21C Music Festival

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021 – The ninth edition of the 21C Music Festival will include 13 concerts and 1 film, and span over 2 weeks in January with one additional date in February, from January 12 to February 25, 2022. The cornerstone of the Festival will be a spotlight on the Kronos Quartet, who will participate in three events, and world premiere of Gould’s Wall, presented in collaboration with Tapestry Opera and Maniac Star.

In total, the Festival will include 18 premieres: 6 world (all by Canadian composers: Brian Current, Eve Egoyan, Kathryn Knowles, Morgan-Paige Melbourne, Nauroz Tanya, and Tanya Tagaq), 1 North American (Mark-Anthony Turnage), 5 Canadian (Stacy Garrop, Aruna Narayan, Marc Neikrug, Steve Reich, Zachary James Watkins), and 6 Ontario (Alex Baranowski, Antonio Haskell, Katia Makdissi-Warren, Abel Meeropol, Bent Sørensen, and Julie Thériault).

Mervon Mehta, Executive Director of Performing Arts at The Royal Conservatory, said: “We are so fortunate to be back this year with 14 performances, including the premieres of two chamber operas with theatrical flair, our friends the Kronos Quartet with Tanya Tagaq, and Canada’s beloved bass-baritone Gerald Finley. Support from Michael and Sonja Koerner allows us to bring you this festival each season and to commission work from some of the most exciting composers on the planet. We hope that audiences will come often and be ready to stretch their ears.”

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21C Music Festival commences with the world premiere of Gould’s Wall, presented in partnership with Tapestry Opera, on Wednesday, January 12, 2022, with subsequent performances on four successive evenings. Gould’s Wall is a re-imagining of the life of Canadian icon and classical pianist Glenn Gould and features singers climbing along the wall of The Royal Conservatory’s atrium. This daring new opera echoes Gould’s constant striving for artistic perfection and the inherent climb and fall in the artist’s journey. Composed and conducted by the award-winning Brian Current, with libretto by Dora Award-winning actor, director, and writer Liza Balkan, this production will be directed by the multiple Dora Award-winning Philip Akin. The all-Canadian cast features interdisciplinary artist Lauren Pearl as Louise, a young talented musician striving for perfection in her art; beloved tenor Roger Honeywell as the Canadian icon and classical pianist Glenn Gould, Alberta-born soprano Caitlin Wood as The Housewife, and Saskatchewan-born Juno and Dora award-winning mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig as The Mother. Tenor Keith Klassen plays The Celebrity, baritone Justin Welsh plays Gould’s famous mentor The Teacher, and Alice Malakhov plays The Girl, presented in partnership with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. For this site-specific work, audiences will watch from the RCM’s café area and the orchestra will feature The Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble and students of The Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists.

The festival also includes the Canadian premiere of Marc Neikrug’s A Song by Mahler, featuring The Royal Conservatory’s cultural ambassadors, ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory), on January 15. A celebrated soprano, famous for her rendition of Mahler’s love song, Liebst du um Schönheit, develops early onset Alzheimer’s. The drama follows her (mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert) and her pianist/husband (baritone Kelly Markgraf) as they confront their new reality.

On January 16, pianist and Royal Conservatory alumna, Morgan-Paige Melbourne, performs a program of all-Canadian composers. Works by Brian Current and Dawn Davi, as well as the world premieres by Nauroz Tanya, Kathryn Knowles, and herself round out a program that is a reflection on the impact of change, struggle, growth, and affection that thrives within our daily life.

A spotlight on San Francisco’s Grammy Award-winning Kronos Quartet begins on January 18 with A Thousand Thoughts; a live documentary with the Kronos Quartet; written and directed by Sam Green and Joe Bini, which will be presented in partnership with the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. This multimedia performance piece blends live music by Kronos and narration as well as archival footage and filmed interviews with artists like Philip Glass, Tanya Tagaq (with whom Kronos appeared in Koerner Hall during the 21C Music Festival in 2016, and who joins as a special guest on Kronos’ Music for Change concert on January 21), Steve Reich, Wu Man, and Terry Riley. As the Los Angles Times stated, “It’s as magical an amalgamation as you can imagine.”

Built around Kronos’s Fifty for the Future initiative (a free library of 50 contemporary works designed to guide string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire) students from The Glenn Gould School will participate in a two-day mentorship with Kronos, culminating in a joint concert called Fifty Forward on January 20.

In Music for Change, on January 21, Kronos Quartet explores the ways in which music can increase our understanding of our times and our connection to people around the world. “Everything we do as citizens, as human beings, is a statement about how we want the world to be,” says David Harrington, Kronos’ artistic director, founder, and violinist. “Increasingly, I feel my role as musician is to point in constructive musical and cultural directions as we attempt to help repair the torn fabric of our society.” This Music for Change concert features new works composed by and performed with special guests Tanya Tagaq (vocals) and Aruna Narayan (sarangi), and also highlights the social, political, and cultural upheavals of civil rights movements through works such as Peace Be Till, Zachary J. Watkins’s exploration of the moment just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, Abe Meeropol’s Strange Fruit inspired by Billie Holiday, and Glorious Mahalia, Stacy Garrop’s work honoring the life and times of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Other works included are by Steve Reich, Armenia’s Komitas, and an adaptation of Jimi Hendrix’s arrangement of Star-Spangled Banner.

Eve Egoyan performs the world premiere of her own Seven Studies for Augmented Piano, in which she tests (teases) the edges of the piano’s natural sound, ultimately pushing it beyond the familiar, through the impossible, and into the extraordinary on January 22 in Temerty Theatre.

The Danish String Quartet returns to Koerner Hall on January 22. They perform Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15 as well as a new composition by Quartet member Bent Sørensen, inspired by the Schubert Quartet. Also on the program is a curated suite of dances by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, John Adams, and Felix Blumenfeld, and a new composition written by the Danish String Quartet members.

A truly dynamic duo, Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake appear on January 23 with the North American premiere of a song cycle by Mark-Anthony Turnage, co-commissioned by The Royal Conservatory, titled Without Ceremony. Works by Franz Schubert, Hugo Wolf, Thomas Morley, Erich Korngold, the late Canadian Derek Holman, Michael Tippett, Madeleine Dring, and Cole Porter round out the afternoon’s program. “Mr. Finley has long been recognized as a recitalist of rare versatility, a concert artist of the first rank and an opera singer of distinction in a broad repertory,” stated The New York Times of Finley, who has appeared in Koerner Hall on two previous occasions with Drake.

The Festival closes with the return of Canadian violinist Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà, the superb all-female string ensemble featuring some of Canada’s best musicians, on February 25 with a program titled Elle – 25th Anniversary Concert. Dubeau writes: “How can I mark the 25th anniversary of my ensemble, La Pietà? The answer came to me naturally through the music. An album completely thought out, conceived, and played, by women: Elle, in the singular, because each woman is unique. Added to the music of Olafur Arnalds, Armand Amar, Ludovico Einaudi, Alex Baranowski, Philip Glass, and Max Richter will be works from my latest opus, an incursion into the musical world of women, including Rachel Portman, Elena Kats-Chernin, and Rebecca Dale.”


The Royal Conservatory is livestreaming numerous concerts this season and audiences are encouraged to check the website 30 days prior to each concert if interested in this option. Single livestreams are available for $20 per household. The Conservatory is also offering new streaming “for pick your own” passes – $99 for 5 concerts, $130 for 10 concerts, and $199 for the full season per household. Each concert will be available for viewing for seven days. Please visit The Royal Conservatory’s new digital channel www.RoyalConservatory.Live, where you can also find select concerts from past editions of the Festival as well as numerous concerts and content from the last 12 concert seasons.

Koerner Hall has been awarded a #SafeTravels Stamp by World Travel & Tourism Council for adopting health and hygiene global standardized protocols. Click here to learn more about our safety protocols.


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