TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​

The last regular concert of the TSMF proved to be a success this evening. The packed house appreciated all of the offerings.

Janacek's Sonata for Violin and Piano fit well with the theme of the festival; the composer hoped his country would be liberated by Russian troops and made that the program for at least part of the work. The piece is a study of contrasts in texture and sonorities, sometimes dissonant, sometimes pentatonic, sometimes melodic, sometimes percussive. Pianist Phil Chiu ably managed the military sound effects. Violinist Alexander Kerr was alternately lyrical and strident as the score demanded.


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​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 31st 2018

Co-facilitator Ben Finley

Attending several concerts of theToronto Summer Music Festival, I have observed that each concert takes on a character of its own much like the movements of a symphony. And like a great symphony, the concerts take the audience through emotional highs and lows. Within the overall theme of Reflections on Wartime Artistic Director Jonathan Crow has curated concerts that left one filled with joy, and others that were a necessary diversion from the penetrating theme. 


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The Elora Festival has for years featured Canada’s finest pianists and string quartets, and with them some very special musical moments. Last year, there was a Saturday double-header of concerts with pianist Angela Hewitt performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations followed by the Cecilia Quartet. Yesterday at St. John’s Church in Elora, the celebrated Canadian pianist André Laplante and the award-winning Rolston Quartet performed in back-to-back afternoon concerts. Could there be a better way to spend an afternoon? I don’t think so!


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Marc-André Hamelin; Photo credit: Scott Wishart

Chamber music with emotional war stories attached at the Toronto Summer Music Festival​

New Orford String Quartet; Photo credit: Catherine Willshire

Dynamic Duo: Angela Cheng and Alvin Chow at the Toronto Summer Music Festival​

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON July 14th 2018

It is a musical instrument on which keys operate levers at the end of which are padded hammers that strike strings that vibrate and resound in wood. Is it a percussion instrument or a stringed instrument? The answer, which seems to elude many, is that it is a percussion instrument that is meant to sound like a stringed instrument, or, even better, like a beautiful singing voice. It is with this perspective that my friend and I set out to hear the eightieth birthday recital of Robert Silverman.


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Rolston String Quartet; Photo credit: Bo Huang Photography

Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON July 8th 2018

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 26th 2018

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON August 3rd 2018

Artistic Director Jonathan Crow and Festival Academy Fellows
​Photo credit: Gord Fulton

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON July 9th 2018

There are string quartets aligned with symphony orchestras and others aligned with universities and music schools; however, the New Orford String Quartet is unique in that it is made up of principal chair players from three different orchestras in three different cities hundreds of miles apart. Last night at a sold-out Walter Hall, the quartet teamed up with pianist Pedja Muzijevic to present an inspired program of the music of Debussy, Beethoven and Elgar as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Jonathan Crow, concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony; Andrew Wan, concert master of the Montreal Symphony; Eric Nowlin principal violist of the Detroit Symphony and Brian Manker principal cellist of the Montreal Symphony make time to appear regularly together despite hectic symphonic schedules. 


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​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON July 25th 2018

Toronto Summer Music Festival: Joyous Lunchtime Music!

L'histoire du soldat; L’Histoire du Soldat Photo Credit:(From left) Suzanne Roberts Smith, Jennifer Nichols, Derek Boyes; Photo credit: James Ireland

Stewart Goodyear: a homage to Glenn Gould, with a twist of Chopin!

The young a cappella group The Gesualdo Six from Trinity College, Cambridge, gave a praiseworthy performance tonight at Music Niagara. This festival is in its twentieth season and the events are well worth taking in. The quality of the music is very high and there is a good variety of events. A visit to these performances at Niagara on the Lake can easily be combined with a matinée at the Shaw Festival.


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Pianist Robert Silverman

With the variety of music festivals dotting the Southern Ontario map, there is only one that has its roots in choral music. For the past 39 years, the Elora Festival has been bringing outstanding choral music to this picturesque village about 80 kilometres west of Toronto. Yesterday afternoon there was a double-header of choral music on the Festivals mainstage known affectionately as the Gambrel Barn. Two choirs, The Elora Singers and the Vancouver Chamber Choir performed back to back concerts. It might have been billed as a tale of two choirs. For all the similarities between the two, there were enough contrasts to make an engaging afternoon for choral music lovers.


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Move over Tanglewood: Westben launches composer-performer residency program​

Aaron Schwebel, David Hetherington and Steven Dann; Photo credit: James Ireland

Reflections of Wartime through the music of Yehudi Menuhin ​

My exploration of summer music festivals continued this evening with the excellent recital of pianist Marc-André Hamelin at the lively and well programmed festival in Stratford. When I told my teacher, Damjana Bratuz, whom I am going to see in three days, and for whom I will play for the first time in forty years, the recital I was attending, she said “A beautiful program,” and “Che artista!” Both remarks turned out to be true. It was a beautiful program, and what an artist!


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Happy Eightieth: Silverman at Westben​

This evening the Toronto Summer Music Festival continued its theme of music written in times of war with two contrasting ballets: Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, and Igor Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat. Chamber music of the first half of the twentieth century is not often performed, and to hear it performed so well by the soloists of the TSO is a rare opportunity.


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​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON July 20th 2018

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 19th 2018

Angela Cheng and Alvin Chow; Photo credit: Catherine Willshire

André Laplante; Photo credit: Peter Schaaf

Stratford Summer Music Festival: Thrills and Dreams with Marc-André Hamelin

Perhaps it was the set on the stage of the Thousand Islands Playhouse that gave last night’s concert a house-concert feel. The stage was decorated as a Canadian small-town waterfront resort complete with a moose’s head adorning a wall with hockey sticks, snow shoes and saws adding to the rustic effect. Glenn Gould would have felt right at home, as did last night’s artist Stewart Goodyear.


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Sonia Bize, harp and Katya Poplyansky, violin

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: A tour de force for Jonathan Crow and the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s Academy Fellows!

Wow! What a joyous escape into a world of great music! Heading to Heliconian Hall at noon today, I had no idea that there would be such a musical treat. It was an Academy Lunch Concert of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Over thirty aspiring chamber music artists on the cusp of exceptional careers are performing in concerts throughout the twenty-four-day festival already in progress. On today’s program were two chamber music groups: a violin and harp duo plus a piano quintet.


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Pianist Stewart Goodyear

Pianist André Laplante and the Rolston String Quartet offer an afternoon double-header of great music at the Elora Festival!

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC and David Richards

Toronto ON August 1st 2018

Brahms Sextet at TSMF: Six (or four and a saw) are better than Four

The summer music festival season is flying by and last night’s concert at the Church of the Redeemer was a reminder. If in a span of forty-minutes we could be whisked through an entire year in Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons, how quickly will the last few weeks of summer music festivals soar by? Jonathan Crow, Artistic Director of the Toronto Summer Music Festival led a chamber orchestra made up of the Festival’s Academy Fellows in a spirited and dramatic performance of the masterpiece.


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​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 7th 2018

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 13th 2018

The Gesualdo Six; Photo credit: Ash Mills

Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and pianist Robert Kortgaard

Photo credits: www.bayrakdarian.com and Ian Varty

For any music lover wanting to escape from the heat and bustle of everyday life in the city, there are music festivals happening all over southern Ontario this summer in idyllic surroundings. The Westben Festival was the first of several that we will be visiting over the next several weeks. Located on a family farm minutes from the Trent Canal and the town of Campbellford just 30 minutes north of the 401 at Picton, it provides a pastoral setting in which to enjoy an eclectic assortment of great music.


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Summer music has arrived. Westben provides the idyllic backdrop; Wallis Giunta, Alexander Dobson and Brian Finley provide the music.​

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 19th 2018

Let there be no doubts that a day in Elora at the festival is worth the trip. Wonderful music, beautiful scenery, and a charming town are all yours for a short, picturesque drive in the country. What more does one want? I will withhold judgement until the end of the summer music season, but the Elora Festival may well be rural Ontario at its very best, and that is saying something!


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Alexander Kerr, Aaron Schwebel, Ani Aznavoorian, David Hetherington, Eric Nowlin and Steven Dann; Photo credit: James Ireland

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC and David Richards

Toronto ON July 28th 2018

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 29th 2018

Angela Cheng and Alvin Chow performed a thrilling concert tonight. Cheng played solo in the first half, and after intermission they played four-hand and two-piano repertoire.


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​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON August 14th 2018

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON July 26th 2018

Gambrel Barn at The Elora Festival, Elora ON

Elora Festival: A tale of two choirs​

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON August 2nd 2018

Revelations, Shakers, and a devil: TSO soloists play Copland, Stravinsky, and Messiaen at the Toronto Summer Music Festival

The Gesualdo Six at Music Niagara: Liturgy, Love, and Lots More

Opening Night with the Escher Quartet: Photo credit: James Ireland

If you have read Dave Richards’s review this week you understand what a special venue the Westben festival is. It was my great privilege to travel there today, and I interviewed Ben Finley, an educated, intelligent, ambitious young musician who, with co-facilitator Sarah Belle Reid, is starting a composer-performer residency program.


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Yehudi Menuhin knew war from all sides. The foremost violinist of the twentieth century was exempt from military service yet volunteered his talent from the outset of WWII. With his countless concerts for allied troops from the Pacific to North America, Britain and Belgium as well as in displacement camps in Germany at the end of the war, he saw it all and performed for anyone who needed an hour of escape from the mayhem. So it was last night that Toronto Summer Music Festival’s Artistic Director Jonathan Crow used Menuhin’s story and his music to give the sold-out audience at Walter Hall a chance to glance back at WWII. 


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With so many out-of-town music festivals currently under way across Southern Ontario, it’s reassuring that one doesn’t have to leave town for a July musical respite. the Toronto Summer Music Festival opened last night with a concert by the Escher Quartet at Koerner Hall. For the next three weeks, one will be able to find instrumental and vocal music including art song, chamber music, big band, gospel music and the National Youth Orchestra. Artistic Director Jonathan Crow has put together an eclectic array of pre-eminent artists from around the world and across Canada. The festival’s theme, Reflections of Wartime celebrates the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War with music that emerged from some of the darkest times of the past century. Ticketed events, pay-what -you-can, and free concerts will take place at mid-town venues such as UoT’s Walter Hall, Heliconian Hall, Church of the Redeemer and Koerner Hall


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The Meadow at Westben, Campbellford ON

Toronto Summer Music Festival: A musical oasis from the city’s summer noise!​

Passion and Tears: Isabel Bayrakdarian sings Spanish songs and the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal sings the Lamentations of Jeremiah at the Elora Festival

Inspired performances by the New Orford String Quartet and pianist Pedja Muzijevic at Toronto Summer Music Festival!