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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

INTERVIEW | Multi-Hyphen Violinist Jonathan Crow On Returning To The Stage

By Anya Wassenberg on May 24, 2022

Jonathan Crow (Photo: Sian Richards)
Jonathan Crow (Photo: Sian Richards)

Violinist Jonathan Crow is a man of many hats. He’s the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s (TSO) Concertmaster, and Artistic Director of the Toronto Summer Music Festival, about to relaunch in person for the first time since the pandemic put a damper on performing stages everywhere.

He’s also a sought after soloist, and dedicated lover of chamber music alongside his work with the TSO.

Jonathan Crow

A native of Prince George, BC, Crow earned a BMus in Honours Performance from McGill University, and hasn’t looked back since. He joined the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal as associate principal second violin on graduation, and became Concertmaster of the OSM (the youngest in a major North American orchestra at the time), from 2002 until 2006.

He was appointed Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2011.

  • He’s performed as a soloist with many Canadian orchestras, including Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Victoria Symphony, Kingston Symphony and Orchestra London, along with Pittsburgh Symphony, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Filarmonia de Lanaudiere, and Pernambuco Festival Orchestra (Brazil).
  • He’s a founding member of the New Orford String Quartet, which is dedicated to both standard and Canadian string quartet repertoire.
  • He joined the Schulich School of Music at McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Violin and was appointed Associate Professor of Violin in 2010.
  • He is currently Associate Professor of violin at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music.

Jonathan has been Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music (TSM) since 2016, a period which (omitting the lockdown period) has been one of growth for the organization. As TSM prepares to return to live stages July 7 to 30, we caught up with him for a few questions.

You are involved with both the TSO and Toronto Summer Music — as live music has returned to our stages, you are suddenly very busy! What’s it been like to adjust your schedule so often over the last few years with all the stops and starts?

It has certainly been a change of pace getting used to a last-minute way of working! I’m used to knowing my schedule a year in advance, and during the pandemic I’ve had to become comfortable with much more last-minute change — both cancellations and new opportunities. I must admit I’ll be pretty happy when I can get back to my old way of working, as I’m quite a creature of habit!

Do you have any positive takeaways from the pandemic period? Lessons learned — or unexpected opportunities?

I think as a musician, I’ve always been looking for ways to communicate with people. When you are onstage with an audience it’s pretty easy to know if you are truly connecting with them, but over the pandemic I had to get used to connections through technology and perhaps even through a time delay; it was hard to feel a true connection to listeners without feedback, and it felt very much like a one-way interaction. As I got more comfortable with technology though, I think I started to get better at finding ways to make zoom concerts less awkward, and to realize what had been gained, such as the ability to reach people anytime and anywhere in the world despite schedules and geographical locations, as well as the ability to reach people that couldn’t make it to concert halls, instead of just dwelling on what was lost…

Was there anything in particular that sustained you as an artist during the isolated periods of the pandemic?

Teaching! I was allowed to see my students at the UofT in person for most of the pandemic, and having those human and musical interactions each week kept me realizing why I do what I do!

What has it been like getting back in front of live audiences with the TSO — especially for the 100th anniversary celebration?

It has been incredible to get back on stage, and to see the reactions from our audiences at the TSO. It has been a long two years for all of us, and I’ve missed live performances every minute since March 2020; the process of getting audiences back feeling comfortable in public stages has been difficult, and will continue to be slow for quite a while I would imagine, so having a packed house for the 100th anniversary celebration was so rewarding for all of us onstage. Perhaps especially the chance to see Günther Herbig again — he has gone through a lot of difficult times in his life, especially during his years behind the Iron Curtain, so to see him conducting as well as ever at his age [90], and getting the chance to come back to Toronto and perform for a full hall was quite special.

What is your favourite role — chamber performer, concertmaster, artistic director? Or, are they all simply expressions of different aspects of your talents?

What’s the trite response — whichever one I’m doing right now?! I actually think that each of these roles helps me to be better at the other things that I do; working as a chamber musician certainly helps me to be a better orchestral performer, and to remember that it’s all just a really big string quartet even when there is a conductor onstage. I’ve learned a lot the last few years about performing by being the Artistic Director at Toronto Summer Music, where I put together multiple programs on a large scale. It’s still all about telling a story though, and just as putting together a month-long festival needs to tell a story in some way, so does performing just one piece on a program, or putting together a duo recital.

Bach: Concerto for Two Violins in D minor at the Toronto Summer Music Festival (July 31, 2021) Jonathan Crow performs with Elizabeth Haidaichuk.

Do you have any advice on juggling all those roles? Is there anything you do to stay focused and/or relax?

I’m pretty good at staying focused, but will freely admit that relaxing is more difficult for me — there’s just so much to do!! Balancing focus and relaxation is certainly something that I’ve been working on my entire career, and will continue to work on in the years to come. I’m not sure the perfect work/life balance actually exists, but it’s a worthy goal to strive for!

What concerts or other events/activities are you looking forward to the most in the coming months?

We have a great close to the season coming up at TSO with two of my favourite pieces to play: Mahler’s First Symphony with our new Music Director Gustavo Gimeno conducting, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 with Peter Oundjian — somewhat of a symbolic passing of the torch! It’s been great getting back to full-size big orchestra repertoire the last few weeks. And July 7–30 I’ll be over at Koerner and Walter Halls for Toronto Summer Music 2022, working with some of my favourite musicians from around the world and playing (and curating!) some really fun concerts!

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