Conductor Kerry Stratton a ‘gifted storyteller’

Classical-music conductor and “gifted storyteller” Kerry Stratton, who conducted orchestras around the world, has died following complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

In the course of his international career, Stratton conducted orchestras in 35 countries throughout Europe, North America and Asia, leading some of the world’s great chamber orchestras, including George Solti Chamber Orchestra of Budapest, the Vienna Concert-Verein, Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia and, most recently, the Slovak Sinfonietta.

The Thornhill resident was the musical director and conductor for the Toronto Concert Orchestra and was also the host of The Oasis and Conductor’s Choice on The New Classical FM. “Amid the turmoil of a crazy world, he brought us beautiful music, memorable stories from his outstanding career and everybody who was anybody in the world of classical music,” the station says in a post on its website. The station also praised him for bringing “a new world dynamism to old world music.”

Tributes are many. “Kerry always shared learned little tidbits about musicians and composers on his radio show. He knew a lot and, as always, took sheer delight in sharing interesting bits of biography about the various composers he chose for the radio show,” John Hartig from Vineland wrote on the R.S. Kane Funeral Home website.

The Belleville-born maestro died Aug. 27 at age 66 at his Thornhill home. He was diagnosed with ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – in 2018. “ALS has laid me low, but the world is still beautiful,” the married father of three posted recently on Twitter.

“He was a gifted storyteller and he believed musical excellence can be found from the concert stage to the dance floor,” says Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who expressed condolences to Stratton’s family, friends and loved ones on behalf of the city. “He was a force. He saw beauty in everything and we are forever grateful to him for giving us beautiful music.”

Stratton received the 2018 Markham Performing Arts Awards’ Professional Artist of the Year. He last appeared at Flato Markham Theatre on March 10 for a Toronto Concert Orchestra event. “Although he could no longer conduct, he narrated the poems. His ALS had advanced and he was in a wheelchair,” Scarpitti recalls. “He received an instant and long-standing ovation; not a dry eye in the audience.”

Stratton began taking violin lessons when he was nine and idolized composer, conductor and musician Leonard Bernstein. He played violin with the Eastern Ontario Concert Orchestra (now the Quinte Symphony) and French horn at Quinte Secondary School. He studied conducting at McGill University in Montreal, Que. and later completed graduate studies at the Vienna Conservatory in Austria, Academia Chigiana in Italy, and L’Ecole Pierre Monteux in the U.S.

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