Previews concerts (February-March 2020): Toronto


More than a month after Christmas, the Canadian Opera Company unveils a new production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Wagnerian family classic Hansel and Gretel (to use the English version of the title). Directed by Joel Ivany, the show will include digital storytelling and local Toronto elements. The German words are retained. Johannes Debus conducts, Feb. 6–21.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is true to its name Feb. 6–9 as Vittorio Ghielmi, a visiting Italian viola da gamba virtuoso, leads music by Rameau, Marais, Lully and other French composers, plus a work by himself. From Feb. 27 to March 1st the group puts on one of its thematic shows, The Indigo Project, with music director Elisa Citterio in charge of a program of classical and popular music, including sounds from India (where indigo dye was cultivated). Tafelmusik gets serious on March 26 with the first of four performances of Bach’s St. John Passion in Koerner Hall. Other events are in Trinity-St. Paul’s.

The first presentation by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Roy Thomson Hall in February is of another band, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, under Alexander Shelley. The principal item in this program of Feb. 5 is Debussy’s La Mer; American celeb Joshua Bell plays Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano visits under the auspices of the TSO on Feb. 19 with Pascal Dusapin’s Duo for Organ and Orchestra (Olivier Latry, soloist), Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) and the “Royal Hunt and Storm” from Berlioz’s Les Troyens. Of note from the TSO itself is Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony under the veteran Donald Runnicles on Feb. 20 and 22. There is some standard repertoire Feb. 14–16 from conductor Elim Chan (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with violinist Jonathan Crow) and pianist Steven Hough (Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2); there is more March 13–15 from conductor Jader Bignamini (Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the Ravel orchestration) and pianist Sergei Babayan (Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1). Light tastes are serviced by live accompaniment of the film Singin’ in the Rain (two performances on Feb. 8) and Music of John Williams (March 3–5). Keep your head up in early February as the orchestra announces its 2020–21 season, the first under music director Gustavo Gimeno.

Chamber enthusiasts should note the offerings of Music Toronto in the Jane Mallett Theatre. These are pianist Francesco Piemontesi (Feb. 18; Bach, Debussy, Liszt), Schumann Quartett (Feb. 27; named after the three Schumann brothers, not the composer), pianist André Laplante (March 10; Mozart, Beethoven, Hétu, Liszt); Pavel Haas Quartet (March 19; Martinů, Bartók, Beethoven) and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor (March 31, Rameau, Beethoven, Schumann, Gounod/Liszt).

In larger Koerner Hall you will find such notables as pianists Daniil Trifonov and Murray Perahia (Feb. 21 and 25, both sold out, but possibly worth double-checking on the day of performance), the Takács Quartet (Feb. 23; Fanny Mendelssohn, Bartók, Beethoven), violinist Kyung Wha Chung with Kevin Kenner (March 6; program TBA), pianist Hélène Grimaud (March 8; short pieces by Chopin, Debussy and Satie plus Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2).

Adjacent Mazzoleni Hall is the site for other Royal Conservatory presentations, such as Gábor Tarkövi, principal trumpet of the Berlin Philharmonic, with pianist Benjamin Smith (Feb. 2; works by Johann Baptist Georg Neruda, Paul Hindemith, Reinhold Glière, Alan Hovhaness and Frigyes Hidas) and pianist John O’Conor (March 15; last three Beethoven Sonatas).

The modern-minded Esprit Orchestra uses Koerner Hall (Feb. 26; music by John Adams, O’Callaghan and Schnittke; and March 22; Taiko Drumming Group, among others).

Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park (2011, rev. 2017), based on Jane Austen, gets its Canadian premiere at the hands of University of Toronto Opera in the MacMillan Theatre March 12–15.

Tapestry Opera presents Jacqueline, a chamber piece by Luna Pearl Woolf about Jacqueline du Pré, with soprano Marnie Breckenridge and cellist Matt Haimovitz, Feb. 19–23 in the Betty Oliphant Theatre.

Still contemporary but on the instrumental end, New Music Concerts offer a concert matching Ligeti’s remarkable Chamber Concerto (1979/80) with more recent works by living composers (Feb. 13; Harbourfront Centre Theatre) and a program of music for erhu (Nicole Ge Li) and piano (Cory Hamm) on March 26 at Trinity-St. Paul’s. No fewer than 10 composers make contributions to this unusual program.

Choral fans have their options, including a free concert on Feb. 23 by the mighty Toronto Mendelssohn Choir under guest conductor John William Trotter, who is undoubtedly under consideration for the vacant directorship. Mendelssohn, Brahms as well as the modern romantics Lauridsen and Ešenvalds are promised at Yorkminster Baptist Church.

Rachmaninoff’s Vespers (a.k.a. All-Night Vigil) is heard Feb. 28 in the handsome surroundings of St. Anne’s Anglican Church. The noted Clarion Choir of New York City (2019 Grammy nominees) joins U of T’s Schola Cantorum under Clarion music director Steven Fox. Another University of Toronto presentation offers Daniel Taylor leading concert performances of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Trinity-St. Paul’s, March 20–21.

Not all the action is downtown. On Feb. 8 the Kindred Spirits Orchestra under Kristian Alexander performs Rachmaninoff’s unjustly neglected Third Symphony in the Flato Markham Theatre. Dmitri Levkovich in the soloist in Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Nakwon Choi is the violinist in Bruch’s In Memoriam.

The Scarborough Philharmonic and the Toronto Choral Society on March 28 perform Bruckner’s Te Deum and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the Salvation Army Scarborough Citadel.

At the western end of the GTO, the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra under Denis Mastromonaco on March 28 offers a “music by request” evening in Hammerson Hall in the Living Arts Centre. Program TBA!


About Author

Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto. Since 2019, Arthur is co-editor of La Scena Musicale.

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