George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin, to be performed in concert on Friday, March 7, 2015, as part of the New Creations Festival, is among the highlights of the just announced Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 2014/15 season. It is rare that an opera by a living composer garners such unanimous critical and audience accolades as Benjamin’s piece received in France and Britain last year, and thanks to this nimbly programmed TSO festival of new music, Toronto will be able to see it next winter. Two of the original cast members will sing: soprano Barbara Hannigan will be Agnès and Christopher Purves the Protector. Benjamin himself will conduct the TSO for the occasion, and he is the chief programmer of the festival. Among the new works premiering at New Creations are the TSO-commissioned Violin Concerto by Vivian Fung, and Hans Abrahamsen’s song cycle let me tell you, which puts the words by Shakespeare’s Ophelia to music.
The TSO’s annual Mozart festival has a new curator: Bernard Labadie, the conductor equally at home in historically informed performance on period instruments and modern symphonic orchestras. Among Mozart-themed evenings, a program of selections from Mozart rarities Zaide and Lo sposo deluso, as well as his extraordinary (but not so frequently heard in these parts) Mass in C Minor with a roster of young Canadian singing talent already well-embarked into their international careers, notably soprano Hélène Guilmette and mezzo Julie Boulianne.
First TSO European tour since 2000. Peter Oundjian will conduct the band in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland and Iceland in a program of symphonic mainstays (Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky) and contemporary music (Claude Vivier and Jörg Widmann).
Andrew Davis conducts the TSO and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Verdi’s Requiem with a particularly badass group of soloists that includes the rising-star dramatic mezzo Jamie Barton (the Beth Ditto-cum-Adele of the 19th-century operatic rep) and bass Eric Owens (who will sing the title role in Handel’s Hercules at the Canadian Opera Company this year).
Piano stars making their TSO debuts this season include Daniil Trifonov, Khatia Buniatishvili and the internet sensation Valentina Lisitsa, who, after finding it impossible to break into the classical music business via the usual channels, started posting YouTube videos of herself playing. The rest is classical music history — or rather, future? Lisitsa’s no-nonsense frankness in interviews is also very refreshing, something we will probably witness at one the TSO’s intermission chats.
Rossini’s William Tell will be another full opera in concert this season. Gianandrea Noseda will conduct the guest orchestra of Turin’s Teatro Regio with a remarkable cast of bel canto soloists. Tell’s son Jemmy, who ends up with the famed apple on top of his head in the archery contest and is a gifted archer himself, is actually a soprano trouser role, to be performed in this concert by the Italian soprano Erika Grimaldi.
Classical Gays in Classical Gayland: Excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story will be performed in two different programs in April 2015 and his Three Meditations from Mass in June 2015. Benjamin Britten represents with Soirées musicales in November this year. The Canadian original Claude Vivier (who met his tragic end in the early 1980s at the hands of a male prostitute he picked up at a Paris bar) is the CanCon part of the TSO touring program this summer.