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‘The car is extremely good and well built,’ Agnes Grossmann says of her C230 Kompressor. (JOHN MORSTAD FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
‘The car is extremely good and well built,’ Agnes Grossmann says of her C230 Kompressor. (JOHN MORSTAD FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

My Car: Agnes Grossmann

Orchestral manoeuvres in a Merc Add to ...

She's breathing new life into Canada's music scene.

For three decades, renowned conductor Agnes Grossmann has travelled the globe leading orchestras and choirs in Japan, Taiwan, Europe and Canada. She was the first female conductor of the Vienna Boys' Choir in its 500-year history.

Nowadays, she's the artistic director of the Toronto Summer Music Academy & Festival and the Orford Arts Centre, Canada's oldest International Summer Academy and Chamber Music Festival in Quebec.

When she crisscrossed the globe, she often had one companion along for the ride - her car. It's a navy blue 1999 Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor sedan.

"This Mercedes was actually bought in 1998 at the factory in Germany, near Stuttgart. Three car companies - Mercedes, BMW and Volvo -offered cars without paying taxes and free transportation back to Canada providing that we used the car one year in Europe.

"That is why we bought this car," says Grossmann, who was appointed principal guest conductor with the Kyoto Gewandhaus Choir in Japan and artistic director of the National Experimental Chorus of Taipei, Taiwan, in 2006.

"The car is extremely good and well built. It has travelled a lot and it has been very reliable. ... It has a long life already. At the moment, it has 180,000 kilometres - that's not bad," says the native of Vienna, Austria, who moved to Canada in 1981 to be a guest professor at the University of Ottawa.

"The C230 is a car which is often used [as a]taxi in Vienna, so we knew that it was a very stable and reliable car, and it was, in fact.

"I was very impressed with this car because it didn't have any need for repairs throughout all these years," says Grossmann, who is gearing up for the fourth annual Toronto Summer Music Festival, which runs July 21 to Aug. 14.

While Grossmann adores many of the vehicle's features, such as the heated seats, one item stands out from the rest. "The capacity of turning without lots of space.

"It can really turn on the spot and that is very helpful actually for Vienna because Vienna has narrow streets and it's just amazing how easily it can turn without taking space."

The sound system is another bonus. "My car is a very musical car because it has heard a lot of music and it is enormously smooth and quiet when one drives so it really listens very well to the music as well.

"I'm sure it will die with lots of music and hopefully happily," says Grossmann. who is married to fellow conductor Raffi Armenian.

"But I don't think it has the personality of a conductor. The conductor is there to drive the car and I think it has a lot of reliability and kindness. And it follows the conductor's intentions co-operatively," she says in her Austrian accent.

Grossmann's first car was a red Mini Morris she owned while studying in Vienna - she bought it shortly after getting her licence at 17. She dumped it after moving to Paris to further her studies. Later, came the Japanese cars - she owned a Honda Prelude and an Acura Integra.

"Those cars were fairly good, but the Mercedes was another level of quality. So I wouldn't like to change. This Mercedes is definitely my favourite car," says Grossman, who has honorary doctorates from Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax and Ottawa University.

Grossmann has travelled many roads around the world with her wheels. "The car has seen everywhere - [but]not in Japan. But it has really been around, certainly in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and it knows Canada very well. ... I really have the freedom to admire nature and, for instance, the trips to Orford from Montreal, especially during autumn, are absolutely magical because the leaves are golden, red, brown.

"I will never forget these experiences of colour; they're in my memory as something very special," says Grossmann, who has guest-conducted several orchestras and choirs in Canada, including the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, the Vancouver Symphony and the Calgary Philharmonic.

On the road, Grossmann sticks with classical tunes. "I'm in classical music.

"I was a pianist before I became a conductor so I listen to lots of orchestral music - classical Viennese, romantic, modern music - everything actually and certainly the pieces which I was performing and am performing, this car knows very well," says Grossmann, who took up her conducting career in the mid-1970s after a hand injury forced her to give up the piano.

The Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor will likely be retiring soon. And, for the Maestra, parting is sweet sorrow.

"I think it will be difficult to separate from it. We have a long history together. It has been a very nice companion throughout these 11 years."

But if she could have the keys to any car, she has a quick response. "You know what I'm really dreaming of having? I would like to have a Jaguar.

"But unfortunately, financially, we can't do that. Don't forget we have a house in Vienna, an apartment in Montreal, an apartment in Toronto, so we have to be careful not to spend too much.

"Jaguar is not within the range of possibilities, but if I had enough money I would buy such a vehicle. I find the Jaguars are a fantastic product."

pgentile@globeandmail.com

 

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