I went for the baroque music, and found something even more enchanting.
The Toronto Music Garden, created in 1999 by famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, is the site of the annual Summer Music in the Garden series each week at the Harbourfront Centre. It provides a beautiful setting, with the featured performers playing under the green trailing branches of a tall tree, with spectators sitting on tiers of grass forming an amphitheatre above, surrounded by a rich garden of wild flowers, tall grasses, and lush bushes and trees.
Sunday’s performers were FOLIA, a trio of musicians playing authentic baroque instruments: Linda Melsted on the violin, Kiri Tollaksen on cornetto, and Borys Medicky on the virginals (a small version of a harpsichord). We were treated to a program called “Utopian Voices,” a pleasant concert under the warm sun of a summer Sunday afternoon. Free concerts like this, for me, are one of the best things about living in Toronto.
But as I strolled along a nearby path after the concert ended, I discovered another “best thing.” I came upon a small sign that said, “5 – Menuette,” and which described the gardens and the metal circular pavilion before which it stood, in the area above and behind the amphitheatre. I thought to myself, “If there’s a number 5, where are numbers 1 through 4?” And I set out to discover them.
I found myself following a series of labyrinthine pathways leading from an entrance point (1 – Prelude) past other musical movements: 2 – Allemande, 3 – Courante, and so on, a series of musical concepts that made me think of something like the Stations of the Cross. The paths ducked into secret groves under the trees, led the way past benches sitting in serene shadow, or circled around groupings of boulders in the midst of enclosures bounded by fir trees or grasses.
One path circled around and around among tall grasses and meadow wildflowers planted to attract butterflies and birds (I saw two butterflies that looked an awful lot like Monarchs), finally coming into the open where the sculpture of a maypole loomed overhead. Another path of rough flagstones circled into what was called a “poet’s corner,” surrounded by a wall of evergreens. A large stone at its centre held a still pool of water, and in the enclosure stood a man playing a flute.
The haunting music followed me as I worked my way back out and along the rest of the paths. In the end, I found six signs: or rather, six movements(**), as the Music Garden was designed to interpret J.S. Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. The idea was first broached to the city of Boston, which never followed through, and that city’s loss has been Toronto’s gain. The Music Garden rolls gently over three hills, the paths rising and falling even as they spiral and weave.
This is truly an enchanted garden, music expressed in nature, nature embodying music. I can’t believe I didn’t even know it was there until yesterday. But you can be sure that I will be revisiting the magical, musical place as often as I can.
(** The movements are: 1-Prelude, 2-Allemande, 3-Courante, 4-Sarabande, 5-Menuette, and 6-Gigue)