Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
The 12th season of Stratford Summer Music has been music to John Miller’s ears.
The festival came to a close on Sunday after six weeks of public performances, concerts and lectures in the city.
“It’s been incredible,” said the Stratford Summer Music artistic producer and founder. “Sublime is the only work I can use.”
Never before has the music fest attracted as many major international stars, including pianists Simone Dinnerstein, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Gabriela Montero.
“It was inspirational ... I just sat there mesmerized by the talent of these international performers,” Miller said.
He estimated about 5,000 people attended this season’s kick-off in Lower Queen’s Park, with a free performance by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, a dazzling fireworks display and some heavy back-up by way of 105mm Howitzers, fired by the Canadian Armed Forces.
The always-popular BargeMusic attracted large crowds, as did The Culture Kids of Trinidad and Tobago, who drew such a large audience people were spilling into the streets around City Hall.
“It was tremendous, it brought hundreds of people downtown,” he said. “Out staff had to keep people off the roads.”
In general, the base for Summer Music appears to be expanding. Miller shared anecdotes of meeting music lovers from Arizona and North Dakota who were visiting for the first time.
Despite growing popularity, there’s still work to be done.
While the free events were well-attended and there were many other sold-out affairs, ticket sales for some series could be improved.
Miller is focused on building up the BMO International Piano Series and the popularity of the Taffelmusik Baroque Orchestra, which made its Summer Music debut in mid August.
He likens it to the growing popularity of young piano phenom Jan Lisiecki, who first appeared at Summer Music in 2010.
“When we started with Jan three years ago the numbers were small so we kept building,” Miller said, noting all three of Lisiecki’s concerts were a hot ticket this season, with two completely sold out. “I want to build the piano series for three years then I want to see it run with the same excitement.”
Though it’s satisfying to see Summer Music experience such success, it is the support of the community that touches Miller’s heart the most.
“The people who live here and make Summer Music a success are so impressive to me,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without those people. We really couldn’t.”
There are the donors who attend fundraising events in the off-season to the families who open their doors to billet artists during the summer, the restaurants who host artists, even the local church that invited the Culture Kids to participate in mass and a luncheon.
“It just grows more touching for me each year when I see it,” he said, of the community support.
Likewise, he’s grateful for the dedication and hard work of the “small but mighty” Summer Music staff, from the administrative staff in the office to the tech crew that keeps things afloat and amplified on the music barge.
The 2012 season is barely behind them, but work has been underway on the 13th season – to take place July 15 to Aug. 25, 2013 – for months.
Miller has been carrying around a draft of performers for the upcoming season and working hard to prepare to present the information to the board.
“We’ll take a few days to relax in September, but there’s no time to lose,” said Miller, with a smile.
After all, Summer Music’s major fundraiser, Over the Top, is just weeks away, set to take place Nov. 2 at The Church Restaurant.