Music Toronto officially became an independent not-for-profit organization presenting chamber music concerts in Toronto on July 1, 1987. Its origin was in 1971 as Toronto Arts Productions, which offered concerts and recitals at the Jane Mallett Theatre (then known as Town Hall) in the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
From 1973 through the mid 1980s it continued as CentreStage Music (the concert arm of the St Lawrence Centre). Among featured artists were cellist Shauna Rolston, pianist Yuval Fichman (1982), and special musical events such as the Bach 300 Festival (1985). When CentreStage Music ceased operations in 1987, Music Toronto was re-established with a new board and former CBC music producer Jane Forner as artistic director. Before deciding on the moniker Music Toronto, up to 1000 other names were considered including the Red Hot Chile Pepper Music Company, and Master Music and Melomanic Concerts (neither made the short list)! Although Music Toronto's first official season was 1988-89, its initial concert took place on October 13, 1987 at the Jane Mallett Theatre featuring duo-pianists Anagnoson and Kinton in Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks and Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals with guest narrator Christopher Newton and an instrumental ensemble made up of the Orford String Quartet plus flute, bass, xylophone and clarinet conducted by Raffi Armenian.
Forner was determined to increase the number of concerts, which had decreased to around 30 from 45 or so in the early seventies, and 46 concerts were planned for the 'inaugural season'. Indeed, Music Toronto's popularity had grown to the extent that the Jane Mallett Hall was deemed too small. A 1988 recital by the Kronos Quartet was sold out months in advance with "would-be ticket-buyers roaming the streets." Series that year were Mozart Sings, covering the composer's vocal music; Music in its Time, spanning Palestrina to Stockhausen; Bach Break; and Super Sundays featuring up-and-coming Canadian talent such as Paul Berkowitz (piano) and Marina Piccinini (flute). Major international performers that season included pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Phillippe Entremont, and the Juilliard, Tokyo and Guarneri String Quartets.
In 1989, following the collapse of an $11-million Mozart Festival planned in collaboration with the Canadian Opera Company, and over contract disputes, Forner was dismissed. In 1990 Christopher Wilcox took over as managing and artistic director with Jennifer Taylor as general manager.
It was Wilcox who initiated student master classes by visiting artists and business-subsidized tickets for students. Among the artists who participated were pianists Jon Kimura Parker, and Arthur Ozolins (1992), and the Ysaye and Shanghai Quartets (1993).
Among notable concerts during this decade were the Orford Quartet's public premiere of R. Murray Schafer's String Quartet No. 5 (1990); pianist Antonin Kubalek in world premieres of Daniel Foley's Rhapsody Op. 33 and Walter Buczynski's Sonata No. 5 (1997); and Isabel Bayrakdarian in Three Spanish Lyrics by Imant Raminsh (1999).
Although 1990 proved successful, the next few seasons saw financial challenges and the organization was forced to scale back. During 1994, pianist Anton Kuerti was Music Toronto's artistic director. Jennifer Taylor remained as general manager and as of 2006 was also the artistic producer, continuing to hold both positions in 2011. From 1995 to 2005 there were three artistic advisors: Martin Beaver for strings, David Owen Norris for piano and Gwill Williams for young artists.
The 2000s: Concerts and Outreach
Canadian performers who have appeared with Music Toronto include pianists Louise Bessette, Stéphane Lemelin, Marc-André Hamelin, Ronald Turini, and Naida Cole, the Rembrandt Trio, the Quatuor Molinari, and the Quatuor Arthur-Leblanc. Among international pianists were Pascal Rogé, Stephen Hough, John Browning, and string quartets: the Hagan, Jerusalem, Takacs, Ying, Prazak, Philharmonia Quartett (Berlin), and the Brentano. Quartets were often joined by guest performers to include quintets or sextets on the programmes.
In 2011-12, Music Toronto celebrated its 40th year (24 years as Music Toronto) with 16 concerts, all at the Jane Mallett Theatre. The regular four series season comprises: (String) Quartets; Pianists; Discovery (for new Canadian artists), and Contemporary Classics. Among featured artists number the Quatuor Bozzini, the Lafayette Quartet, pianists Richard Goode and Markus Groh, with Leslie Newman (flute), Wallis Giunta (mezzo) and Véronique Mathieu (violinist) in the Discovery series. The Tokyo String Quartet had their first Music Toronto performance in the 1974-75 season, and have appeared regularly, celebrating over 40 concerts with the organization in this anniversary year.
Over the years, Music Toronto has had three ensembles-in-residence: the St. Lawrence String Quartet (1995-98); the Gryphon Trio (1998-2008); and the Music Toronto Chamber Society (2003-06), besides continuing to support emerging artists such as the Cecilia String Quartet (2007-09).
Canadian composers whose works have been performed by both Canadian and international artists include Christos Hatzis, Brian Current, Harry Somers, John Beckwith, Gary Kulesha, Jean Coulthard, Oscar Morawetz, Glenn Buhr, Serge Arcuri, and Linda Bouchard, some of them premieres. Among works commissioned by Music Toronto were Milton Barnes' Raison d'etre (1993); Jeffrey Ryan's Formax Chemic for piano (2008), and his Quartet No. 4, Inspirare (2011).
Master classes have remained an outreach feature, with Music Toronto artists in collaboration with The Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music who supply the venues and select the participants.
Some master classes are directed toward adult amateurs. These events are offered to the public at no charge.
Music Toronto has received support from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage, its own endowment fund, as well as numerous foundations, corporate and private sponsors, and individuals. CBC Radio Two presented many concerts as live-to-air broadcasts on Arts National in the 1980s, and has continued to record selected concerts. Former CBC radio producer Keith Horner and programme annotator has had a long-time association with Music Toronto.