Stratford Summer Music is the little music festival that could. What began as a modest 10-day event in 2001 has grown into a six-week extravaganza, featuring big-name stars performing music from across the ages and around the globe.
“One of the things I insisted on when we started was that we grow slowly and steadily,” says Stratford Summer Music artistic producer, John Miller. “I wanted to offer the highest quality musical experience possible, not only in Stratford but in southwestern Ontario. Being home to the best theatre in the region, if not the country, I felt it was incumbent upon us to do the same musically.”
Add a commitment to musical variety and accessibility — including numerous free offerings — and Stratford Summer Music seems to have found the recipe for enduring artistic and popular success.
The festival kicks off July 18 on Tom Patterson Island with a firework display set to Berthold Carrière’s Music for a Midsummer’s Night. It wraps up August 28 with The Stratford Six, version 2.0. In between, the city’s streets, parks, and churches will play host to dozens of concerts, master classes and other special events.
Some of this year’s notable guest artists include the Choir of Holy Trinity Church from Stratford-Upon-Avon (Aug 4, 6 & 7), Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman with New York City’s Harlem Gospel Choir (July 20), pianists Jan Lisiecki (August 26 & 27) and Simone Dinnerstein (July 21 & 23), Artie Shaw Orchestra (Aug 1 & 2) and London favourite Basia Bulat with the Sunparlour Players (July 19).
The festival also provides plenty of opportunity for less formal musical enjoyment, including free noon-hour concerts held daily on the MusicBarge, a series of weekend musical brunches at The Prune Restaurant, and Sunday morning Bach Walks with the Stratford Field Naturalists and flautists from Charm of Finches.
“Outside of large urban areas, it will be difficult to find musicians of the calibre that we are presenting,” Miller says.
Summer Sunset Sounds
Music-lovers heading to Grand Bend this summer may want to stake their spot in the sand for the third annual Summer Sunset Sounds, a series of free concerts held on the main beach every Sunday evening (or holiday Monday) at 7.
This year’s 10-concert line-up includes headliners Sarah Smith (July 4), Pat Robitaille and Soul Brother Stef (August 1), Robbie Antone Band (August 14) and Steel City Rovers (August 28).
Series organizer and Grand Bend business owner Glen Baille says the series continues a long-standing tradition of bringing music to the beach. “When Guy Lombardo played here in the 1940s, the guys in the band slept in the dunes,” he notes.
Thanks to generous community support and a grant from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, this year’s concert series will take place on the brand new Rotary Community Stage.
Summer Sunset Sounds drew close to 6,000 spectators last year. It’s a family-friendly series designed to help locals and visitors extend their weekend at this popular lakeside town, Baille says. “We have many residents who came to Grand Bend to have fun in their youth and now they are here to retire, but we still cater to kids. This event appeals to both groups.”
El Sistema Aeolian
The stars aligned earlier this year for London’s El Sistema Aeolian and Bishop Cronyn Memorial Anglican Church. The free, after-school music education program moved into the historic church at the corner of Queens Avenue and William Street this January, after declining parish membership forced the congregation to disband.
Inspired by similar music programs in South America, El Sistema Aeolian was founded in London in 2011 with 16 young participants working out of one classroom at Aeolian Hall. By this September, 100 children from all over London will be making music as members of its three orchestras and two choirs.
The only criterion for participation is attendance, says Clark Bryan, founder and program director for El Sistema Aeolian. With most children taking part in various lessons and rehearsals three or four afternoons each week, the time commitment is considerable.
“Space means everything in terms ofbeing able to create programming,” Bryan says. “And this church is the perfect space for us. It’s in the right neighbourhood and has a great energy.”
El Sistema Aeolian’s seven-year lease includes use of the sanctuary as well as adjacent classrooms, a former daycare area, meeting rooms and a kitchen. “Having this facility allows us to do other projects,” Bryan notes.
The Pride Men’s Chorus London is one of the first groups to make use of the new El Sistema space. The 30-voice choir has been rehearsing at Bishop Cronyn in anticipation of their debut performance on July 21 at Aeolian Hall.
As for the kids of El Sistema Aeolian, they will be holding a concert in their new home at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Place towards the end of August.
Nicole Laidler has been covering the London and area music scene for more than a decade. See what else she’s been writing at www.spilledink.ca