Incorporating 97 concerts and events, the Royal Conservatory of Music announced a 2019/2020 Koerner Hall season with much to please Toronto fans of classical music, along with jazz, blues, world music, and more. It’s the 11th season for the venue, with 37 artists making their debut at Koerner Hall, with world premieres by Oscar Peterson, Danilo Pérez, and Allison Au, and 40 countries represented in the ambitious program.
The 2019/2020 season marks the first year of a two-year celebration of the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. “It’s fairly unstructured in the first year,” says Mervon Mehta, Executive Director of Performing Arts. “I’ve just asked a number of soloists, chamber groups, our faculty, the RCO, and others to include as much Beethoven as they could to their programming.”
The result is a wide-ranging list of concerts, including soloists, chamber works, and two of his symphonies, sprinkled throughout the entire season. Beethoven’s piano sonatas are well represented, with all-Beethoven concerts by Yefim Bronfman, Louis Lortie, and John O’Conor. Irish pianist John O’Conor will perform Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas No. 30 through 32 — the final three sonatas, and considered both the epitome of his art and the piano sonata as a form. Acclaimed Baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Jan Lisiecki will also present an all-Beethoven program in April.
“They all picked different sonatas,” Mehta says of the piano soloists. “Yefim is doing the Appassionata and some of his early sonatas. O’Conor has the last three, and Lortie somewhere in the middle. It all worked out brilliantly without too much arm twisting.” As one of the most famous composers in history, it’s not that Beethoven’s works have been neglected. It’s about reaching a deeper understanding of the master’s compositions. “Audiences will really understand the breadth of one of the top three…four composers in the world.”
The Royal Conservatory Orchestra joins in the Beethoven celebrations with a performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A Major, op. 92 under conductor Johannes Debus of the Canadian Opera Company, with Richard Strauss’ Don Juan, and Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody rounding out the program. Even the Glenn Gould School students get into the picture, with a performance of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony under Royal Conservatory Orchestra Resident Conductor Joaquin Valdepeñas.
“In the 2021 season, we’ll be doing a sit-down festival and a deeper dive into his work,” Mehta says. That will include work that was influenced by Beethoven as well as that of the composer himself. Stewart Goodyear is well known to Toronto audiences for his Beethoven marathon of 2012. Mehta says Goodyear will be back for the 2021 Beethoven Festival, “doing something different.”
The seventh 21C Music Festival will take place between January 11 and 25, 2020, and include eight concerts. The line-up includes three world premieres, John Patitucci’s Hypocrisy, new pieces by Barbara Croall and Allison Au, and new work by Danilo Pérez.
Musician, composer, avant-garde artist, and film director Laurie Anderson is one of the headliners. “It’s been a dream of mine to bring her here,” Mehta says. Anderson’s work will be featured in an intimate Saturday afternoon concert in Temerty Theatre , as sung by students of the Glenn Gould School. That evening, Anderson herself will perform in Koerner Hall in a program that is yet to be announced. “We’re still discussing that with her,” he says. “It’s been a long, lovely conversation.” He describes an artist who can choose what to bring from her broad catalogue of work, and customize the performance for the place. “She is one of the most thoughtful performers,” Mehta says. Anderson’s film Heart of a Dog will screen at the Hot Docs cinema, making it a mini-Anderson festival inside 21C.
One of the featured works is Against the Grain Theatre’s production of Ayre and other works by Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentinian composer. “It’s a piece that Grain started in Banff — this is the full version,” Mehta explains. The music is a fusion of various influences, including Arabic, Hebrew, Sardinian, and Sephardic folk melodies, and the song cycle features Lebanese-Canadian soprano and Glenn Gould School alumna, Miriam Khalil.
The Afterhours performance of the Festival this year spotlights another Glenn Gould School alumna, Véronique Mathieu, in an all-Canadian program entitled True North, with new compositions by Derek Johnson, and Canadian composers Alice Ping Yee Ho and Adam Scime. “That’ll be our annual late-night show,” Mehta says. The concert will take place on the evening of January 11, after the performance of Ayre. The concert also features the world premiere of a piece by Barbara Croall, an Odawa First Nations composer, commissioned by The Royal Conservatory.
Indian tabla master, Zakir Hussain, and jazz acoustic bassist John Patitucci bring the Canadian premiere of Hussain’s tabla concerto, Peshkar, along with the world premiere of Patitucci’s Hypocrisy for orchestra and jazz trio. The latter will feature Danilo Pérez on piano, Brain Blade on drums, and Patitucci on bass, and the evening will end with an improv session with Hussain and the star-studded trio.
As it happens, Hussain just performed his work in Florence with Zubin Mehta conducting. Mervon Mehta describes calling his father to ask about the performance. With a solid endorsement, it remained to entice Hussain to come to Toronto. “He’s a dream to work with,” Mehta says. “To make it palatable for him to come to Toronto for one night January, we brought Zane Dalal to conduct.” Dalal is the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of India, and is very familiar with the work. He’ll be working with the Canadian musicians in rehearsals prior to the concert.
The Royal Conservatory commissioned new pieces from both Danilo Pérez and his Global Messengers and the Allison Au Quartet, to premiere during the Festival, while the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble will play the work of Canadian Bekah Simms and other contemporary composers as part of the free Sunday Interludes series.
Mehta mentions Philippe Sly and his Le Chimera Project. “He’s not so well known in Toronto — better known in New York.” The Montreal based bass-baritone will be bringing his 21st century take on Schubert in Philippe Sly & Le Chimera Project: Winterreise. The contemporary production takes Schubert’s songs about the lonely traveller and his lost love, arranged for a Klezmer ensemble that roams the stage, becoming part of the production, with an unusual staging that highlights the drama of the songs.
The season offers a range of soloists from new stars to veterans. “I try to see as many live as I can,” says Mehta. “You can tell pretty quickly if this is an artist want to spend an evening with.”
South Korean virtuoso Kyung Wha Chung performs with pianist Kevin Kenner in what is sure to be a crowd pleasing program of Mozart, Beethoven, and Franck. South Korean violinist, Bomsori Kim, is a multiple prize winner, racking up medals at the Tchaikovsky International Competition, the Queen Elisabeth Competition, the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition Hannover, the Montreal International Musical Competition, and the Sendai International Music Competition — among others. Despite that fact, she’s not yet a household name. “I liked what I heard,” Mehta says. “With the addition of Rafal, the combination of the two of them is what makes it work.” Kim just released an album on Deutsche Grammophon in January 2019 with pianist Rafał Blechacz, and they come to Koerner Hall to play Beethoven, Debussy, Szymanowski, and Fauré.
Mehta also mentions the power pairing of violinist Ray Chen with Julio Elizalde, and Pamela Frank with Emanuel Ax. “They are very good friends,” Mehta notes of the latter pair. Violinist Frank, touring the world again after recovering from an arm injury, is matched with renowned pianist Emanuel Ax to perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, “Spring”, and Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor.
One of the highlights of the Power Corporation Vocal Concerts series has to be the innovative production of Lagrime di San Pietro, Renaissance master Orlando di Lasso’s final work, sung a cappella by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and directed by Peter Sellars. Di Lasso knew it would be his last composition, and filled it with emotion, a quality the production emphasizes with dramatic lighting and set design in a rejuvenated interpretation.
Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin is acclaimed as one of the premier interpreters of Baroque music. “She’s one of the great Canadian singers,” Mehta says, “not a household name, but with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, it will be an interesting concert to present.” Gauvin performs with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Vancouver’s early music specialists, in a concert titled Russian White Nights: Opera arias from 18th century St. Petersburg, mining material from a time when opera was expanding throughout Russia.
Art song lovers can feast on the Mazzoleni Masters: Songmasters series, featuring Glenn Gould School’s vocal faculty members, soprano Monica Whicher and pianist Rachel Andrist, and friends in concerts specially programmed around a specific theme. An Afternoon with Adrianne highlights the work of Adrianne Pieczonka, newly-appointed Vocal Chair and Head of the Vocal Department. Soprano Miriam Khalil pairs up with Canadian lyric baritone Russell Braun in a program of solo and duet works, including a world-premiere by Iranian-Canadian composer, Afarin Mansouri.
The Glenn Gould School Fall Opera will present be Jonathan Dove’s Siren Song in November, a piece for five singers, an actor, and a 10-piece orchestra. It tells the strange but true story of a young sailor who wrote letters back and forth with a beautiful model. The relationship goes well, but meeting in person proves to be problematic. In March 2020, the School presents Maurice Ravel’s musical comedy L’heure espagnole, and Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica, a one-act opera.
There is a rich selection of chamber music concerts in store. Daniel Hope with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra play a mixed program from Bach to El-Khoury, with the acclaimed Takács Quartet returning to Koerner Hall to perform Mendelssohn-Hensel, Bartók, and Beethoven. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin makes their Koerner Hall debut with an all-Bach program that includes the Brandenburg Concertos.
Hungarian composers take the spotlight in a Mazzoleni Masters concert titled A Hungarian Trilogy. Violinist Erika Raum, violist Barry Shiffman, and cellist Tom Wiebe will perform works by Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, and Ernő Dohnányi.
A slew of Toronto’s favourite concert pianists return to Koerner Hall. “For sure, we want to bring back our nearest and dearest friends like Hélène Grimaud and Angela Hewitt,” Mehta says.
Hélène Grimaud, a Chevalier of the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur is one of France’s gifts to the world of classical music. She will play a varied repertoire of Debussy, Chopin, Satie, and Silvestrov. A Companion of the Order of Canada, and recipient of the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award, among many other accolades, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt will play Bach’s Art of the Fugue in its entirety. Hungarian-born Sir András Schiff will also make a return to Koerner Hall.
The Sunday Interludes series offers interesting choices, including students and faculty from the Royal Academy of Music, London, playing for their counterparts at the Glenn Gould School in November, and violinist Jinjoo Cho in her recital debut at the Royal Conservatory in December. Vietnamese-Canadian pianist, Dang Thai Son plays a program of Debussy and Chopin in April, and the Ladom Ensemble — combining piano, cello, accordion, and percussion — performs in May in an eclectic all-original repertoire. Tickets to the Sunday Interludes series are free, and become available a week before the concert online, or in person at the box office.
In the pop category, three-time Juno Award winner, Susan Aglukark, teams up with Lacey Hill, an Oneida singer from Six Nations of the Grand River reserve for a night of song. The season sees the return of the Maple Blues Awards and all-star concert, along with a rare solo appearance by Canadian icon Bruce Cockburn.
Koerner Hall continues to display a commitment to the growing world music scene, bringing artists from the Ukraine to Zimbabwe and back. Highlights include an evening with Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Raul Midón and West African guitar sensation Lionel Loueke, and a concert pairing Zimbabwean band Mokoomba and Juno Award-winning Haitian-Canadian artist Wesli — with dancing shoes required.
The concert featuring jazz legend Chick Corea Trilogy with Christian McBride and Brian Blade in October may be already sold out, but the jazz section still offers Chucho Valdés, the Godfather of Cuban Jazz, with Jazz Batá. The concert spotlights Jazz Batá 2, his latest release, and a modern redux of his 1972 album of the same name. Koerner Hall will premiere Oscar Peterson’s 1983 work AFRICA, the first time the suite will be performed in its entirety.
If you had your heart set on the Season Gala with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on November 30, it’s already sold out. Likewise, American pianist Murray Perahia’s Koerner Hall debut is already sold out, along with the return of Russian sensation Daniil Trifonov in February 2020.
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