Canada’s classical music community is relatively small, and so when we lose one of our own, the ripples run deep.
Celebrated conductor, music director, and Radio Personality Kerry Stratton as died on August 27, 2019, age 66, from complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Hailing from Belleville, Ontario, Stratton was inspired to become a conductor after hearing the American conductor Leonard Bernstein on the radio as a child. The impression never left him, and inspired a rich career of making, thinking, and extolling classical music as a supreme expression of the human spirit.
As a conductor, Stratton held posts with the Prince George Symphony Orchestra (1977-1983), the Georgian Bay Symphony (1983-1989), the North York Symphony (which he developed into the professional ensemble known as the Toronto Philharmonia) (1996-2010), and the Toronto Concert Orchestra (2010-2019).
Known for being an excellent and versatile musician, comfortable in genres ranging from the classics to popular music, Stratton was in demand internationally as guest conductor for orchestras, including the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Camerata, and the Beijing Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to his work as a conductor and music director, Stratton had a decades-long career as host of Conductors Choice, and the weekday afternoon show, The Oasis on The New Classical FM.
“I first ran into him during my days with JAZZ.FM91,” wrote Mark Wigmore on his Facebook page. “I listened carefully at a coffee house as this handsome fellow talked shop with a friend… music, arts, show business… he spoke with authority and earned wisdom. This guy had been around the block. I was impressed.”
In 2018, Stratton fell and broke his arm while guest conducting abroad. His arm took longer than usual to heal, and after further testing, he received a diagnosis of ALS. His health continued to decline, forcing him to give up his daily radio program and scale back his conducting engagements.
“The team at Classical released a statement last year that Kerry would step away as host of The Oasis due to his struggles with ALS”, wrote Wigmore. “In light of that, they were considering me to step in […] I joined Kerry in-studio. He was jolly, welcoming and totally comfortable chatting with me in between talking on the air to his listeners… And even though he was physically laboring, he was a total pro.”
“He was the ultimate optimist,” recalled Ludwig Van Editor Emeritus John Terauds, on his Facebook page. “He wanted nothing more than to share his enthusiasm for music with as many people as possible. It was impossible not to get swept up in his energy and commitment whenever one came within that force field.”
Stratton died just before taking the stage for the final performance with of Symphony in the Gardens at Casa Loma, on August 27.
“We live in a difficult moment. It’s pretty easy to feel anxious and uneasy,” Wigmore wrote. “So when I think of Kerry, I will remember a guy who on stage, and on the radio, made life a little easier for just a moment, playing us beautiful music.”