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Toronto Summer Music 2024: A Critic’s Preview

L-R: Dame Sarah Connolly (photo courtesy of the artist); violinist Kerson Leong (photo courtesy of the artist); pianist Vadym Kholodenko (photo courtesy of the artist)
L-R: Dame Sarah Connolly (photo courtesy of the artist); violinist Kerson Leong (photo courtesy of the artist); pianist Vadym Kholodenko (photo courtesy of the artist)

Calling all TO people: Summer is here! What are you looking forward to?

Blue Jays fans would probably choose to watch the Boys of Summer at the Rogers Centre. For fans of backyard barbecues, nothing beats an outdoor dinner without having to put on a sweater. Couch potatoes lucky enough to have a summer home? You'll have a lovely time at the cabin.

For Toronto music fans with a taste for classical music, that used to mean leaving the city and visiting venues like Elora, Parry Sound or Westben, or even venturing across the United States to Ravinia, Tanglewood and beyond.

Thanks to Toronto Summer Music, there is now great music right in the city. The foundation's history dates back to the summers of 2004 and 2005, when the Silver Creek Music Foundation offered chamber music workshops and mini-series of public concerts featuring artists such as the Gryphon Trio, Scott St. John and Shauna Rolston, to name a few.

Toronto Summer Music

In 2006, under the leadership of founding director Agnes Grossmann, TSM evolved into a four-week festival of chamber music and solo recitals, supplemented by pre-concert lectures, and established an academy of master classes and workshops in chamber music and song, funded by many sources, including private individuals, foundations, government agencies, and corporate sponsors.

In September 2010, Douglas McNabney succeeded Maestra Grossman as Artistic Director. During his tenure at TSM (2010–2016), McNabney strengthened the Academy branch of the TSMF, turning it into a full-fledged fellowship program for a select group of the finest emerging chamber musicians, singers, and piano accompanists.

The Academy is distinguished by its focus on performances with international musicians at the highest level. Past mentors of the Academy include Martin Beaver, Johannes Moser, Gerald Finley, Soile Isokoski, Angela Cheng, Martin Katz, Julius Drake and many more.

Past festivals have been thematic, focusing on a different place or period in music history. Over the course of four weeks, high-profile international guest artists performed at Koerner Hall, Walter Hall and other Toronto venues, with over 50 public events. The theme of the 2024 festival is “Voices Within.”

TSM 2024: Voices from within

About this year’s festival, TSM Artistic Director Jonathan Crow has this to say: “There is a voice inside each of us, full of imagination and creativity. At the 2024 Festival, we will welcome artists from around the world to share their artistry with us, allowing us to experience the world as they see it through their musical voices and instruments. From the strong voices of the masters that resonate with wisdom and experience, to the bright voices of emerging artists that ring with hope and innovation, we will celebrate the diversity of voices in our community.”

Browsing the TSM website, I am impressed by the abundance of first-class offerings this year. Baroque fans will be delighted with this year's program. If you haven't already, hurry up and get your ticket for the premiere of Purcell's opera Fairy Queen on July 11. I'm sure it will sell out. It includes the magnificent The Florissants Arts probably the leading baroque ensemble in the world, under the outstanding direction of William Christie.

The concert of the British mezzo-soprano is also eagerly awaited Dame Sarah Connollyin a program of songs by Barber, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg and Weill (July 16). Connolly is one of those rare birds in classical music who is also a fabulous jazz singer! She will also mentor in the Art of the Song program and give a free master class at the University of Toronto's Walter Hall (July 12).

For fans of chamber music, TSM is a real goldmine. I am particularly looking forward to a lot of it, including the chamber version of Verklärte Nacht with Jonathan Crow, Andreas Wan and others (July 12). The other is the New Orford Quartet plays Schubert’s 14th String Quartet, also known as “Death and the Maiden” (July 15).

Ukrainian pianist and 2013 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Vadym Kholodenko plays Handel, Beethoven and Prokofiev on July 18th at Koerner Hall. I absolutely loved the Klezmer evening that Kletztory hosted at TSM two years ago. This spirited, hand-clapping, foot-stomping Eastern European Jewish/Gypsy music genre is absolutely infectious. At Walter Hall, the Klezmer spirit is brought to life by Lard and pepper on July 23rd.

Innu Soprano Elisabeth St.-Gelais was the winner of the COC Centre Stage 2023. She will give a recital with songs by Strauss, Duparc, Verdi, Chaminade, Bizet, Saint-Saens and the Canadian Ian Cusson (July 30). Canadian violinist Kerson LeongWinner of the 2010 Menuhin Competition, is soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the TSM Festival Orchestra conducted by Simon Rivard (1 August). TSM 2024 concludes with a closing concert on 3 August with Academy Fellows and mentors.

The above is just a very personal list of my choices, but there are many more (see Here). See you there!

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