“What’s the Connection?” many of you may be asking. Well, we can start the story in July 1977, when a young and enthusiastic Canadian pianist was paying his first visit to the summer school of music that Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears had founded in connection with their flourishing Aldeburgh Festival. The young musician thought he had arrived as an observer to sit in on masterclasses. Instead, he found himself filling a last minute vacancy as an accompanist - and, in the process, Bruce Ubukata met another staff pianist, Stephen Ralls. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1978, Stephen emigrated to Toronto and, for a decade and a half, we returned each summer to Aldeburgh where we had first “connected.” What a rich repertoire we absorbed through our associations with Peter Pears, Hans Hotter, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Galina Vishnevskaya and many other great singers! How could we transplant the joy we felt in the sympathetic and civilized Aldeburgh environment home to Toronto? We took the plunge on February 21, 1982, with our first concert at Hart House. “Sound the trumpet, to celebrate the glories of this day!” rang out in the Great Hall. We had made the tickets ourselves and the box office was literally that: an old Dacks shoe-box. The audience seemed to like what we did; so for a couple of years, we made ourselves available for sporadic bookings in and around the city. Then, in 1985, we established our own Sunday Series in Walter Hall. It was a red-letter day when, with the help of a compilation of Christmas card lists, our subscription edged into three digits.
The establishment of a Board and the incorporation of the Aldeburgh Connection in 1986 put us on to a new plane. President Robert Baillie taught Stephen double-entry bookkeeping (arcane skill!) over coffee and cookies. Carol Anderson, who came to us as the universe’s best and most loyal volunteer, took on a host of responsibilities and became an invaluable part of our team. Our artistic range extended and deepened: not all our concerts had to have happy endings, we discovered. New and exciting talents emerged to join us and we were fortunate to be a nurturing part of their auspicious beginnings. Tour opportunities beckoned - concerts in New York (1987), Aldeburgh (1988) and Edinburgh and London in 1992, our tenth anniversary year, let us spread our wings and even transplant some Canadian musical content beyond our borders.
The twenty years since then have seen a steady increase of activity. For 12 years we put energy into a recital series and are proud of those performances in the Glenn Gould Studio, which engaged many of Canada’s very finest singers. In Walter Hall, in December 1998, we presented (in collaboration with the University of Toronto) the first recital in our Young Artists Series, later renamed the Discovery Series, in which artists such as Alexander Dobson, Virginia Hatfield, Joni Henson, Benjamin Covey and Lucia Cesaroni made their first public recital appearances. Five recording projects have been achieved and well received, and in 2007 we inaugurated the first Bayfield Festival of Song in our favourite, beautiful village on Lake Huron.
If we tried to choose our favourites among our concerts, the list would be too long. However, some of our finest hours, we feel, have been our celebrations of composers’ birthdays. One night continues to cast a glow in our memories - January 31, 1997, when we united with the CBC, and the rest of the world, in paying tribute to Schubert on his 200th birthday. Since then, we have marked important anniversaries of Poulenc, Wolf, Duparc, Britten, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt. Next year, stay tuned for our celebration of the centenary of our “signature” composer, Benjamin Britten!
Our Honorary Patrons have inspired us with their encouragement and marvellous example. May we list them for you (in chronological order)? - Sir Peter Pears, Nancy Evans, Eric Crozier, Greta Kraus, Steuart Bedford, Lois Marshall, Christopher Newton, Léopold Simoneau and Catherine Robbin - all great friends and sterling advocates of the art of song. Our Board, led since 1994 by Michael Gough and then, since 2008, by Patsy Anderson, has lightened our load with sage advice and helped us to turn in a series of impeccably balanced budgets. Individuals have provided princely support and the fleeting, but vivid, joys of parties and celebrations. Our audiences - you! - have astounded us with your intelligence and generosity. You always laugh at our jokes and have expressed your appreciation in countless ways. Letters and jars of relish are valued as much as splendid donations. And our singers - too numerous to mention - have stimulated us with their insights and ravished us, the two crow-voiced pianists, with their melody. It has been the greatest thrill to see them take their rightful places on the world’s great stages.