Jonathan Crow is a young violinist making in impact on several fronts. This fall will be Crow’s fourth season as Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony. He is also an avid chamber musician, including his role as a founding member of the New Orford String Quartet. Crow also teaches, previously at McGill and currently at the University of Toronto.
Crow will be participating in Toronto Summer Music on all three fronts: coaching as part of the Chamber Music Institute; playing the “Russia After Revolution“ chamber program August 1st, and he’ll be playing with the Toronto Symphony as Concertmaster as they make their Koerner Hall debut later this summer. On the occasion ofToronto Summer Music I ask Crow ten questions: five about himself and five about the multiple roles he plays.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
Not sure I can answer that one- what if they read this? I suspect they would have a better answer for you than I would anyway!
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a violinist?
The worst thing about being a violinist is definitely airline travel! Having to worry about finding a free overhead bin on every flight can get tedious very quickly. Most cabin crew are extremely accommodating- especially the pilot on a flight to Portland who put my violin behind his seat as the plane didn’t have any overhead bins. You never know though…
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
This summer I’m doing quite a bit of traveling with my family between festivals- which means I’m getting to know the music of Katy Perry extremely well! (I have two daughters…) “Let it Go” from Frozen is also a huge hit with them. For me, I do quite a bit of score listening on youtube- it’s amazing the out of print recordings that you can find.
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Is this a favourite superpower question? If so- definitely being able to fly. Or perhaps teleport. Anything to avoid taking my fiddle on planes! Seriously though, I’ve wished I was quicker to pick up new languages- both for musical reasons and also just to make traveling more simple.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do.
I don’t think this summer is a good time to answer that question- I’m on a plane now to Calgary after being on the road for four weeks. Yesterday night was one of about ten nights in my own bed this summer… A bbq in my backyard with my family sounds great right about now!
1-Please tell us more about the works on the “Russia After Revolution” program, namely
- Prokofiev: Sonata for Two Violins C Major Op. 56
- Vaughan Williams: Phantasy Quintet
- Shostakovich: Piano Quintet g minor Op. 57
This is a great program- the Shostakovich is one of the great works of the chamber music repertoire, and an unbelievable compelling piece. It has everything- great virtuosic moments, humor, and incredible beauty. The last movement is so typically Shostakovich- a seemingly upbeat beautiful movement which is actually bittersweet and almost tragic. The Prokofiev is one of my favourite pieces- I’m lucky to play it at three different festivals this summer. It’s perfectly written for the violin, and the parts interchange seamlessly. And the Phantasy Quintet is a lesser-known piece which deserves to be played more- I love the lush string writing that you get from Vaughan-Williams!
2-Do you have a favourite moment in one of those works?
The middle movements of the Shostakovich 5tet are about the most meaningful movements in the chamber music literature- listen for the contrast between the power and sarcastic wit in the Scherzo and the deep sorrow of the slow movement.
3- Talk about mentoring, and what it means to you as a violinist.
I’ve always loved teaching, and have been lucky to have had opportunities to teach for almost my entire career- previously at McGill University and now at UofT, the Orford Arts Centre and many other summer festivals. As a student I attended the Ravinia Festival and Domaine Forget where I had the chance to play with established professionals in a fashion similar to what we do at TSMAF. For a student on the verge of a professional career this is an amazing way to learn how life really works in the field- everything from how to streamline the rehearsal process when you don’t have an entire semester to learn a piece to how other artists interact when playing a piece with different colleagues. As a mentor it’s also amazing to realize how many new ideas I get when playing a piece with younger artists who might have fewer preconceived ideas about repertoire.
4- Please put your feelings about classical music, The Toronto Symphony & mentorship of the next generation of artists into context for us, especially with respect to Toronto Summer Music.
I hope that the relationship this year between the TSO and TSMAF is the start of something permanent! These are both great organizations that are giving back to the community in different ways and have so much to offer. There are so many articles being written these days about the “Death of Classical Music” but I would suggest that the interest in classical music around the world has never been stronger. Both the TSO and TSMAF are finding creative ways to bring young people to concerts- the TSO Soundcheck program and TSMAF Shuffle concerts are great examples. People love classical music and love the concert experience, but rather than complaining about how hard it is to “sell” classical music these days, it is up to us to offer what we do in new and exciting ways, to find venues and ways of presenting ourselves that are exciting to people in the 21stcentury. Over the past ten years of teaching I haven’t yet had a student who didn’t find a niche for him or herself somewhere. Perhaps the days of expecting to win a job in an orchestra a few weeks after graduation are over, but students these days are incredibly creative with what they find to do in the classical music field. Hopefully TSO and TSMAF are leading the way in setting an example to young people and showing them the different ways that we can all present what we do. Honestly though, I think we learn as much from them as they do from us!
5- Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
Too many to mention! I’ve had the chance to work with so many great artists over the years, and one of the reasons I auditioned for the OSM while still in school was to have the chance to work with world-class soloists and conductors every week. This has just continued since I moved to Toronto to join the TSO!
Not sure I have much to add to the above! Just in case people don’t know though, TSMAF has wonderful professional concerts, but the gem of what we do is working with advanced students and pre-professionals over the course of the week on a specific piece after which we present it in concert. This for me is always the highlight of the week, and the energy that you see on stage during these concerts is like nothing else!
Toronto Summer Music begins Tuesday July 22nd. Jonathan Crow’s chamber concert is August 1st, which he’ll be concertmaster for the Toronto Symphony’s debut concert at Koerner Hall is on August 12th at 7:00 pm.