From Toronto Summer Music to The Tallis Scholars, Ludwig van Toronto critics reflect on our favourite concerts of 2019.
We can’t help but feel grateful to be living in such an artistically vibrant city like Toronto. We saw a great deal of what our city had to offer this year. Sure, taste is subjective, but we’d be liars if we said we weren’t curious to find out which concerts we thought were the best this year.
Here are our picks for the best classical music and theatre concerts of 2019.
We’d love to know what your favourite concert of the year too, so be sure to add your picks in the comments below.
Toronto Summer Music: Opening Night. July 11, 2019
Last summer, I decided to stay at home. The biggest reason was the Toronto Summer Music Festival offered everything I needed in my own backyard. Of the many concerts offered, it was the opening night all-star event that I recall most.
The concert was celebratory and showcased a who’s who of Canadian classical royalty: Adrianne Pieczonka, Jon Kimura Parker, Kerson Leong, Rachael Kerr, Steven Philcox, New Orford String Quartet. Despite the standard repertoire, there was no getting bored here. Standouts were violinist Kerson Leong’s goosebump-inducing “Zigeunerweisen” (Sarasate), and Adrianne Pieczonka gorgeous Vier letzte Lieder (Strauss) backed by Philcox on the keys, and the New Orford String Quartet on the bows.
It was a concert that unexpectedly stole my heart this year.
Shaw Festival: Victory: Choices in Reaction by Howard Barker. July 14 – October 12, 2019.
So dense and complex was Victory: Choices in Reaction (1983) by Howard Barker, that I had to devote a good chunk of the review to a treatise on the English playwright himself and his self-named Theatre of Catastrophe. The play is set during the reign of Charles II, and concerns the newly restored king’s vengeance against the men who signed his father’s death warrant, be they dead or alive, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. His many characters must deal with Barker’s favourite themes — violence, sexuality and power — while coping with the larger topic of how humans behave in moments of historical crisis, and it is not a pretty picture. Victory is far and away the most challenging, provoking and controversial play I saw all year.
The Canadian Opera Company: Rusalka (Antonín Dvořák). October 12 – 26, 2019.
If I were to limit my choice of the most memorable performance to voice and to events around the GTA, it would be COC’s Rusalka that opened the current season, starring Sondra Radvanovsky and Pavel Cernoch. This David McVicker production is essentially traditional, but with just enough twists and turns to make it interesting to 21st-century audiences and avoid looking too old-fashioned, at the same time steering clear of wild Regieoper attempts that ruined the first COC Rusalka in 2009. McVicker’s production is gorgeous to look at, evocative, essentially faithful to the original, not to mention a strong cast led by the fabulous Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role and the clarion-voiced Czech tenor Pavel Cernoch as the Prince. What more can one ask for?
Show One Productions: Denis Matsuev. October 17, 2019.
Royal Conservatory of Music: The Tallis Scholars. December 8, 2019.
It was a tie for first place in memorable concerts of the year for me. Denis Matsuev piano recital this fall and the Tallis Scholars performance earlier this month. The Matsuev recital featured a remarkable and well-considered, highly artistic interpretation of the Liszt “B-minor sonata”. You don’t forget a stand-out live performance easily, particularly one which distinguishes itself from a landscape of conventional Liszt interpretations that tend to lose structure and performative power in a blur of notes. With Matsuev, that is never an issue, and he made the emotive most of all his recital repertoire.
The Tallis Scholars were simply superb, and I cannot find the words to express how much more, even this performance was, from the many others I have seen. They sing more than just the notes, but every colour found to inhabit the spaces between the notes as well. An astonishing recital.