TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

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

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 4th 2019

Philip Chiu, piano 

A triple-header of virtuosity at Toronto Summer Music Festival​

A terrific weekend at Toronto Summer Music Festival!

Saturday Afternoon at the Opera at Westben: Joyce El-Khoury, Jason Howard, and Brian Finley light up The Barn!​

Finally, it’s “summertime…and the living is easy.” After a long, cold winter and a very wet spring, the heat of the summer has arrived and with it the summer festivals and summer theatres that occur annually throughout Ontario. What better time could there be to take in a performance of Anne of Green Gables, the musical with lyrics by Don Harron and music by Norman Campbell about PEI’s most famous endearing and enduring fictional figure.


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Isabel Bayrakdarian is a formidable, expressive soprano. Her voice is full, vibrant, resonant, she has a wide range of tonal colours, and her diction is flawless.  On Friday afternoon at the Avondale United Church in Stratford, all of those abilities and talents were employed in the service of a program of mostly Romany (‘gypsy’) inspired music.  Bayrakdarian performed alongside Robert Kortgaard (piano) and Mark Fewer (violinist and the artistic director of the festival).


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It has been quite a weekend at Toronto Summer Music Festival with five concerts in three days. Following the fabulous opening concert (see review below), the New Orford String Quartet (NOSQ) took over the main stage on Friday evening to celebrate its 10th anniversary. In a dazzling concert to a sold-out audience at Walter Hall, the quartet displayed its artistry with works by Haydn, Beethoven and a newly commissioned work by Christos Hatzis. The quartet’s work wasn’t finished by any means, however. Each member served as a mentor and leader of four chamber music ensembles, performing in three concerts yesterday where they joined with the ‘Art of Song’ Fellows for a fabulous day of great music.


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​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 21st 2019

Although there are still two days and two concerts remaining in the Toronto Summer Music schedule, last night was a sort of culmination of three wonderful weeks of chamber music and art songs. The three weeks have ended for us at Toronto Concert Reviews much as they began, with a magnificent program that stretched the borders of chamber music by adopting arrangements of orchestral works to much smaller forces. In the opening concert, Adrianne Pieczonka sang an arrangement by George Crumb of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs with piano and string quartet. Last night, it was Gustav Mahler’s symphonic masterpiece for two singers and large orchestra arranged for a pared down minimalist chamber orchestra by Arnold Schoenberg and Rainer Riehn. 


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Rolston String Quartet: Luri Lee, violin; Emily Kruspe, violin; Hezekiah, viola;
​and Jonathan Lo, cello 

​​by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
T
oronto ON July 28th 2019

Airat Ichmouratov, clarinet; Mark Peetsma, double bass; Elvira Misbakhova, violin, Dany Nicolas, guitar and Mélanie Bergeron, accordian of Kleztory 

It was another engaging afternoon and evening at Toronto Summer Music. Driving into town before rush hour certainly makes sense. We missed the worst of Toronto traffic and had the bonus attending two concerts. The first, a free one-hour ‘Shuffle Concert’ at Heliconian Hall with pianist Philip Chiu. Later we attended a powerful performance by the three-woman vocal ensemble Collectìf.​


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Dvořák connections: chamber music and popular songs – Who would have guessed?​

Natalie Ruth Kupferberg, in her book The Mendelssohns, describes the life of the Jew in the historic ghettos of Europe. "Every ghetto dweller was constantly aware of his state of isolation, insecurity, and humiliation - compelled to doff his hat whenever a non-Jew demanded it, subject to  outbreaks of brutal violence, barred by law from nearly all the trades and professions, and, save in exceptional cases, forced to dwell in the most wretched and unwholesome parts of town." Such were the  conditions that spawned  Klezmer music.


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Mozart and Mahler: music of the highest order performed magnificently!

The second week of Toronto Summer Music concluded yesterday with three “reGENERATION” concerts at UofT’s Walter Hall in which both the Art of Song and Chamber Music sides of the Summer Music Academy were on full display.


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The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened in spectacular fashion with last night’s concert at Koerner Hall. The Festival’s theme of “Beyond Borders” was evident in the outstanding performances by some of Canada’s finest artists. Host Tom Allen in his opening remarks said that although borders seem to be at the centre of international tensions in today’s world, nevertheless there are no borders in music. Western music has been influenced by cultures from every part of the world and last night gave us plenty of examples. The tradition of musical geniuses travelling the world to pursue their ambitions goes back hundreds of years.


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Toronto Summer Music Day Twelve: Pianist Philip Chiu and Collectìf!

Griffey and Jones perform songs of Love, Loss, and Grief at the Toronto Summer Music Festival​

Voices of Light; Photo credit: www.elorafestival.com

Toronto Summer Music Festival opens in spectacular fashion!

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 24th 2019

The Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra: Voices of Light  and The Passion of Joan of Arc

TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow augments music in Toronto in many ways; one is as artistic director of the valuable Toronto Summer Music Festival. The offerings are mostly chamber music, with artists and repertoire seldom, if at all, heard at other times. Tuesday evening’s performance was a recital of songs from the twentieth century, performed by Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor) and Warren Jones (piano).

Griffey has a beautiful voice with a broad tonal palette, and he paid close attention to diction and expression. His is a large instrument; Jones played with the lid fully open (on the large stick), but he seldom overbalanced the singer.


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​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 28th 2019

Charles Richard-Hamelin
​Photo credit: James Ireland

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 12th 2019

Alessia Disimino, violin; Jialiang Zhu, piano; Andrew Ascenzo, cello; and Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola in performance of Brahms;
Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60

As Brian Finley remarked, opera is an intimate experience in the intimate venue of The Barn. Indeed, I have found that musically exciting things have been happening in barns lately. Fresh from my experience of the Gambrel Barn in Elora, on Saturday I attended a performance in Campbellford at the 20th anniversary of Westben’s summer music festival of “Concerts at The Barn,” in the acoustically designed, pristine, musically dedicated barn.


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Another week at Toronto Summer Music  ends with a day filled with fine music!​​

The Toronto Summer Music Festival’s triple-header yesterday was more than the  three members of the Bedford Trio in an Academy Concert and three members of the Dover Quartet in the evening program; it was the triple billing of two stunning performances plus  an equally impressive open rehearsal. Charles Richard-Hamelin was the headliner with a sold-out performance at U of T’s Walter Hall last night. Nevertheless, the humble superstar shared the day with two ensembles. A noon-hour concert at Heliconian Hall by the Bedford Trio and an open rehearsal of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 took place before the main event, a wonderful concert that featured Joel LinkMilena Pajaro-van de Stadt and Camden Shaw of the famed Dover Quartet along with Richard-Hamelin.


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​​by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
T
oronto ON July 27th 2019

​​by Jeff Mitchell
T
oronto ON July 30th 2019

Gypsy-inspired Afternoon at Stratford Summer Music with Bayrakdarian, Kortgaard, and Fewer

Song of the Earth orchestra with tenor Mario Bahg, mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb
​and conductor Gemma New

Isabel Bayrakdrian; ​Photo credit: Scott Wishart 

​​by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
T
oronto ON July 18th 2019

Jonathan Crow; Photo credit: www.torontosummermusic.com

Last night, Toronto Summer Music moved down the road to a venue in Parkdale more associated with Salsa dancing and Flemenco shows than the Rolston String Quartet. Lula Lounge is a former movie theatre that has been re-purposed into a hall suitable for dinner theatre, dinner-dances… or even string quartets. For the Lula Lounge serving dinner and drinks is the key to its success. The hall is rented to organizations that can bring in an audience. There is seating for about 200, mostly around tables in a surrounding that is a cross between early Spanish and Art Deco, ideal for the many Cuban-themed performances that are regular attractions. 


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The Barn at Westben

Anne of Green Gables at the Thousand Islands Playhouse: the perfect complement to summer

Kleztory brings the traditional music of the ghetto to Toronto Summer Music

The Elora Festival is celebrating its 40th year, an anniversary well worth marking. Every July a working barn is turned into a concert venue. Friday night it hosted the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc based on her trial, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, accompanied by the modern score of Richard Einhorn (Voices of Light), performed by the Elora Singers and the Elora Festival Orchestra.  The film itself has been greatly admired for its cinematography and its closeups of the characters, especially of Renée Falconetti, who played the title character. 


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Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, pianist Steven Wilcox and New Orford String Quartet photo credit: Sean Howard

Warren Jones (piano) and Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor)
​Photo credit: James Ireland

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 20th 2019

Yesterday at Toronto Summer Music, three stellar reGENERATION concerts connected the borders of chamber music by introducing singer-songwriters and by making Dvořák central to three concert programs. 


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​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 25th 2019

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON August 1st 2019

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 23rd 2019

Brian Manker, Eric Nowlin, Andrew Wan, Jonathan Crow
​Photo credit:Sian Richards

​​by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
T
oronto ON August 11th 2019

On Monday evening, in the intimacy of U of T’s Walter Hall, TSO Concertmaster Jonathan Crow and pianist Philip Chiu performed an exciting and eclectic violin recital entitled Europe and the New World. This concert was part of the Toronto Summer Music concert series “Beyond Borders”, for which Jonathan is Artistic Director, and he certainly did his part to uphold the high standard of artistry and programming that he demands of all the artists whom he recruits for this festival. As a testament to both the popularity and skill of the artists, this concert was sold out – good news for Walter Hall venue sponsor Sheffield Moving and Storage and the festival that they generously support.  Acknowledgement also goes to Christine Choi & Bryan Price and the Heeyun & Robert Brandon Memorial Fund for supporting Jonathan’s performance.  Philip was generously supported by Colleen Sexsmith. 


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Rolston String Quartet takes on the Lula Lounge

Toronto Summer Music – Europe and the New World​

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON July 14th 2019

Larry Mannell (Matthew Cuthbert) and Emily Robertson (Anne Shirley) in Thousand Islands Playhouse production of Anne of Green Gables;
Photo credit: Randy deKleine-Stimpson