The Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) has released a preview of its 2020-21 season, incorporating 30-plus classical music concerts, along with the season’s gala. The RCM’s programming has always included a variety of diverse musical styles, but classical music is still its bedrock.
The season opens with the Gala on October 17, titled Follies In Concert, and presented in honour of Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. A who’s who of Canadian theatre, television and opera stars, including Chilina Kennedy, Eric McCormack, Cynthia Dale, Thom Allison with Mary-Lou Fallis, Ben Heppner, Sheila McCarthy, Louise Pitre, and Avery Saltzman, among others, take on the iconic musical that spawned hits like “Broadway Baby”. A 24-piece orchestra will be conducted by Paul Sportelli, with Richard Ouzounian directing.
In 2020-21, the Beethoven 250 Festival takes over the RCM from November 13 to December 13 as curated by Mervon Mehta and James Ehnes, and with the theme, Ludwig van Beethoven: disruptor, innovator, genius. Concerts will delve into Beethoven’s oeuvre, including solo, chamber, orchestral, operatic, and even jazz interpretations of his works from a broad range of artists.
Ehnes is quoted in a media release. “I am thrilled to be involved with The Royal Conservatory’s Beethoven 250 Festival. We have lined up a truly extraordinary roster of artists to present not just Beethoven’s most iconic works, but also some of his lesser known gems, works inspired by Beethoven, and works of other composers that will place Beethoven’s music in fascinating relief. There is no more pivotal composer in our history than Beethoven, and hearing this world-changing music in the intimate Mazzoleni Concert Hall and the acoustically incomparable Koerner Hall will surely be an unforgettable experience for all.”
Ehnes kicks off and closes the Festival with a complete performance of all the Beethoven Violin Sonatas, accompanied by long time collaborator, pianist Andrew Armstrong. The Grammy, Gramophone, and Juno award winner will play Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-5 on November 13, and Nos. 6-10 on December 13.
The Dover Quartet, who swept the 2013 Banff Competition, will play Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 2 and 13 on November 15. They’ll be joined by baritone Davóne Tines for Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach and Caroline Shaw’s By and By.
Pianist and RCM alumnus Stewart Goodyear will perform the world premiere of his own composition, a piano quintet with the Penderecki String Quartet filling the other four seats, inspired by themes from Beethoven’s music. The November 20 concert main bill features Goodyear and special guests performing Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 9 for piano and voices.
Beethoven meets jazz. Marcus Roberts and his 12-piece Modern Jazz Generation present jazz improvisations based on the “Moonlight” and “Waldstein” sonatas on November 21, along with variations on Bernstein’s West Side Story and On the Town.
American pianist Anne-Marie McDermott will take the stage on November 22 for an all-Beethoven program, including the chamber version of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto along with the favourite Piano Sonata No. 14 “Moonlight”. She’ll be joined by the Rolston String Quartet for the String Quartet No. 7 “Razumovsky” 1.
Toronto audiences can look forward to Peter Oundjian’s return to the podium to conduct the Royal Conservatory Orchestra on November 27. The Conductor Emeritus of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will lead the RCO in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” and other selections.
On November 29, pianist Marc-André Hamelin will perform Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 3 and 23 Appassionata” along with works by C.P.E. Bach and Joseph Haydn, and a new commissioned piece by Canadian composer John Oswald in its world premiere.
In a rare treat for both lovers of Beethoven and opera, Adrianne Pieczonka and Michael Schade, with the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra under conductor Johannes Debus, will perform excerpts from Beethoven’s Fidelio as well as his Symphony No. 2. The December 3 program also includes works by von Weber, Schubert, and Wagner.
The 35 member Galilee Chamber Orchestra is the first professional orchestra is Israel to be composed of Israeli and Palestinian musicians in equal numbers. They visit Koerner Hall on December 5 with conductor Saleem Abboud Ashkar, to play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. They will be joined by pianist Jon Kimura Parker for Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
Jon Kimura Parker takes the stage again the next day, this time with the Gryphon Trio for another all-Beethoven program on December 6. The program will include the Piano Trio in E flat Major, op. 1, no.1; Quintet for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon in E flat Major, op. 16; and Piano Trio in B flat Major, op. 97 “Archduke”.
Internationally acclaimed violinists James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist Edward Arron make up the Ehnes Quartet. They’ll be joined on December 10 by the New Orford String Quartet, an ensemble that includes the concertmasters of the Toronto and Montreal symphony orchestras, among others, in a concert where each ensemble will play a favourite Beethoven quartet, and then get together for the Georges Enescu Octet for Strings in C Major, Op. 7.
The ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory), students from The Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists, and Joaquin Valdepeñas and students of The Glenn Gould School will also perform all-Beethoven programs during the festival.
The 2020-21 season will see some of the world’s leading pianists making their appearance on the Koerner Hall stage. American pianist Nicholas Angelich returns to Koerner Hall January 31 to perform Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 12, Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives, Bach‘s Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme, and Brahms’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24.
Víkingur Ólafsson, often called “Iceland’s Glenn Gould” by the media for his striking originality, and named Artist of the Year at the Gramophone Awards in 2019, will make his Koerner Hall debut on February 7 with works by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Debussy, along with Mussorgsky’s blockbuster Pictures at an Exhibition.
Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho performs Schumann, Szymanowski, and Chopin’s Four Scherzos, Nos. 1-4 on his return to Toronto on March 23. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, famous for his work in films such as Atonement, among others, as well as his long performing career, makes his Koerner Hall debut on April 18 performing the complete Debussy Préludes.
Fans of vocal concerts will have some gems to look forward to. Renowned Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager performs Schubert’s Winterreise on February 10 in her first visit to Koerner Hall. She’ll be accompanied by pianist Julius Drake. The King’s Singers have performed at Koerner Hall more often than any other guest, and they return on February 21 in a program of songs about struggle and revolution.
Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter has been thrilling audiences for more than three decades, and on March 7, she’ll perform works by Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, and Adolf Lindblad. She’ll be accompanied by South African keyboard artist Kristian Bezuidenhout.
A rising star in the opera world, Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins presents Songs for Murdered Sisters by Jake Heggie and Margaret Atwood on April 17. The program begins with works that seem to celebrate women in a positive lens, including pieces by Debussy and Schubert. The song cycle gradually picks apart the idea of women as objects to be possessed, and ends with the Canadian premiere of the piano version of Heggie’s Songs for Murdered Sisters with a text by Margaret Atwood. Hopkins commissioned the song cycle to raise awareness about violence against women, based on a killing spree that resulted in the murder of three women in Eastern Ontario, one of whom was his sister.
Music for strings is strongly represented in the mix of concerts. The Mischa Maisky Trio — Latvian cellist Mischa Maisky, son Sascha, (also a violinist), and daughter Lily on the piano — perform Schubert, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, and Mendelssohn on February 19. The trio has been noted in the media for their virtuosity. Co-presented with Show One Productions.
Italian pianist Beatrice Rana and French violinist Renaud Capuçon perform Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 by both Schumann and Prokofiev on February 23.
The Distant Voices is the title of a concert by the Jordi Savall Trio on April 22, featuring music from Afghanistan, Armenia, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Persia, and Italy. The Trio incorporates instruments such as the viella and rebab, kanun, and oud, among others.
The 2020-21 season brings an interesting mix of chamber music offerings. Pianist Jeremy Denk and Les Violons du Roy perform Renaissance and Baroque works on February 5, ending in J.S. Bach’s Keyboard Concerti in E Major and D Minor.
Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica Chamber Orchestra offer an unusual program on March 21. Titled Last Words, Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ and Shostakovich’s final string quartet are interwoven with contemporary texts, including writing by Jorge Luis Borges, Harold Pinter, and Steve Jobs, as read by Mr. Kremer.
The remainder of the 100-plus concert RCM 2020-21 season, including world music, pop, and jazz, will be announced in June.