By Alidë Kohlhaas
The richness of musical life in Toronto has just been enhanced by the announcement that this September a new concert season will start at the soon-to-be-completed Koerner Hall, part of the Royal Conservatory of Music's (RCM) Telus Centre for Performance and Learning.
This hall is the latest diamond in the crown of cultural facilities to have opened or re-opened with a new face in Toronto. For music lovers the programs offered at Koerner Hall represent a chance to expand their experience of music by a wide variety of artists, some of whom have never before appeared in this city.
The season Grand Opening on September 25 coincides with what would have been pianist Glenn Gould's 77th birthday. Mervin Mehta, the executive director of the 123-year-old institution's performing arts program, deliberately placed the opening of the RCM's new hall and season on the birthday of its most well known graduate. He hopes it will prove to be propitious to the future of the hall and the programs offered there.
Mehta is another Canadian who has been lured back home after years abroad by Toronto's amazing cultural building boom and artistic awakening. Peter Oundjian has made the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) a true Canadian show piece since his return here. We have yet to see what Matthew Jocelyn, the most recent returnee, will do with the Canadian Stage Company in the 2010-11 season. If he succeeds as well as Oundjian and if he manages to put the kind of season together that Mehta has now placed on sale for the RCM, then returning here will be a must for others now working abroad - or so one hopes.
Mehta unveiled a star-studded season at a media event that also allowed those interested a glimpse into the yet-to-be completed Koerner Hall. Sadly though, no one was allowed to take pictures, hence the picture shown with this story is an artist rendering by the architectural firm in charge of design and construction.
To give the attending media a taste of the variety of concerts to come, RCM students Bora Kim and Todd Yaniw performed a Haberna by Pablo Sarasate, while Fado singer Tony Gouveia was accompanied by Hernani Raposo on Portuguese guitar, an instrument of unusually shape and attractive sound.
The Koerner Hall and the Telus Centre were designed as an addition by Marianne McKenna of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects to the 1881 McMaster Hall building. This is the same firm that redesigned the close-by Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts in an outstanding manner. The concert hall's acoustical design is by McKenna and acoustician Bob Essert, who also worked on the creation of the superb acoustics of the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, i.e. Toronto's opera house.
The Grand Opening concert places emphasis on the creative side of the RCM by featuring the Royal Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Jean-Philppe Tremblay. Also on the opening night ticket are pianist Anton Kuerti, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, soprano Erin Wall, mezzo Wallis Giunta, tenor Richard Margison, and bass Robert Pomakov. The internationally renowned Kuerti and Margison, of course, are the highlighted soloists of the night. Though make no mistake in thinking the Pomakov, Giunta and Wall are not noteworthy. Their musical careers are well recognized across North America, and are seen as rising stars on the musical firmament.
There are 10 concerts set for the opening celebrations: September 26 will feature an evening of Jazz with pianist/keyboardist/bandleader Chick Corea, Stanley Clark on bass and drummer Lenny White. They will be joined by vocalist Sophie Milman.
September 29 brings the genres of world music, bluegrass and classical together by a trio instrumental masters: Béla Fleck on banjo, Zakir Hussain on tabla (an Indian percussion instrument), and Edgar Meyer on bass.
The Emerson String Quartet with guest pianist Menahem Pressler will perform an all-Dvorák evening on Oct. 1 that includes Cypresses No. 1-6, Quartet in C major Op. 61, and Piano Quintet in A Op. 81.
To help celebrate Toronto's Nuit Blanche, The Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble's artistic director, Brian Current, plans a sound and light installation throughout the Telus Centre on Oct. 3 from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Guests, who will enjoy free admission to this event, will be treated to James Tenny's In a Large Open Space performed by musicians and ever-expanding layers of electronic music that will connect the entrance, atrium, Koerner Hall, and Koerner Hall lobbies.
On Oct. 9, The Royal Conservatory Orchestra under the baton of the TSO's conductor, Peter Oundjian, will perform music by Respighi and Prokofiev with pianist Sam Deason, the 2009 Glenn Gould School Concerto Competition winner.
The following evening, Oct. 10, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and Friends, as part of her final recital tour, will venture to Koerner Hall. A specialist in bel canto opera, von Stade's program will include a variety of arias to bring out the beauty of her voice.
On Oct. 15 the scene shifts to Hong Kong's pop music scene with the territory's top singer, Frances Yip and her accompanist, Anthony Lun. Lun is a composer, arranger, musical director and vocalist with more than 300 songs to his credit. Yip first came to the wider world's attention when she acted as co-host at the British Farewell Ceremony to mark the transfer of Hong Kong from Britain to China.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Keb Mo will perform on Oct. 16. Considered a living link to the seminal Delta blues, he is a multiple Grammy Award winner.
The final presentation in the Koerner Hall opening series will take place on Oct. 17. It features father-daughter team Ravi and Anoushka Shankar. Beatle George Harrison called Shankar, the most renowned of sitarists, ". . . the Godfather of World Music." Anoushka, trained by her father on the sitar, has been called a worthy successor " . . . by virtue of ability alone."
An extensive program of a variety of music and artists will continue starting Oct. 28 with the Venezuelan Brass ensemble and end on May 9, 2010 with internationally renowned Canadian bass baritone Gerald Finley.
Among the artists featured in the many programs during 2009-10 are Midori, James Ehnes, Quartetto Gelato, András Schiff, Louis Lortie, Christian Tetzlaff and Yyja Wang.
A complete list of performances can be seen at the RCM's website, www.rcmusic.ca. Tickets can also be obtained by calling 416-408-0208 or by visiting the box office at 273 Bloor St. West
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