After two years of virtual silence since COVID-19 first walloped the world in March 2020, Ontario music festivals are roaring back to life with in-person concerts this summer. So pack away your devices and pivot no more. There’s nothing like the real thing, and a full line-up of musicians are ready to play.
Brott Music Festival
June 30 – August 18
Founded in 1987 as a labour of love by its iconic namesake, Boris Brott, the Festival continues his legacy as the largest orchestral music festival in Canada, with eclectic programs ranging from classical, opera, jazz, Broadway chamber, rock, pops to educational concerts.
What’s Hot: After launching the Festival with The Unconquerable Soul: A Festival in Memory of Maestro Boris Brott including a special, deeply moving performance of Beethoven’s Ninth (June 30), next on tap is Viva L’Italia PopOpera, highlighting favourite Italian arias (July 7).
What’s Cool: Okay, while not exactly a classical concert, it’s near impossible to resist anything Sinatra. Vocalist Peter Cannella performs The Way you Look Tonight: Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits, with the orchestra swinging hard under the baton of Jaelem Bhate (August 3).
Why You Need to Be There: The untimely death of larger-than-life Canadian maestro Boris Brott in an automobile accident this spring rocked — and shocked — the entire global arts community. Now under the interim directorship of Alain Trudel, Brott’s legacy lives on this summer as a testament to the maestro’s indomitable spirit.
Trent Hills, ON
July 1- 31
Get back to nature as Westben presents its annual open-air summer festival ranging from Bach to Broadway, opera and symphony to jazz, folk, Indigenous, rock and comedy with over 70 plus artists appearing in over 25 concerts between July 1 – 3 1.
Founded in 1989 by soprano Donna Bennett and pianist/composer Brian Finley, the festival nestled among the rolling hills of Northumberland County near Campbellford, ON now boasts three concert venues: The Barn: its original, custom-built, timber-frame barn with state-of-the art acoustics seating 400. New this year is Willow Hill, a natural grassy amphitheatre for 500, as well as a brand new Campfire venue for 50.
What’s Hot: Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster (July 23) has got my vote, however another can’t-miss concert is hearing the sumptuous artistry of Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin in opera arias from Mozart, Handel and others, joined by Finley (July 24).
What’s Cool: The Queer Songbook Orchestra (QSO), a Toronto-based 13-piece chamber pop ensemble elevates the 2SLGBTQ+ experience with story and song (July 10), including works by KD Lang, David Bowie, Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Ani Difranco, Beverly Glenn-Copeland and others.
Why You Need to Be There: With its newest venues — and my eye’s on that campfire series — Westben promises an all-sensory experience of enjoying music in the Great Outdoors.
Toronto Summer Music
July 7 – 30
Toronto Summer Music (TSM) first established in the summers of 2004 and 2005 offers over three weeks of intimate chamber concerts and solo recitals throughout July. Helmed by Canadian violinist Jonathan Crow since 2016, the festival has partnered in the past with such notable arts organizations as the TSO, Canadian Opera Company, and the Banff Centre, as well as runs a summer-long Academy nurturing the artists of tomorrow in chamber music and art song.
What’s Hot: Hear brilliant Georgian-born pianist and 2018 Honens International Piano Competition Prize Laureate, Nicolas Namoradze as he marks his TSM debut performing Bach and Rachmaninoff, as well as four of his own daring compositions (July 8h).
What’s Cool: Quebec’s so-cool-it-hurts klezmer band, Kleztory heats up the night with traditional Jewish and world music straight from a village shtetl (July 18). Or try an evening of contemporary dance with Echo Chamber Toronto (July 21).
Why You Need to Be There: Simply put, it’s literally been years since pandemic-weary audiences could hear a full slate of world-class artists up-close-and-personal. This year’s fest titled Inspirations promises to do just that.
The Elora Festival
July 8 – 24
For 43 years — and counting — the Elora Festival as Canada’s international choral festival has presented renowned choirs and vocal ensembles in “Ontario’s most beautiful village,” and artist haven, Elora. For a full three weeks each July, the vocal ensemble led by artistic director Mark Vuorinen performs its own solo concerts and with guest artists and ensembles, including: the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Chanticleer, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Trinity College Choir, and the State Choir LATVIJA, as well as vocal groups: Voces 8, Cantus, The Gesualdo Six, among others.
What’s Hot: It’s a toss up between J. S. Bach’s monumental B Minor Mass (Opening night, July 8) or Schubert’s searing song cycle Wintereisse with baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Erika Switzer (July 9, 4 p.m.).
What’s Cool: Four-time JUNO nominee and all-around Renaissance woman, Canadian chanteuse Sarah Slean joined by The Elora Singers presents An Evening with Sarah Slean (July 9) featuring repertoire from her 11 albums released in over 10 countries worldwide.
Why You Need to Be There: It’s no secret that singers around the globe from kids’ choirs to opera divas have been pummeled during the pandemic due to potentially lethal aerosols created during the art of vocal production. Many have wondered when — or if — we would ever hear live vocal music again. This Festival sends that sentiment packing as it celebrates the power of the deeply missed human voice.
Collingwood Music Festival
July 9 – 15
The Collingwood Music Festival presents award-winning artists in classical, world, jazz and Indigenous music for one week only in Collingwood, Ontario each summer, as well as offers a free program for youths at the Duntroom Highlands Gold Club.
What’s Hot: The always enthralling, JUNO-award winning Penderecki String Quartet treats listeners to a cutting edge program including a world premiere by Canadian composer Daniel Mehdizadeh (July 12).
What’s Cool: The National Academy Orchestra of Canada returns to the CMF stage with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue featuring CMF artistic director Daniel Vnukowski at the piano, with the opening concert honouring the memory and legacy of the professional training orchestra’s founder, Boris Brott who died tragically earlier this spring. (July 9).
Why You Need to Be There: If your summer plans are tight this year, there are still loads of music to discover in this compact one-week festival, from world music to swing choirs, so you’re guaranteed to find something new and different.
Festival of the Sound
Parry Sound, Ontario
July 17 – 31
Tucked away on the shores of Georgian Bay in Northern Ontario, the now 43-year old FOTS led by its longtime — and notably only second — artistic director, acclaimed Canadian clarinettist James Campbell performs its first live concerts for in-person audiences in the acoustically superior Charles W. Stockey Centre since July 2019.
New this year is PianoFest, a series of 10 curated programs highlighting world-class pianists peppered throughout the two-week event, that also includes chamber concerts, recitals, music cruises on the lake, opera and vocal programs, as well as free Tuesday night concerts and pop-up community events.
What’s Hot: The Elmer Iseler Singers raise their voices in song and welcomes live audiences again during Festival opener, Home Again (July 17), while Campbell joined by the Rolston Quartet performs Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, in B minor, as FOTS’s first matinee of the season (July 19).
What’s Cool: Canada’s beloved “First Lady of Chopin,” pianist Janina Fialkowska treats audiences to an intimate solo of the Polish-born composer’s works (July 19). Or, be a fly on the wall when she imparts her wisdom passed from her own mentor, the legendary Arthur Rubinstein during a free master class with 2021 Chopin Competition First Place Winner, Bruce Liu featuring Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 in F minor (July 20).
Why You Need to Be There: Never mind that FOTS has been named one of Ontario’s Top 100 Festivals and Events each year since 2016. There’s nothing quite like hitting the road and listening to music surrounded by a breathtaking backdrop of nature — even the intermissions at the Stockey Centre are timed perfectly to coincide with glorious nightly sunsets on the lake.
June 17 — August 20
Founded in 1998 by artistic director, Atis Bankas, this summer festival located in one of the country’s most picturesque towns on the shores of Lake Ontario features both Canadian and internationally renowned musicians in a variety of genres including: chamber music, choral, orchestral, contemporary, country, folk and jazz.
What’s Hot: What do you get when you combine two musicians equally known for their fiery personalities? Heat! a duo recital performed by charismatic Canadian trumpeter Guy Few with mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah (July 9), host of CBC Music’s Tempo and the executive producer and star of Carmen on Tap.
What’s Cool: Moving Pictures with Victor Paukstelis offers a fascinating, multi-sensory program in which the artist’s own paintings are paired with his live performance (August 14).
Why You Need to Be There: As one of the first summer festivals out of the gate, Music Niagara’s diverse programming ensures you’ll discover new artists and music — or just enjoy chamber chestnuts such as Schubert’s quintessential summer delight: the Trout quintet.
July 21 – August 4
Ottawa Chamberfest offers a multitude of different series as well as sunrise concerts and midday matinees with something for every taste. Artistic director Carissa Klopoushak, who assumed the reins from visionary predecessor Roman Borys in 2021, shows her programming flair with various concerts and recitals showcasing instrumentalists and vocalists, contemporary and Indigenous music as well as offering a live stream option for selected shows.
What’s Hot: The thrice JUNO-award winning Gryphon Trio comprised of Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin, Borys, cello, and Jamie Parker, piano treats listeners to an eclectic program steeped in Mahler as well as contemporary works as the second offering in the Signature Series. Joining them is a cappella vocal group Nordic Voices and mezzo-soprano Marion Newman (July 29).
What’s Cool: Grammy-winning artist Johnny Gandelsman performs Bach’s Cello Suites on violin as part of the Sunrise Concerts series held in Beechwood (July 23, 9 a.m.), as well as later performs his solo project This is America, celebrating the rich cultural tapestry in America (July 22).
Why You Need to Be There: Despite the ravages of a global pandemic, Ottawa Chamberfest has risen like a phoenix as one of Canada’s most prominent summer festivals, with nimble, hybrid programming able to shapeshift to changing times; named Ottawa Tourism’s Event of the Year in 2019.
Stratford Summer Music
July 21 – August 14
All roads lead to music in Stratford, Ontario. Its annual Stratford Summer Music festival led by Canadian violinist Mark Fewer presents three jam-packed summer weekends of chamber concerts and solo recitals showcasing over 100 local, national, and internationally acclaimed artists in both indoor and outdoor venues.
What’s Hot: Go big or go home. After two pandemic years of mostly solo artists — if lucky to have that — Classical Superstars showcases nine A-list Canadian musicians, including dynamo pianist Stewart Goodyear in his sophomore SSM appearance. The program features a pair of larger-scale works: Enesco’s String Octet, as well as perennial crowd-pleaser, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (August 13).
What’s Cool: Canada’s “Sweetheart of Swing,” Alex Pangman finally marks her Festival debut after three years of scheduling attempts, joined by multi-instrumentalist Drew Jurecka and Samways’ member, Nathan Hitz. (July 30). Or, check out another SSM debut by Thalea Quartet, with the high-octane evening also featuring deep funk group The Shuffle Demons (August 6).
Why You Need to Be There: See what all the buzz is about after British arts journal Gramophone hailed the now 21-year old Festival founded by John Miller in 2001 as one of the top festivals in North America in 2011, and notably the only Canadian festival to make the cut as one of its top 12 summer music sites.
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