Meet the Artist – Jonathan Crow, violinist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I actually started university with plans to do a double degree in maths and music. At a certain point though I realized that to not do music would be a much bigger decision than to continue on in the field – I’d been playing violin for basically my whole life and couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t something I did!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I’d been very lucky to work with some great musicians, both as mentors and colleagues. I had the privilege of working with Yehudi Menuhin as a teenager, and more recently have had the chance to learn from and work with some of the world’s greatest conductors. I started my career quite young, as I won a position in the Montreal Symphony when I was 19. The first conductor I worked with there was Zubin Mehta, and continuously had great artists performing on stage five feet away from me. I quickly realized that there was a lot I could learn from getting to perform with the world’s best!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Like many fields, work-life balance in the classical music world is not easy and takes a lot of care. I travel a lot for performances, and finding the mix between touring life and family can be difficult. I’m lucky in my career to have had the chance to do many different things, including teaching, orchestra, chamber music and solo touring. Keeping on top of everything can be tough- I’m lucky to live in the days of cell phones and emails though!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Too many to mention! I really love recording, and I’m really happy to have had the chance to record Scheherazade with Peter Oundjian and the TSO when I first joined the orchestra. I’m also really proud of a recent New Orford String Quartet disc of Brahms Quartets, for which we won a JUNO!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Ha – whatever I haven’t played recently and I’m excited to revisit? I think this changes throughout one’s life – I feel great about coming back to certain pieces a learned as a kid – many of the standard concerti. I think living with a piece for a long time is a great way to feel comfortable with it.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Generally, this is a bit of a joint decision; with concerti it depends what the orchestra that I’m playing with has or hasn’t done recently, and with chamber music it’s a discussion with my colleagues. I find it interesting to tie in programs that might have a connection that people don’t realize, and I really love variety in programming within a single concert. It’s fascinating to hear how certain pieces are influenced by what came before them or what might have been going on around them in the world at the time of their creation.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love touring and getting to experience different halls around the world. I always love to play in Carnegie Hall because of the history there, and I think that Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is just about the most beautiful looking and sounding building that I’ve ever seen!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’d have to say performing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Sir Yehudi Menuhin as conductor while I was still in university. The audience wouldn’t stop clapping after the first movement (it perhaps wasn’t a standard symphony-going public, but a lot of the general public wanted the chance to see such a legend live in concert…) and he thought the whole thing was hilarious. He was on stage laughing while I had no idea what to do!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think this varies from person to person. It’s so hard to make a living in classical music, and I think anyone who can actually perform great music for a living should be thrilled!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

That’s a hard question to answer—so much of what we learn is through the process of doing, and needs to be experienced rather than taught. I personally find it hard to find a balance between striving for perfection, but accepting human frailty; I think to be successful in music one has to be a real perfectionist, but also to understand that perfection isn’t necessarily attainable and that audiences aren’t actually looking for a “perfect’ performance, but rather for something special to be communicated between performer and listener.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Specifically, where? Perhaps on a beach somewhere—it’s cold in Toronto right now! Seriously, I’d be happy to be exactly where I am right now…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Finding the perfect balance between life, family, career and everything else! Of course this balance is almost impossible to find, but I think the search is important.

What is your most treasured possession?

I guess everyone would expect me to say my violin? I’m not really sure honestly—things don’t last forever. I really like the recent studies that show that experiences make people much happier than things. Memories don’t wear out.

What is your present state of mind?

Somewhere between extremely relaxed and very stressed about all the things I need to do in the next two hours. Ask me again tomorrow and it will probably be exactly the same.

Jonathan Crow will be featured as a soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on 28, 29 and 30 June, performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, under the direction of TSO incoming Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. Further information

Jonathan Crow has been Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 2011. A native of Prince George, British Columbia, Jonathan earned his Bachelor of Music in Honours Performance from McGill University in 1998, at which time he joined the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) as Associate Principal Second Violin. Between 2002 and 2006, Jonathan was the Concertmaster of the OSM; during this time, he was the youngest concertmaster of any major North American orchestra. Jonathan continues to perform as guest concertmaster with orchestras around the world. He has also performed as a soloist with most major Canadian orchestras, under the baton of such conductors as Charles Dutoit, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Andrew Davis, Peter Oundjian, Kent Nagano, Mario Bernardi, and João Carlos Martins.

Jonathan joined the Schulich School of Music at McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Violin and was appointed Associate Professor of Violin in 2010. Current and former students of Mr. Crow have received prizes at competitions around the world, and work regularly with major orchestras in North America and Europe. Jonathan is currently Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Toronto.

In 2016, Jonathan was named Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music, which recently announced record attendance in his first full season. An avid chamber musician, he has performed at chamber music festivals throughout North America, South America, and Europe. He is a founding member of the JUNO Award–winning New Orford String Quartet, a project-based ensemble dedicated to the promotion of standard and Canadian string quartet repertoire throughout North America. As an advocate of contemporary music, he has premièred works by Canadian composers Michael Conway Baker, Eldon Rathburn, Barrie Cabena, Gary Kulesha, Tim Brady, Francois Dompierre, Ana Sokolovic, Marjan Mozetich, Christos Hatzis, Ernest MacMillan, and Healey Willan. He also includes in his repertoire major concerti by such modern composers as Ligeti, Schnittke, Bernstein, Brian Cherney, Rodney Sharman, Vivian Fung, and Cameron Wilson.

Jonathan has recorded for ATMA, Bridge, CBC, Oxingale, Skylark, and XXI-21 labels and is heard frequently on Chaîne Culturelle of Radio-Canada, CBC Radio Two, and National Public Radio, along with Radio France, Deutsche Welle, Hessischer Rundfunk, and the RAI in Europe.