays a concert of works by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Piazzolla and others (Aug. 5).