Festival Blog

Festival Top Ten

With the opening of the 38th Festival of the Sound just days away, here’s a quick survey of some events that are sure to be highlights of this season.

You’ll notice that these selections are all in Weeks Two and Three.  Each year, I have to miss one week of the Festival, and this year it’s the first week.

So here’s my own personal Top Ten countdown of what look like the best of the best.


  1. Virtuosity (August 10). An evening of classical chamber favourites winds up with the evergreen Piano Quartet No. 1 by Brahms.  Yes, that’s the one with the incredibly energetic gypsy rondo finale that just keeps getting faster and faster and faster.


  1. Afternoon at St. Andrews (August 1). The sound of classical guitars is always a joy to me, but this isn’t your typical Spanish guitar recital.  The Canadian Guitar Quartet presents arrangements for guitars of Brahms Hungarian Dances, a Beethoven String Quartet, and Saint-Saens Danse Macabre.  Sounds rather quirky, but should be an interesting concert.


  1. Afternoon at St. James (August 4). A welcome opportunity to hear organist William McArton performing several works, from Bach to Franck, on the beautiful pipe organ of St. James Church.  Also on the programme are a trio sonata by Telemann and a flute sonata by Leclaire.


  1. Hallelujah (August 11). The Elmer Iseler Singers return in their annual Festival visit with a programme that includes three different settings of Hallelujah:  Handel (of course), Cohen (also of course), and Beethoven.  The last one is an impostor, though.  The original text does not contain the word Hallelujah anywhere.  It’s heard only in the English singing version!  Works by Bach and Braid round out a wonderful evening of choral sound.


  1. Painted Sound: An Ojibway Tale (August 11). The ancient tales of the First Nations always fascinate me, and so does the concept behind Painted Sound.  Each year the Festival includes an event where music is paired with appropriate painted visuals projected on a large overhead screen.


  1. Great Voices (August 8). Canada has a long track record of producing singers who become international stars of opera and concert.  Baritone Gino Quilico, himself a distinguished member of this group, presents a tribute to the greats of the past, including Jon Vickers, Maureen Forrester, Louis Quilico, Teresa Stratas, and others.   The programme will include anecdotes, video and audio clips, and live performances by Quilico and soprano Leslie Fagan of arias identified with these singers.  I grew up on these famous voices, and feel sure that this will be a fascinating evening.


  1. Stewart Goodyear (August 3). A great pianist’s tribute to another great pianist, as Goodyear performs Bach’s Goldberg Variations, renowned as a signature work of the late Glenn Gould.


  1. Guitar, Strings, and Flute (August 2). This concert features chamber versions of two of the most delightful pieces of music ever written, Handel’s Harp Concerto and Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp.  With Erica Goodman and Suzanne Shulman as soloists, a guaranteed winner.


  1. Last Night of the Proms (August 12). The Festival’s own take on the world-famous and festive British tradition of a festival concert ending with singalongs of three famous English patriotic songs.  Besides the inevitable Rule Britannia and Pomp and Circumstance, the National Academy Orchestra under Boris Brott will play Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, a great favourite of mine.


And finally, Number 1.  Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen (August 3).  The title is a bit of a mouthful, but this music for strings is one of the most emotionally intense and moving pieces I know.  It’s a lament for the loss and waste of war, heartfelt and beautiful almost beyond words.  All through the piece, you may feel as if you should know its main theme.   At the very end, Strauss places it alongside the funeral march of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and the resemblance is unmistakable.


The Festival runs this summer from July 21 to August 13.  Tickets for all events are available at the Festival Station Gallery at 1 Avenue Road, at the Stockey Centre, and online at festivalofthesound.ca.


By Ken Stephen


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