“I think all music is equal,” says flutist Robert Aitken.
“Anybody who says they only like baroque music or classical music … they are poor people, I would say.”
The Yonge and Eglinton area resident says all music — whether it’s rap, jazz, classical or country — acts as just another layer.
“If you put it all together then you have a very wonderful rich cake that includes pop music as well as Renaissance music.”
And Aitken should know.
The 70-year-old has had a storied 50-year career.
He learned to play his beloved instrument when he was a child, performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at age 19 and was awarded the prestigious Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts by the Canada Council for the Arts last year.
If that’s not enough, the warm musician is an internationally recognized teacher, composer and conductor who travels hundreds of days a year throughout the world with his music.
Locally, he’s set to perform a concert with the Afiara String Quartet as part of the Mooredale Concert series at the University of Toronto’s Edward Johnson building.
The April 25 concert includes Berg’s Lyric Suite and short quintets by Tovey, Boccherini and Ginastera.
“Tovey was a very important English composer. He did a lot of famous analysis of Beethoven’s symphonies,” Aitken says in mid-March a few hours before he’s set to fly to Munich to perform a classical concert.
Aitken says he’s very happy to perform with Afiara, as the concert is traditional in nature.
“For some reason or another I have developed a reputation for contemporary music, and in Toronto most concerts I’ve performed in have been contemporary music,” he says.
“So this is one of the few that I’m playing traditional music, and very pleased to do it.”
He says he’s predominately known in the rest of the world as a classical musician.
Aitken, who was the youngest principal flutist in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s history, describes Toronto’s music scene as incredibly rich and vibrant.
Sure, he’d like more funding from governments, but artistically, the musicians who call this city home are some of the most talented in the country.
Aitken also enjoys his life: one that has been solely dedicated to music.
While he learned to play the piano when he was four, he had to give it up when his family moved from Nova Scotia to Pennsylvania as it was too expensive to ship it down to the States.
Aitken’s mother bought him a flute after he heard it on the radio.
That fateful purchase has led to a lifetime of thrills, says Aitken, whose wife Marion Ross is a pianist.
By 17, his family moved to Mississauga with Aitken working as an extra flutist in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Two years later, he was the principal flutist for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Along the way, he has taught around the world, studied with such noted composers as Elliott Carter and George Crumb, and founded such series as The Shaw Festival’s Music Today and the Lyric Arts Trio, with Ross, and soprano Mary Morrison.
“There is a great pleasure in playing,” he says. “If you think you’re giving other people pleasure then that’s a bonus … it’s more icing on a cake.”
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