The Birth of Festival of the Sound

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 Festival of the Sound (FOTS) formed a Board of Directors and became a non-profit corporation with Mr. Kuerti as Artistic Director. The 1980 Festival of the Sound 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; vocalists 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; and choirs such as Christ Church Cathedral Choir, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and The Elmer Iseler Singers. Orchestras appearing at the Festival have included the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, National Academy Orchestra, and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. 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 frequently featured.

Cruises aboard the 475-passenger Island Queen have been part of the Festival since its beginning, growing from a gala sunset cruise in 1980 to regularly scheduled cruises featuring music ranging from classical, folk, jazz, and many other styles.

Festival of the Sound 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. Furthermore, our Stockey Young Artist programme supports exceptional young musicians in their transition to professional careers and our Music Scores programme invites world-class musicians to travel to 10 local schools and collaborate with students in grades 4-6.

CBC Radio One and Two broadcasted Festival concerts for many years and TV Ontario 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.

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 Roadin Parry Sound. This attractive building also houses a bright, intimate performance space. Events are held on a semi-regular basis there and in 2019 these off-season events were christened the Connoisseur Club.

The Festival has also been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. 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 addition, Festival of the Sound was awarded a Top 100 award from Festival and Events Ontario for the first time in 2016 and has 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. This 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.

In 2019, the Festival celebrated its 40th full season, as well as the 40th anniversary of the very first “pilot” concert in the that was performed in 40 years ago in the Parry Sound High School gymnasium.

In 2020, Festival of the Sound had to explore a whole new world: the virtual world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person concerts were put on standby due to government regulations. As such, and after much deliberation, the Festival chose to take a sabbatical for the 2020 season. A sabbatical, but not silence. The Festival staff and Board have worked hard to put together virtual events and series to share music and connect with our Festival Family. From a virtual plant fundraiser, virtual interviews, and even a virtual Beethoven@250 series, the Festival continues to create ways to keep the music alive in our hearts.