"I say no to way more people than I say yes to," explains Mervon Mehta, the executive director of performing arts at the Royal Conservatory of Music, explaining the process by which he assembles the series of concerts he programs annually at Toronto's Koerner Hall. Mehta and the Conservatory announced their ninth season of concerts, for 2017-18, on Tuesday morning, and it includes some real gems. The Conservatory has always made the superb acoustics of Koerner Hall available to many other groups – the Toronto Symphony Orchestra just based its entire Mozart@261 festival at Koerner – but programming the hall themselves has always been a major RCM priority.
And for next season, we'll see and hear the usual stellar procession of world-class and world-famous classical artists. About 50 per cent of Mehta's concerts are classically based, and the RCM has spoiled us in some ways in the past by making the first-rate commonplace. And the same will be true for 2017-18. We'll hear from Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt playing Bach, as well as other keyboard concerts by Khatia Buniatishvili, Beatrice Rana and the ever-popular Yuja Wang. As well, France's duo-piano Labèque sisters, Katia and Marielle, will be making their Koerner Hall debut playing a two-piano version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
A Koerner Hall debut will also be made by superstar Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, with a program based in the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern that should prove more than stimulating. Canadian baritone Gerald Finley and English tenor Ian Bostridge will fill out Koerner's vocal series, Bostridge with an all-Schubert program.
For its string and chamber series, the Conservatory will see visits from Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI, the Koerner debut of famed violinist Joshua Bell, as well as an exciting program featuring the Amici Trio and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. There will also be several special celebrations during the season – a performance of Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time featuring an international all-star cast of Janine Jensen, Martin Frost, Torleif Thedeen and Lucas Debargue, and a special Bernstein@100 concert (doesn't that make you feel old?) featuring mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta and Leonard Bernstein's daughter, Jamie Bernstein. As well, the Conservatory has made next season something of a cello spectacular, with concerts featuring three great cellists – Nicolas Allstaedt, Clemens Hagen and Gautier Capuçon.
The Royal Conservatory has been providing Torontonians with world-class performers for almost a decade now, part of the mandate they assumed when they opened Koerner Hall. Many of these artists visited Toronto before the hall, but it's hard to say how many would come now without it. The combination of fine artistry and perfection in the performing space is special.
As Mehta says, "Our artists always come off the stage at the hall, and they don't just praise the acoustics. They say, 'Where did you get that audience?' The intimacy of the hall and its special feeling create an intensity of listening, a visceral experience, that is very special for the artists standing on stage. They can feel it."