The Royal Conservatory of Music announced its eighth season of concerts at Koerner Hall Tuesday night, and it's another ambitious, varied series of events that the RCM has planned for the residents of Toronto next season. But the strength of the Conservatory's Koerner Hall season is also its weakness. The hall attracts so many world-class artists to its fine acoustics each year, from the worlds of classical, jazz and world music, that it's often hard to keep the 100-odd concerts straight. Add to this the fact that many of the concerts are one-offs, and the Conservatory ends up with an embarrassment of riches. Great for music fans, harder for people like me to characterize.
The Conservatory, under executive director of performing arts Mervon Mehta, is trying to offset the diversity of events at Koerner Hall by grouping them into festivals and themes. Perhaps the most successful of these is the 21C Music Festival – the 2016 edition of which has just ended – which is becoming more and more of an event with each successive iteration. Next year, the RCM is adding to this several other ideas, each with its own character. To celebrate the diversity of the city in Canada's 150th year, the Conservatory is creating the New Canadian Global Music Orchestra, which brings together world-class musicians from all over the globe – but all resident in Toronto. The orchestra will be formed in September, play around the Greater Toronto Area during the year, and come together in a special concert in June, 2017.
Also new to the RCM's standard offerings of great musicians such as Lang Lang, Daniil Trifonov, Gidon Kremer, Deborah Voigt and Louis Lortie – if those musicians could ever be considered "standard" – will be a new free series on Sunday afternoons, a great day for informal music listening, featuring a wide variety of content, including Juno Award-winning Allison Au, Bang-on-a-Can veteran Steven Schick, classical violinist Miriam Fried, as well as a new musical by CBC Radio's Tom Allen, Bohemians in Brooklyn, bringing his wonderful storytelling ways to the Koerner Hall stage.
Young Canadian artists will be well-supplied in 2016-17, with award-winning pianists Charles Richard-Hamelin and Tony Yike Yang in evidence, as well as cellist Stéphane Tétreault and vocalist Emily D'Angelo, recent winner of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Finals. Canadian and international jazz trios will also be paired together in a new series, and the best of the planet's world music will grace the Koerner Hall stage as well.
It's not quite something for everybody at the Royal Conservatory next season. The worlds of classical music, jazz and world music that make up the bulk of the Koerner Hall concerts share certain artistic genes. They are musics just slightly off the mainstream centre – although that mainstream has a tendency to shift and shimmy a lot these days. They are musics with dedicated audiences. But it's been the mandate of Koerner Hall, Mervon Mehta and Peter Simon (the Royal Conservatory's president) ever since the hall opened to burst the boundaries of musical narrowness. The 2016-17 season has many opportunities for them to do just that.