Stephen Cera

Photo by Michael Cooper

Stephen Cera

Stephen Cera



Stephen served as Artistic Director of the distinguished Concert Season at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto from 1991 to 2000. He helped to create, develop and lead the series during a time when the Ford Centre was widely celebrated as the site of approximately 100 top-flight concerts per season. These concerts were given by some of the world’s foremost musical artists, who performed in an array of classical genres including orchestral, chamber, early music, vocal, contemporary, choral and solo piano. As well, it showcased jazz, Afro-American and gospel, klezmer and Celtic music, plus family programs. Under his leadership, the series grew from an initial base of zero to 10,000 subscriptions by its fifth season, in a location far from the downtown Toronto entertainment district, and in the context of the highly competitive Toronto concert marketplace.


Stephen served for seven years as the Music Critic of the Baltimore Sun. His commentaries on music have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Congressional Quarterly, the Los Angeles Times, and Musical America, as well as the National Post, Maclean’s and the Huffington Post, and The Independent and International Record Review (U.K.)


From 1985 to 1991, Stephen was a Producer with CBC Radio Music, and closely involved both with CBC’s special coverage of the 10th Leeds International Piano Competition in the U.K., and the new production by Harry Kupfer of Wagner’s Ring cycle from the Bayreuth Festival in Germany. He produced many concerts and features for network broadcast, such as one that focused on the world premiere of a newly-discovered Liszt piano concerto which was premiered by Janina Fialkowska with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As a producer, he developed eight compact disc projects for CBC Records, and also produced the Canadian Orchestral Sampler, which won a Financial Post Award for Business in the Arts in the category of “Innovative Support.”


Stephen has been active as a concert pianist, and appeared as soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Tulsa Philharmonic, and other orchestras in both Canada and the U.S. In 2014 and 2015, he performed in chamber music recitals with the late Jacques Israelievitch, former Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony and St. Louis Symphony.


Stephen holds a Bachelor of Arts (philosophy) from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and a Master of Music (piano performance) from the University of Southern California. He is a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.


From 2000 to 2002, Stephen programmed the series of “Pamela Wallin Cultural Weekends” produced in conjunction with the Muskoka Sands Resort in Ontario. That series presented artists from a wide variety of disciplines (classical music and jazz, ballet, literature, folk music) in in-depth weekend experiences of performances and conversation with Canadian TV journalist Pamela Wallin.

Later, he served as Music Supervisor for the feature film, The Gospel of John, a UK-Canada co-production directed by Philip Saville and starring Christopher Plummer. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before going into wider release, and becoming available on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The soundtrack, on the Varèse Sarabande label, received excellent reviews in Gramophone (UK) and Billboard magazines and other publications.

Stephen later served as Artistic Director of the Music at Sharon festival, held in the Sharon Temple of the Children of Peace, a National Historic Site just north of Newmarket, Ont. After the Sharon Temple celebrated the 175th anniversary of its completion, the first season of the re-established music festival occurred there in the summer of 2007.

Beginning in 2010, Stephen served as Managing Director of Classical Programming for the new Black Creek Summer Music Festival in Toronto. The festival presented the first Toronto appearance of Plácido Domingo in more than a decade, as well as the first Toronto concert by the London Symphony Orchestra in almost 30 years, conducted by Lorin Maazel. The festival also presented Maestro Maazel conducting Mendelssohn’s complete incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with dramatic readings by Dame Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons.



Stephen Cera video interview, Toronto 2017

My Music

My Music

Sample Musical Performances

In 2014 and 2015, I had the pleasure and inspiration of playing recitals with the late Jacques Israelievitch, the acclaimed Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for some 20 years.  Before coming to Toronto, Jacques had served as the Concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony, and before that as Assistant Concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony.  Jacques’s untimely death in September 2015 ended our collaboration, which had given me much joy.  Most of the time, he wanted to play the viola with me (not the violin), and we chose to work on these masterpieces of Mozart and Schubert.  Joining us in the Mozart trio was Jacques’s faculty colleague at York University, clarinetist Patricia Wait. The other pieces were also recorded in live performances, earlier in my career.

The Bach and Chopin compositions were taped in the venerable and wood-paneled Mabel Shaw Bridges Hall of Music in Claremont, California, one of the most acoustically rewarding recital halls in southern California.

Four years later, I performed the Beethoven Choral Fantasy as the opening work on a symphonic program which also included the composer’s mighty Ninth Symphony.  The Choral Fantasy was something of a “trial run” for Beethoven for his Ninth Symphony, which came years later.

It is a unique work for other reasons also: how often does a solo pianist have the opportunity to perform with both a full orchestra and full chorus?  I’ve always considered it a fascinating and under-appreciated composition,  eclipsed by the shadow of the towering Ninth Symphony.

The thrilling opening cadenza contains some of the most persuasive evidence of Beethoven’s mastery as an improviser.  The soloist here is obliged to enter into the style and spirit of the composer himself.


(Ludwig van Beethoven- Wikipedia)

BEETHOVEN: Choral Fantasy, Opus 80

Stephen Cera, piano. Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir, conducted by Piero Gamba






(Johann Sebastian Bach – Wikipedia)

J.S. BACH: Italian Concerto







(Frédéric Chopin – Wikipedia)


CHOPIN: Fantaisie in F minor, Opus 49





CHOPIN: Barcarolle, Opus 60





CHOPIN: Nocturne in C minor, Opus 48, No. 1

Stephen Cera, piano. Recorded at Bridges Hall of Music, Pomona College, Claremont, California.







(Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Wikipedia)

MOZART: Trio in E-flat, K. 498 (“Kegelstatt”)

Performed by Stephen Cera, piano;  Jacques Israelievitch, viola;  and Patricia Wait, clarinet.






(Franz Schubert – Wikipedia)

SCHUBERT: Sonata in A minor for viola and piano (“Arpeggione”), D. 821

Jacques Israelievitch, viola Stephen Cera, piano recorded at Remenyi House of Music, Toronto.



Richard Goode, American pianist


To call Stephen Cera versatile would be a considerable understatement.  A pianist of impressive authority, he has organized an absolutely world-class concert series, has an understanding of the repertoire and of the performing world that is both deep and wide, and is an eloquent and articulate speaker.  Even his seven years as a critic failed to dampen his love for the art!  He is one of the most knowledgeable and passionate musicians I know.

PHOTO:  Sasha Gusov

Garrick Ohlsson, American pianist


Stephen built up a first-class series of the highest international caliber. …This was accomplished quickly in a town, just north of Toronto, that hadn’t supported a major arts venue and series. People in Toronto were not in the habit of “coming north” to a new hall, but the audience grew swiftly…The series was marketed well…

There were beautiful program books, and wonderful audience/artist interactions in post-concert discussions. The Ford Centre became a marvelous ambience for the music created there.


Charles Rosen (1927 – 2012), American pianist and writer


Stephen Cera is an excellent pianist with interesting and imaginative ideas.


Richard Bradshaw (1944-2007), General Director


Canadian Opera Company

Last night I listened – I think for the fourth time – to your quite wonderful Beethoven (Choral Fantasy). You should be enormously proud of what, I think, is an extraordinary, mature performance and it is, quite simply, wonderful playing. With great admiration.


Robert Craft (1923 – 2015), American conductor and writer


Stephen Cera’s review was very fair and he does have a remarkably accurate memory.


Toronto Globe and Mail


Thomas Quasthoff’s recital and its incredible impact on Sunday represented his Canadian debut, another important milestone in Stephen Cera’s brilliant programming at the George Weston Recital Hall in the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts.

Urjo Kareda, 2000

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