The 14-week Black Creek Summer Music Festival - a 20-concert music festival that will be held at a tennis arena at York University in northern Toronto - has announced three concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances by jazz singers Tony Bennett and Diana Krall, singer-songwriter James Taylor and actors Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. The series opens June 4 with a show featuring tenor Placido Domingo and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, with a pickup orchestra and choir.
Although his name wasn't mentioned in the press materials released on Wednesday, a spokesman has confirmed that theatre impresario Garth Drabinsky is the festival's artistic director.
Conductor Lorin Maazel and Broadway composer-conductor Marvin Hamlisch are listed as artistic advisors, and both will also perform. Maazel's three-year contract includes two performances this summer (including a Shakespeare evening with Mirren and Irons) conducting the Castleton Festival Orchestra which normally performs in a tent on Maazel's estate in Virginia.
The concerts will take place in the Rexall Centre, one of two venues used for the annual Rogers Cup of tennis. Mark Fisher, stage designer for the Rolling Stones and the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will build a stage and sound structure that will stand near the centre of the roofless, oval-shaped arena.
The festival is supposed to be a for-profit venture, with no subsidy from any government. The spokesman declined to name any of the backers, though sports-entertainment impresario Kevin Albrecht is listed as CEO of the producing companies. Albrecht's best-known recent venture is the CBC's Battle of the Blades, a competitive TV series that brings together hockey stars and figure skaters. Albrecht and Drabinsky were both involved in the ongoing Toronto production of Barrymore, a one-man show starring Christopher Plummer.
A promotional video touts the Rexall Centre as a natural performance magnet for a wide potential audience within and beyond the GTA. The same claims were made 20 years ago for the former North York Centre for the Performing Arts, built to house lavish Drabinsky musicals such as Show Boat.
In the video, Albrecht says he hopes that the festival and venue will become the Toronto area's Tanglewood, a reference to the rustic summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Berkshire Hills. But unlike the Tanglewood Music Shed, and the Molson Amphitheatre in downtown Toronto, the Rexall Centre will offer no audience protection from rain. It will, however, feature 41 "private luxury boxes" and 7,000 parking spaces.
The total seating capacity of the Rexall is 14,000, though many of those would be to the rear of the open-concept stage. Total capacity at the Molson Amphitheatre is 16,000, including lawn seating.
Like the downtown amphitheatre, the Rexall Centre will have to rely on heavy amplification to get the music to all the seats. That may not be a big attraction for symphony lovers, who generally expect to hear the musicians performing under their own steam.
Drabinsky is still pursuing an appeal against a 2009 fraud conviction related to his activities as head of Livent, the production company that collapsed in 1998.