By Jeanette Clark and Gillian Long
Even unploughed sidewalks and extreme cold weather failed to deter enthusiastic Academy members from attending the first Forum of 2019 on January 30th – a fascinating conversation with Mervon Mehta, Executive Director of Performing Arts for the Royal Conservatory. As he chatted with Ernie Fallon, it was easy to see why Mehta has made such a success of his tenure as Programme Chief of Koerner Hall.
He reminisced about his early life as a hockey- playing teenager in Edmonton and Montreal, whose summers were often spent exploring the great cities of the world while his father, Zubin, was busy conducting their orchestras. Before being headhunted (three times!) for the position in Toronto, he had a career in acting in the USA and Canada, followed by another incarnation as Director of Programming at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and a similar position in Philadelphia. All these experiences, combined with a natural easy manner and an impressive rolodex of connections with the musical world, made him the perfect choice for Toronto. He was deeply involved with fine tuning the superb new concert hall, which opened in 2009.
Clearly a jazz afficionado himself, Mehta is just as enthusiastic about all types of music. He firmly believes that no genre is better than another; there is no high or low – if it is good, it belongs. As well as the big names in music, he likes to showcase newer, but highly talented young musicians, and to tap different markets so that relatively unknown artists can sell out the house. Ernie was particularly interested in how Mehta built the jazz tribute to Oscar Peterson in 2015, with members of Peterson’s family and big name jazz pianists in attendance.
In answer to questions from the audience, we learned that Koerner Hall, despite having minimal government funding, is a $50 million company, much bigger than the AGO or ROM which have substantial funding. Koerner Hall has attracted much more talented faculty and students to the Conservatory. Its unique rush seat policy is very popular.
After sharing a variety of his experiences with different musicians in the past, he revealed some highlights of the upcoming new season. These will include the posthumous world premiere of Oscar Peterson’s African Suite, musicians as different as Dakka Brakka, a unique and crazily colourful band from Ukraine, and the peerless baritone Matthias Goerne in a double bill with Canadian pianist wunderkind, Jan Lisiecki.
In conclusion, Kennedy Marshall eloquently thanked Mervon Mehta and Ernie Fallon for their illuminating conversation. Once again the Talks Committee is to be congratulated for arranging such an interesting afternoon.