Three major Toronto classical-music institutions announced their plans for the 2016-17 season this week, showing proof yet again that Toronto's classical scene is vibrant, alive and cutting-edge in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century.
Our great baroque orchestra, Tafelmusik, announced an ambitious season for 2016-17, featuring a new multimedia work by the company's resident creative genius, Alison Mackay, the inauguration of a new three-concert chamber series, the celebration of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir's 35th anniversary, and an ambitious touring schedule that will see the orchestra travel to China, South Korea, the United States and Versailles, France.
The Mackay production, written to commemorate Canada's 150th anniversary, will be entitled Visions & Voyages: Canada 1663-1763, and like all her previous efforts, will feature a completely memorized score, interweaving spoken text and imaginative projections. In fact, it is a previous Mackay opus, J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation, that the orchestra will be taking on tour to China and South Korea (in translation), as well as throughout the United States.
The Tafelmusik Choir's anniversary season will be highlighted by a special concert featuring the choir in November as well as a performance of Mozart's C Minor Mass in May, 2017, with Ivars Taurins, the choir's director, leading both. Lots of big-name soloists will join the orchestra this year, from soprano Karina Gauvin to mezzo Krisztina Szabo to cellist Christophe Coin. As well, the orchestra will release its CD of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (to be recorded in Koerner Hall next week), making it the first period orchestra in North America to have recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies.
But what was most interesting about Tafelmusik's announcement was not what was there, but what wasn't. The conductor/leader of three or four of Tafelmusik's orchestral concerts was not announced at all. Of course, Tafelmusik is in the midst of a long and arduous process of selecting its next music director, to replace Jeanne Lamon, who retired at the end of the 2014 season.
No date has been announced for the naming of Lamon's successor, but maybe, just maybe, those TBAs on the Tafelmusik calendar will be filled by that person, or have been left open for consultation with that person. Stay tuned.
Tafelmusik's other touring gig in 2016-17 will be as the pit band for Opera Atelier's production of Charpentier's Medea, and Opera Atelier – Toronto's other world-famous baroque performance group – announced its 2016-17 season on Tuesday. As well as Medea, which the group will present in Toronto in April, 2017, before taking it to Versailles in May, it will be presenting one of the great English operas of all time in October, 2016, Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Wallis Giunta, one of Canada's great rising operatic stars will be Dido in the fall production, with Christopher Enns as her Aeneas. Peggy Kriha Dye, an Opera Atelier favourite, will be Medea in the Charpentier, with Colin Ainsworth as her Jason. After three decades and more here in Toronto, Opera Atelier is being discovered around the world, but home is still Yonge Street's Elgin Theatre.
And finally, the Royal Conservatory of Music announced its jazz and classical lineup for next season as well on Tuesday. The conservatory remains the key venue in town to see the world's greatest artists, of all kinds, and next year is no exception. The season will open in October with a gala performance featuring Lang Lang, the world's favourite piano superstar, and over the course of the season, Sir Andras Schiff, Stewart Goodyear, Louis Lortie and Daniil Trifonov will also be tinkling the Koerner Hall ivories. Soprano Deborah Voigt will be making her Koerner Hall debut during the season, while other vocal concerts will feature Natalie Dessay and the King's Singers.
Violinist Viktoria Mullova will be here (I watched her win a gold medal at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition: She defected to Sweden with her lover a year later, leaving her KGB guard and her state-owned Stradivarius in her hotel room); Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica will perform as well, along with a dozen other internationally acclaimed names on every instrument. It's sometimes easy to overlook the excellence that is paraded on the Koerner Hall stage on an almost weekly basis by the Royal Conservatory, but the conservatory's executive director of performing arts, Mervon Mehta, has proved himself time and again one of the great impresarios in the country, if not the continent. He's assembled a wealth of talent again for 2016-17.