During the summer of 1979, renowned pianist Anton Kuerti purchased a summer home near Parry Sound and organized three concerts by outstanding Canadian musicians. The enthusiastic response to these programmes inspired him to propose an annual concert series. Local residents accepted the challenge, and the FESTIVAL OF THE SOUND formed a Board of Directors and became a non-profit corporation with Mr. Kuerti as Artistic Director. The 1980 FESTIVAL OF THE SOUND (FOTS) marked the beginning of Ontario’s first annual international summer classical music festival. In 1985, James Campbell began his tenure as the Festival’s second Artistic Director, a position he still holds today.
Hundreds of Canadian and international musicians have performed at the Festival for nearly 40 seasons, among them: string quartets of the stature of the Tokyo, St. Lawrence, New Zealand and Penderecki; the Gryphon and Beaux Arts Trios; singers Jean Stilwell, Russell Braun, Mark DuBois and Kevin McMillan; pianists André Laplante, Jane Coop, Menahem Pressler and Angela Hewitt; violinists Pinchas Zukerman, Corey Cerovsek, Martin Beaver and James Ehnes; cellists Janos Starker, Yo-Yo Ma, Denis Brott, Shauna Rolston and Denise Djokic; choirs such as Christ Church Cathedral Choir, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and The Elmer Iseler Singers. Orchestras appearing at the FOTS have included the Toronto Symphony and the World and National Youth Orchestras. Composers-in-residence such as Srul Irving Glick and Robert Rosen have written works on site during the Festival and several premieres of works by Canadian composers are featured each year.
Cruises aboard the 500 passenger Island Queen have been part of the Festival since the beginning, growing from a gala sunset cruise in 1980 to regularly scheduled cruises featuring music from classical to dixieland to jazz styles.
The FOTS has an education mandate, offering master classes for developing musicians, open rehearsals, workshops for local children and lectures by musicians and composers, all designed to improve the musical understanding and appreciation of audience members. This element of the Festival was taken to a new level in 2001 with the Music From the Inside Out series. Family concerts on Saturdays introduce young audience members to the joys of making and hearing music.
CBC Radio One and Two have broadcast Festival concerts every year since the concert series began. TV Ontario has filmed programmes and other events, giving extensive publicity not only to the Festival, but to the community as well. In addition, there was a joint CBC/BBC documentary made that has been shown to audiences across Canada and throughout Western Europe.
A volunteer Board of Directors works all year with a full-time Executive Director to prepare for the summer concert series, which has grown from a 2-week $60,000 Festival in 1980 to a 3-week $700,000 Festival in 2019. The Festival of the Sound was honoured in 1995 and again in 2003 with a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts in recognition of the exceptional private sector and community support developed over the years.
In 2003, a long-time dream of the Festival of the Sound was realized with the opening season in the new Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts on the Parry Sound waterfront, where we continue to present intimate music in a spectacular setting.
Since 2013, the Festival Office has made it’s home in the historic CP Station on Avenue Road in Parry Sound. This attractive building also houses a bright performance space. Events are held on a semi regular basis there during the off season. In 2019 these off season events were christened the Connoisseur Club.
The Festival of the Sound was awarded a Top 100 award from Festival and Events Ontario in 2016. The Festival has now received the award for the last 4 consecutive years.
In 2018, the Festival added a Folk Weekend, to bookend with the Jazz weekend. The Festival also undertook the massive Sounding Thunder project, made possible with a grant from New Chapter. This project was Nationally acclaimed, with plans of touring the production on a large scale. The multidisciplinary presentation of “The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow” brought many new ears to the Festival. Its portrayal of the titular local indigenous war hero received rave reviews on tour across Ontario.
This year the Festival celebrates it’s 40th full season, as well as the 40th anniversary of the very first “pilot” concert in the High School gymnasium.