Reflection

How Festivals Enchant

A recent review of the closing of the Toronto Summer Music Festival is highly positive but questions why the audience is moved to so many standing ovations. In one way I know what he means.  Some years ago at the conclusion of a performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thouand, I found myself propelled to a standing position by the sheer force of it.  There was nothing polite about it involving a decision to get up. It just happened.

The critic wishes that the crowd wouldn’t jump up so enthusiastically so often, even though he commends the Festival format with its combination of free and paid performances, a tight time frame and a summer timetable.

Perhaps I can help – as a well tempered listener who attended more than 25 of the events.  The reviewer does note that there is a core audience  like me that attends everything.  I’m a relative newcomer, but some have attended in the same way over the last 13 years. They know the returning performers by name and have a strong sense of who they are.

I had the privilege of sitting at the feet of the late Nicholas Goldschmidt  in the 80’s. At that time Niki was already more than twice the age of current artistic director Jonathan Crowe and he had honed the concept with an understanding that Festivals create excitement and momentum in a way that a single performance never can.  Even subscriptions, great as they are, have too much space between events for that.

Niki’s Festivals often crossed artistic discipline lines.  Jonathan’s combine different musical genres and levels of experience in the presenters.  One of the strengths of this Festival is that it unites up-and-coming instrumentalists and singers with the finest professionals.  The pros mentor the emerging artists by rehearsing and playing with them in public – or in the case of the singers, by conducting public masterclasses.  The result is an immersion in all kinds of music and levels of understanding for both for performers and the listeners. Audience members stroll up the shady Philosophers Walk night after night fulfilled and happy.

The critic, perhaps correctly, thought the young instrumentalists in the final concert were too energetic and needed more nuance. Probably that is true.  But what he perhaps misses in the standing ovations of the appreciative audience is their dominant demographic. Put aside for the moment the worry that there will be no audience for classical music in the decades to come.  What those of us at this stage of our life recognize is the sheer beauty and poignancy of so much of what we are hearing – perhaps for the last time.  It’s worth standing up and applauding for that.

 

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