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

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC
Toronto ON November 16th 2018

Enchantments of Love and Two Sister Cities: Toronto’s Opera Atelier Performs in the Harris Theater

Photo credit: Toronto Consort

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem: A monumental commemoration of the WWI Armistice, November 11, 1918 

Marc-André Hamelin
 Photo Credit: Sim Cannety-Clarke

Koerner Hall’s 10th Anniversary Season, sponsored by BMO Financial and the Toronto Star, continued on Saturday, November 10th with the first concert in the TD Jazz series, featuring Still Dreaming, a quartet made up of Joshua Redman, tenor sax, Ron Miles, cornet, Scott Colley, bass and Brian Blade, drums. As Redman put it, this group is a sort of “tribute tribute band”, as it honours a band called Old and New Dreams that consisted of his father, Dewey Redman, renowned bassist Charlie Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell, all of whom had been close friends and collaborators with the legendary Ornette Coleman and who had come together in the '70s to honour his acoustic musical legacy of free form or avant-garde jazz.  As host Mervon Mehta stated, this was not going to be a night of straight ahead, big band style jazz, and both he and Redmond said that “it was a testament to the great jazz fans in Toronto” that Koerner Hall was packed for this concert. The articulate Redman joked that perhaps some people “hadn’t got the memo” about what to expect, but I saw only two people leave the hour-and-a-half-long concert mid-way through.  The concert was dedicated to the memory of trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who had passed away recently at the age of 49 – ironically, the same age as Redman himself, and someone whom all the members of Still Dreaming had played with often.


Interim Artistic Director Sir Andrew Davis, Toronto Symphony Orchestra,
​Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

There aren’t many operatic composers who, while premièring a major new opera, are also preparing for a major concert tour with their band. But then, there aren’t any composers like Rufus Wainwright, the Canadian-American singer-songwriter who happens to have composed his latest opera for the Canadian Opera Company, its first newly commissioned work of this century. Hadrian is not his only opera. His first, Prima Donna, gave him the impetus for taking on this latest venture, a production wildly anticipated across the operatic world. Last night’s performance was the second of seven this month.


​​Review by  Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
Toronto ON  December 2nd 2018

​​Review by  Paul Merkley F.R.S.C. and David Richards
Toronto ON October 6th 2018

Book Review: THE STRATFORD LECTURES Ten Perspectives about Music by ROBERT HARRIS - a must-read for thoughtful music-lovers!

War Requiem with Bramwell Tovey, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Toronto Children’s Chorus and soloists; Photo Credit: Jag Gundu

The second week of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's new season began last night at Roy Thomson Hall. The much-heralded guest-conductor Kirill Karabits in his first appearance with the TSO and the return of the sensational Scottish violinist, Nicola Benedetti combined to create music of a very high order. 


Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Photo credit: Sian Richards

Opera Atelier goes on Tour: Chicago and Versailles

The Artist Known as Chilly Gonzales

COC’s Eugene Onegin; an unabashed triumph!

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC
Toronto ON November 23rd 2018

​​Review by  David Richards
Toronto ON October 5th 2018

Opera Atelier’s company of Actéon; Photo credit: Bruce Zinger

Last night, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra continued its 40th anniversary season, presenting its second of six performances of a program they called, Vivaldi con Amore. A selection of seven of Antonio Vivaldi’s five hundred concertos and the Sinfonia from one his fifty or so operas gave a thorough retrospective of his instrumental music. Vivaldi was indeed an eighteenth century ‘rock-star’ composer/violinist/opera-impresario. There were few empty seats in the Jeanne Lamon Hall in the Trinity-St. Paul's Centre for a concert that delivered unbridled joy, vivacity and ‘amore’.


Joshua Redman; Photo Credit: Jay Bakesberg

With many fresh new faces in the orchestra, the evening began with Godfrey Ridout’s arrangement of O Canada, the orchestra joined by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I think I have never heard the national anthem sound better. The violins and violas played standing.


It is easy for a Torontonian to love Chicago. It is easy for someone from either sister, Great Lakes city to love the supreme effort and result of Opera Atelier in producing Charpentier’s Actéon and Rameau’s Pygmalion tonight in Chicago’s versatile, welcoming Harris Theater


Koerner Hall’s 10th Anniversary season, sponsored by BMO Financial and the Toronto Star, continued on Saturday, October 20th with Grammy-award winning Canadian ex-pat pianist and RCM alumnus Chilly Gonzales, popularly known as “Gonzo”, who performed his second sold out show in the past three days. Gonzales, who now lives in Germany, apparently holds the Guinness world record for the longest solo concert at over 27 hours.  Although this concert was just over an hour and a half, Gonzales and his adoring audience made the most of their time together.


The magical evening began with The Smile of Maude Lewis, a work the CBC commissioned from Nikolai Korndorf in 2000; it is a childlike piece inspired by the east-coast Canadian paintings of M.K.Lewis. The music was in an additive minimal style, with a texture that built up gradually against repeated patterns in the upper strings, patterns played so quickly and softly that the notes were almost not distinguishable; instead, listeners experienced timbre and texture.


​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON September 29th 2018

The Toronto Consort is an expert early music group that performs very well together; tonight was no exception.

The early seventeenth century was the time in which music developed the harmonic bass and chordal accompaniment that freed the melodic lines to become more elaborate in contour and expression. It was the period of idiomatic writing for instruments, and of broken consorts, (i.e. ensembles of contrasting instruments) unlike the homogenous groups of the Renaissance.


​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 24th 2018

Still Dreaming, with Joshua Redman 

The female artists of Atelier Ballet and OA dancer Tyler Gledhill
​as our “Canadian Icon in Red”; Photo credit: Bruce Zinger

Conductor Yanick Nézet-Séguin, and Orchestre métropolitain
​Photo credit: www.orchestremé

Pianist Marc-André Hamelin brings passion to familiar and obscure repertoire!

It’s not the first time that Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra has delivered an all-Mozart program, but perhaps the first time this fine period orchestra has opened a new season and celebrated a major milestone such as its 40th Anniversary with anything other than Baroque offerings. I caught the second of four performances of the mesmerizing program last night at Koerner Hall


What do the following artists have in common: Martha Argerich, Yundi Li, Krystian Zimmerman, Maurizio Pollini, and Seong-Jin Cho? If you guessed that each of them was propelled to international piano stardom by winning the Chopin International Piano Competition, you would be correct. They are just a few of the sixteen winners of the competition since its inception in 1927. Since 1955, it has been held every five years and as such is one of the most prestigious piano competitions in the world along side the Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky and Paderewski. Seong-Jin Cho was the most recent winner in 2015. 


​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 18th 2018

Going for Baroque: Toronto Consort fine tunes Frescobaldi

Amid the ominous  chimes cutting through the languid sounds of lower strings and percussion, came the words of the Latin mass for the dead, “Requiem aeterna”. The unmistakable musical reference to the death and destruction was palpable. As the intensity of the orchestra and voices increased to a climactic cry of pain, an angelic choir of children sang out a prayerful warning “Te decet hymnus…”


​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC
Toronto ON October 20th 2018

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 26th 2018

I never fail to be impressed by the young musicians of the Glenn Gould School. For that reason, the four concerts of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra are the first dates I put on my calendar at the beginning of each concert season. They bring not only their youthful enthusiasm and dedication to their challenging programs, but a consistently high level of musicianship and preparation. 


Marc-André Hamelin is in a select group of Canadian virtuoso pianists who grew up following in the footsteps of Glenn Gould: a generation of pianists that includes Jon Kimura Parker, Janina Fialkowska, André Laplante, Louis Lortie, and Angela Hewitt, each of whom has made a mark on the world stage. Hamelin distinguishes himself in this group as one who has made a point of exploring lesser-known piano repertoire in addition to his stellar interpretations of the nineteenth century masterpieces. Last night at the Jane Mallet Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre, Music Toronto presented a solo recital by Hamelin for the twelfth time over the past thirty-two years.


Balanced as a ballerina: TSO performs Sleeping Beauty and Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor

Chilly Gonzales; Photo credit: Martina Wörz

If opera is meant to lift us out of the humdrum of every day life, Opera Atelier did just that last night in the opening night performance of two one-act operas: Actéon by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Pygmalion by Jean-Philippe Rameau. These two operas not only lifted us out of our reality, but they transported us to the world of Greco-Roman mythology and two tales from Ovid’s epic-like poem Metamorphoses where gods and goddesses interact with humans with divine intervention to dispatch punishment and rewards.


Royal Conservatory Orchestra: Another triumph with conductor Bramwell Tovey and cellist Hannah Craig!

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 9th 2018

Tafelmusik and David Blackadder serve up a banquet

Tafelmusik’s vitality fits with Vivaldi’s vivacious spirit!

Timbres, Textures, Tuning, and Razor-Sharp Rhythms: Orchestre métropolitain sparks fireworks at Koerner Hall

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON September 22nd 2018

Music, Maledictions, and Murder: Southern Ontario Lyric Opera does Rigoletto in Burlington

Jeffrey Carl, Rigoletto; Allison Cecilia Arends, Gilda; Romulo Delgado, Duke of Mantua; ​Adriana Albu, Maddelena ; Photo credit: SOLO

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON September 21st 2018

Hadrian: A new Grand Opera that resonates with today’s world

Royal Conservatory Orchestra with Bramwell Tovey; Photo credit: Lisa Sakulensky

Elisa Citterio ​with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
​Photo credit: Jeff Higgins

The Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Eugene Onegin is remarkable on many fronts, but perhaps most importantly, its components all come together and just work in a very satisfying way. Dramatically, musically and visually it has everything that one could ask for in an opera. A superb orchestra, chorus and cast were given the direction, staging and lighting to make for a fabulous performance last night at the Four Seasons Centre, the second of eight performances this month.


Every festival should end in fireworks. This week, The Royal Conservatory has been celebrating the beginning of the tenth season of Koerner Hall with a festival. It began with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra with Gábor Takács-Nagy, and has continued all week with theKathleen Battle Gala, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, and the Jerry Cans and New North Collective. Last night provided the climax to this special week with the superstar conductor Yanick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain. What a week! What a celebration! And what a milestone worthy of celebrating. Koerner Hall has changed the landscape of music in Toronto. With its eclectic programming, it has become the go-to destination for all things musical. Nézet-Séguin tonight provided the fireworks for the week-long festival


Tafelmusik: spellbinding in its year 40 opener with an all-Mozart program!​

TSO opening night: a fantastic symphony orchestra plays the Symphonie fantastique

Seong-Jin Cho shows why he won the Chopin International Piano Competition in his Toronto debut at Koerner Hall

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON September 27th 2018

A scene from Canadian Opera Company’s Hadrian; Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Concerted effort: Tafelmusik performs an all-Agostino Stefani concert

Last night’s performance at Koerner Hall was yet another triumph for the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School. Conducted by the celebrated British conductor, Bramwell Tovey, it was nevertheless more about the students of the school’s orchestra who excelled in a program of Tovey, Elgar, Mahler and Richard Strauss.


Royal Conservatory Orchestra: Gábor Takács-Nagy inspires childlike energy and enthusiasm in the music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák!

​​Review by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.

Toronto ON September 17th 2018

Trade, exports, and imports are again in the news; no more NAFTA, now we have USMAC (or maybe the same letters in another order?). Our economists frequently lament Canada’s lack of ‘added value’ products; we export raw materials and buy the finished products back from other countries at higher prices. We are hewers of wood and drawers of water.

But that is not true in the domain of classical music and dance, at least not this fall. Canada has a significant cultural export this year because Opera Atelier’s production of two one-act Baroque operas—Charpentier’s Actéon and Rameau’s Pygmalion, produced and premiered in Toronto, have gone on tour, first at the Harris Theater in Chicago, and now at Versailles.


​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 4th 2018

​​Review by Jeff Mitchell
Toronto ON October 21st 2018

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC
Toronto ON October 26th 2018

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 22nd 2018

Opera Atelier: A joyful evening of escape to the world of mythology

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 29th 2018

Does it get any better than last night’s musical experience? My first thought is I'm not sure that it can. From the start of the evening, a musical suite for the supper of the King of France, to the culmination, Bach's resounding second Brandenburg Concerto, the instrumentalists of Tafelmusik played expertly, with precision, sensitivity, nuance, and grace, and, just as importantly, they performed as a very well co-ordinated ensemble, perfectly together in time and tuning.


Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chamber Choir directed by Ivars Taurins
Photo Credit: Trevor Haldenby

​​Review by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
Toronto ON November 9th 2018

What is it that makes this music from the mid-Baroque period (the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries) so engaging and appealing? Is it the freedom enjoyed by the high instruments and voices as, released from harmonic obligations by the basso continuo, they soar to new heights, tracing graceful melodic contours? Or perhaps it is the strong harmonic progressions of the bass, clearly outlining the tonality while they are opposed by other lines in contrary motion and creating friction with them through dissonance? Or again, is it the rhythmic variation and vitality that occurs over bass patterns?


Guest conductor Andrey Boreyko, violinist Alina Ibragimova and TSO
Photo credit: Nick Wons

Colin Ainsworth with Opera Atelier’s company of Actéon,;Photo credit: Bruce Zinger

Elisa Citterio and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, photo credit: Jeff Higgins

(centre) Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana and Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Eugene Onegin, 2018
​Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Guest Conductor Kirill Karabits, Nicola Benedetti and TSO
​Photo credit: @Jag Gundu

TSO with Guest Conductor Kirill Karabits and violinist Nicola Benedetti gives stirring performances of Silvestrov, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff

​​Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 13th 2018

Royal Conservatory Orchestra with Guest Conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy
 Photo Credit: Royal Conservatory of Music

I learned two important things yesterday: there is a sufficiently large (and discerning) opera audience in Burlington to justify and sustain productions, and the Southern Ontario Lyric Opera Company is up to the task.


One of Ontario’s premier summer music festivals has for many years been that of Stratford. And since 2012, the Stratford Summer Music Festival has been fortunate to have Robert Harris, the “noted music critic, teacher, broadcaster and author”, delivering insightful, personal lectures annually. These lectures have offered music lovers refreshing and thoughtful commentary on the music audiences would be hearing in the concert hall. But they did more than that. They offered listeners well-researched arguments for the influence of music and musicians on the wider world of music and society. From his own personal acquaintances with artists such as Glenn Gould and Murray Schafer as well as his own broad musical knowledge, he turned these lectures into ‘must-attend’ events.


Pianist Seong-Jin Cho; Photo credit: Harald Hoffmann/DG

​​Review by Jeff Mitchell
Toronto ON November 11th 2018