One of the more unusual concerts this month is “Samantha Chang and Friends” on April 16. Flutist, Samantha Chang, the enterprising woman behind the event, is a fine example of “musician-as-entrepreneur,” which is, in my opinion, what you have to be if you want to be a musician. Chang has a head start on many. “I see myself as someone who truly wants to take something I love and make it into a career,” she says. “I first started out as a commerce student at U of T, which gave me a lot of insights into the business world. I also worked in the financial district for nearly ten years, and you learn a lot by interacting with the bankers!”

19_classical_samanthachangMost musicians, when they do a solo concert select a venue like the Heliconian Hall or Gallery 345, venues with a capacity of about 85. You don’t need a large audience to fill the house and you can focus on the music without worrying (much) about filling the hall. The venue for Chang’s concert? Koerner Hall, with a capacity of just over 1,100. “If you have a dream,” she says, “you have to dream big!” What’s more, in a typical solo recital there are at most only a few other musicians – a collaborative pianist, of course, and occasionally a small ensemble. In Chang’s upcoming concert there are 16 other musicians – flutists, pianists, cellists, bass players, a violinist, a singer, an oboist, a harpist and even a drummer!

Having put on a few concerts myself, I had to ask how she has balanced the artistic and the management components. “I admit,” she says, “I am … sleep deprived … [but] I wouldn’t do any of this if I didn’t enjoy it. As a musician, I often feel like I am always at work: my ears are constantly listening, and my brain is churning.”

So obviously this is no ordinary flute recital. It is a veritable Babette’s Feast of a concert: “I like to be entertained at a concert, and I hope to do the same for the audience when I am on stage by presenting … diverse programs and performers.” With a view to avoiding giving the audience an overdose of flute, she is including two works for violin that will be played by Conrad Chow, the Debussy violin sonata and the Canadian premiere of Gold Rush Songs by Bruce Broughton. (I mentioned Broughton’s name in last month’s column in connection with the Scarborough Philharmonic’s April 2 concert at which his Triptych for Violin and Chamber Orchestra will be premiered by the same Conrad Chow).

Another original on the program will be a Rumba by Chick Corea arranged for flute quartet by Dimitriy Varelas, an Uzbekistani flutist and former arranger for the Helsinki Wind Quintet, who now lives in Toronto and will be among the performers.

There is more to Chang than business smarts and good programming instincts. She took her first flute lessons at the age of 13 from Mizi Tan, the flute teacher at the Shanghai Conservatory, and played all through high school. In her third year of commerce studies at university, she realized that this what she really wanted to do with her life. She began to take lessons again, holding down a number of part-time jobs to pay for them. After graduating, having responded well to master classes with English flutists, Peter Lloyd and William Bennett, she auditioned for a number of English music schools and was accepted by them all. (Some of you may remember a concert she gave, with an orchestra, at the George Weston Recital Hall a few years back. A video of that concert was her audition!)

She chose to go to London’s Royal Academy, where she studied with Kate Hill. There, having been told that she would need to study for two years in order to graduate, she completed all her written assignments by the end of October and after one year received her diploma! “However, I go back every summer,” she told me. “I’m considering going back for another degree.”

Her artistic vision? “A great musician/flutist is someone who can touch the audience’s soul. I love listening to Rampal shape a phrase so effortlessly, same with Moyse, he breathes music! WIBB (William Bennett) has so much enthusiasm for music making that it shows in every performance.”

“And what personal qualities does one need to become a great musician?” I asked. “Persistence is key! Patience is a given! Also, learn to listen to other people, learn from their qualities … For me, the flute is the closest thing to singing. You can honestly breathe and speak through your flute.”

It’s been said that each generation must re-invent the musical tradition. I would take that a step further and say that each musician needs to re-invest in the musical tradition, absorb it as thoroughly as possible and mould it anew, into something that reflects the spirit of one’s time and one’s own awakening musical soul, infused with life through the assimilation of an artistic tradition. April 16, at Koerner Hall, let’s see how Chang is doing on her chosen path.

Brahms, Brahms and Brahms

THE MUSIC OF JOHANNES BRAHMS is prominent in the listings this month. For example, three of Brahms’ four symphonies will be performed in April, beginning with the Guelph Symphony Orchestra’s performance on April 3 of his fourth symphony. On April 9, the Oakville Symphony Orchestra will perform the third symphony. At the very end of the month, on April 29, the Ontario Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the first symphony in Oshawa and also the next day at Koerner Hall, the last concert in this season’s Mooredale Concerts series. The programs for these two concerts consist entirely of music by Brahms, and in both, the incomparable Anton Kuerti will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D Minor.

There’s an abundance of Brahms’ chamber music too. The Academy Concert Series’ concert on April 16 is an all-Brahms program performed in the style of the time. According to Academy artistic director Nicolai Tarasov, the program will “display the depth and the power of Brahms’ musical intellect, the wisdom, lyricism, warmth and charm of his melodies, and the manifold beauties and moving, passionate passages contained within [his] music.” Tarasov also let me know that this is, in fact, his last concert as artistic director of the Academy Series, a post that will be filled by cellist Kerry McGonigle.

One of the works on the Academy Series’ April 16 program is the Clarinet Sonata Op.120, which, coincidentally, will also be performed this month, on April 10, by Katarzyna Marczak, as part of Trio sTREga’s concert at Gallery 345. And there will be yet another Brahms-centred program on April 16 presented by The Chamber Music Society of Mississauga. The focus of their program, however, will be the friendship between Brahms and Clara Schumann, and will include music by both. There will also be two opportunities to hear Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5 on April 2, performed by the Hart House Symphonic Band, and on May 7 by Orchestra Kingston. There will be at least two other opportunities to hear chamber music by Brahms, and several to hear his choral music, including at Tafelmusik’s series of concerts between April 7 and 10.

Eye Catchers

THREE OTHER UNUSUAL PROGRAMS in the first half of the month also caught my eye: on April 7 pianist-composer Adam Sherkin, who is from Toronto and has, I believe, recently returned from England’s Royal Academy, is giving his Toronto debut at the Jane Mallett Theatre, with a program that combines works by Bach, Beethoven, Claude Vivier and Colin McPhee with three of his own compositions. On April 9 a group of musicians associated with Vermont’s famous Marlboro Festival will perform chamber music at Koerner Hall.

Finally, this year is the 39th season of The Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which from January to May presents four concerts given by members of the TSO and one by the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra. This month’s concert, on April 11 is, according to Armin Weber, Director of Marketing for the series, “… one of the biggest concerts the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra have launched.” What makes it one of the biggest is that two ensembles will perform, the first a quartet of traditional Chinese instruments, led by Anna Guo, who plays the yangqin, a Chinese hammer dulcimer. Ms. Guo taught at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and from 1985 to 1996, was head of the Shanghai Women’s Silk String Quintet. In 1996 she settled in Toronto. The other ensemble on the programme will be a string sextet led by TSO violinist, James Wallenberg. For most of the programme the two groups will perform separately, but for the final work, depicting harmony, the two ensembles will join forces, demonstrating the universality of music and by extension, of humanity. Ah, if only politics could be left to musicians, then we would have concerts instead of wars!

Need I repeat that what I have written about here just scratches the surface of our always abundant listings? So read those listings thoroughly to find what interests you.

Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote and serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at

March has arrived and with it the vernal equinox, Saint Patrick’s Day, the famous Ides, probably an early thaw, and with it a flood of student recitals at music schools here and everywhere. Go to the website of the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario, for example, where events on the calendar are colour coded: student recitals are orange, and the March calendar is almost all orange! We cannot list all student solo recitals – there just isn’t the space in the print magazine to do so. But I recommend going to one in March. It’s great fun being able to say, down the road, that you spotted a great artist early in their career. Just go to the website of the music school nearest you and find out what is going on. That is not to say there are no student performances in our listings pages. We list music school recitals by student ensembles or by particular teachers’ students. For example, see the recital on March 4 by the York University Brass Ensemble or the one the following day by students of the voice teachers at York University.

Meanwhile faculty recitals continue through March: the Faculty Woodwind Quintet at Wilfrid Laurier University will perform there on March 3. The flutist in this ensemble, incidentally, is Amy Hamilton, whose flute quartet’s new CD, “Canadian Flute Quartets,” I have reviewed in this month’s “DISCoveries.” Other university teachers, Brock University piano professor Karin Bella and U of T guitar professor Jeffrey McFadden will give recitals on March 1 and 7 respectively, to name but a few.

Vocal Recitals

It looks like another good month for vocal recitals, getting off to an early start on March 1 with U of T voice students presenting a programme of songs composed by New Zealanders and Australians at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The very next day, hot on the heels of “Nixon in China,” the COC’s vocal series continues with compositions by John Adams, introduced by the composer himself, in town because of his major role, as composer and conductor, in the TSO’s New Creations series.

16_isabella_stewart_gardner_portraitOn March 6 the Aldeburgh Connection will tell the story in song of the life of Boston socialite and philanthropist, Isabella Stewart Gardner. Aldeburgh artistic co-director, Stephen Ralls told me this about the programme: “It’s one of those programmes which is so difficult to describe [because it] has so many [interwoven] threads!” The unifying theme, however, is the connection of the music with Bostonian Isabel Stewart Gardner. She patronised American composers, such as Clayton Johns, Margaret Ruthven Lang and Charles Martin Loeffler, who will be represented on the programme. As a young woman she spent time in France and when back in Boston programmed a lot of French music in concerts at her home, so there will also be songs by Fauré, Debussy, Chausson, D’Indy and Bemberg. One of her causes, Ralls told me, was the welfare of black people in Boston, so there will be arrangements of spirituals as well as other music of her time, including piano duets by Gottschalk and MacDowell. “As you can see,” Ralls said, “it’s a rich vein! We will take in all the people whom she patronised or who were friends of hers in Boston, [such as] John Singer Sargent, Bernard Berenson and Henry James…”

Returning for a moment to the universities, Brock University in St. Catharines appears to be a hotbed of vocal activity, with three recitals, March 15, 22 and 25; and on March 26 the Port Hope Friends of Music are presenting a concert by three singers from the Opera School of the University of Toronto. Other upcoming vocal recitals are mezzo Vilma Indra Vitols presented by the Latvian National Opera Fund Canada on March 27 and baritone Michael Fitzgerald at Metropolitan United Church on March 31.

Piano Recitals

17_jane_coopA number of fine pianists are performing in Toronto in March. Two of these are faculty members at the University of British Columbia, Jane Coop and Sara Davis Buechner. Jane Coop will give two recitals for Mooredale Concerts, one designed for children and one for the rest of us, featuring music by Beethoven and Scriabin, on March 20. Then on March 25 she will be at the Aurora Cultural Centre’s Brevik Hall, a beautiful new 150-seat facility that sells out fast, especially when an artist of Ms. Coop’s calibre is performing! I asked the newest member of The WholeNote team, Sharna Searle, herself a pianist, who has recently come here from Vancouver and has heard Jane Coop play on several occasions, to say something about her. Searle wrote: “I admire her focussed, considered and keenly intelligent understanding of, and approach to, the music. I’ve always thought she was a very grounded player with this wonderfully clean, unfussy, flawless technique, something I always appreciate in a pianist. My teacher at music school (U. of Western Ontario), Ronald Turini, had a similar technique; he never ‘got in the way of the music.’”

17_buechnerSara Davis Buechner will perform with Sinfonia Toronto in its interesting “Fantasies” programme on March 11 and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on March 12. She has an astonishing range of musical affinities, and an encyclopaedic concert and recital repertoire, spanning the breadth of keyboard music from Bach to contemporary. An indication of this: her back to back Sinfonia Toronto and K-WCMS appearances do not have a single composer in common.

Speaking of the K-W Chamber Music Society, yet another eminent pianist, Janina Fialkowska, will also perform for the K-W Chamber Music Society on March 15. This remarkable organization, you may be interested to know, has no fewer than eleven different concerts listed in this month’s issue. If you haven’t gone – I know I’ve said this before – go! It’s like a house concert but with artists who usually perform in larger, less intimate, venues. Fialkowska can also be heard on March  5 with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and on March 13 in a concert presented by Visual and Performing Arts Newmarket.

The list of piano recitals this month goes on and on, but I will mention three more. Sa Chen, a Chinese pianist, who has won prizes at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (2005), the 14th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (2000) and the Leeds International Piano Competition (1996), will perform at the MacMillan Theatre on March 27 under the auspices of the Li Delun Music Foundation. This will be her first appearance in Toronto. Just two days later, on March 29, Music Toronto will bring us the internationally renowned Montreal pianist, Marc-André Hamelin; and on March 30 and 31, French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be the soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the second concert of a TSO “Signature Series” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth.

Also Noteworthy

Of the several events designed for children, one in particular caught my eyes: the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra’s concert called “Bella the Tuba Gets Her Melody” on March 26.

On the community orchestra front, the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra continues its pattern of innovative programming on April 2, including in its programme three world premieres, including one by the evening’s guest conductor, Alex Eddington and a violin concerto by Bruce Broughton, a Hollywood film composer with Canadian roots.

AND FINALLY, A WARM WELCOME to an astonishing array of distinguished visitors this month: Marina Piccinini and Andreas Haefliger (March 11); Hilary Hahn, violin,  and Valentina Lisitsa, piano, March 1; John Williams, guitar, March 27; the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, March 11; John Adams (as conductor), (March 5); The Barra McNeils, (April 5 and 6) Evelyn Glennie, (March 2); Borealis Quartet, (March 3); Tokyo Quartet, (April 4); Karen Gomyo, violin, (March 23).

As Richard Margison observed in the very early days of WholeNote Magazine, the great thing about The WholeNote is that it includes local artists as well as internationally known stars. Since everyone’s career starts at the local level, he said, this is good for everyone. So, let’s all try to get out to hear at least one concert by a local artist and one by a student as well as one or two by our distinguished visitors. Our participation as part of the audience is just as important in creating a living musical culture as our participation as performers. Bravo, I say, to the man who came out to a concert by my students in January. “What brings you to our concert?” I asked him during the intermission. His answer was simple: “I wanted to hear some music I had never heard before.” He was not disappointed, and all of us who participated in the music-making were helped and affirmed by his presence there. ν

Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at

Imagine how cohesive an orchestra that has had one stellar principal conductor for a couple of decades must become. Compare that in your mind to one that has been without a principal conductor for the same amount of time. You can speculate that the orchestras in question would evolve in very different ways with very different strengths and weaknesses.

Now, imagine if you can an orchestra that as a matter of fundamental policy has had no principal conductor for almost eighty years ... but can call regularly on Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustavo Dudamel, Andris Nelsons, Franz-Welser-Möst, Georges Prêtre, Christian Thielemann, Mariss Jansons, Esa-Pekka Salonen...  You can imagine that such an orchestra might evolve into something remarkable. As indeed it has, and they’re coming to town.

18_semyon_bychkov_1_credit_sheila_rockThe Toronto stop of the Vienna Philharmonic, March 6, is their only Canadian stop, and the last of an eight-concert, nine-day North American tour under the baton of Semeon Bychkov. The orchestra will rotate three different programs over the course of the nine days – one all Mahler, one Schumann and Brahms, and the third (the one we will hear) Schubert, Wagner and Bartók (see listings for details).

Bychkov’s most important Great Lake so far has been Erie, not Ontario. “My first five American years were in New York City” he says, “and I learned pretty quickly that it is not typical America.” The five years he spent after that in Michigan as music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony would doubtless have strengthened that impresssion. Around that time, he stumbled into a one-time engagement with the Buffalo Philharmonic – Il trovatore at the ArtPark Festival in Lewiston. It led to a ten year relationship. “My career in America was entirely fulfilling,” he says on his website. “I always look at that time as my second birth.”

For those who lost track of Bychkov after he left the Buffalo Philharmonic in the mid-nineties: he returned to Europe in 1989 to become music director of the Orchestre de Paris. From Paris he went to WDR Symphony Cologne, a post he still holds. Again from his website: “After ten years this must mean that we are not bored with each other, and that we all feel we are progressing and fulfilled in what we are doing. Anything other than that is a horrible life for a musician.”

Around the same time as the appointment with “very forward-looking” Cologne he was also appointed chief conductor of the very traditional Dresden Semperoper, “the house of Wagner and Strauss. It was fantastic for me [having both appointments] as if I was able to live in the 19th century and the end of the 20th as well.”

His equal delight in both the operatic and orchestral bodes well for the tour. Certainly the Vienna Philharmonic is no stranger to doing similar double duty; they are the pit band (if you pardon the expression) for the Vienna State Opera – a tradition going back further even than the idea that a great orchestra does not need a principal conductor. With “guests” like theirs on ready call, it’s hard to disagree.

One sometimes observes that orchestras on the road play it safe, going for a “trademark” sound so as not to disappoint the buyers of their records. With repertoire on tour that Bychkov is exploring for upcoming projects he’s passionate about, that ain’t going to happen.

THERE’S A HUGE ORCHESTRAL BUZZ right through the concert listings this month. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Beyond the GTA listings (page 43 on) where the Kingston, Hamilton, Huronia, Georgian Bay, Guelph, and Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestras account for almost a concert a day between them. An overall search for orchestral music in our online listings would doubtless yield a harvest several times that many.

20_edwin_outwater_2_-_sean_puckett_credit_-_6Particularly interesting to observe so far this season is the cracking pace being maintained by the Kitcher-Waterloo Symphony under Edwin Outwater’s aegis. Now in his fourth season with the KWS, Santa Monica born Outwater seems to stirring up a mix of music sure to appeal to every taste – from rock-solid mainstage productions of masterworks to family and child-centred fare with tantalizing titles like “Dan Deacon’s Electronic Bus” and “Symphony in Space.” From reading about him, Outwater is passionate about the educational aspect of his job, and he has the track record to prove it. As former music director of the San Francisco Symphony, he championed programs for school, community performances and outreach.

Oddly enough, the most eclectic programming of all for the KWS in the next little while is happening not in the K-W area but of all places, at Toronto’s Sony Centre. And what a contrast!

March 1-6 the orchestra takes on the responsibility of playing for the Mariinsky (aka Kirov) Ballet performances of Swan Lake. (Watch out for that Black Swan, though, Edwin. From what I saw in the trailer for the movie, she’s likely to rip your face off if she doesn’t like your tempi!)

And then April 9 (two shows only) they are back to provide live orchestral backing for a cartoon-fest titled “Warner Brothers present Bugs Bunny at the Symphony,” featuring the original Looney Tunes cartoons set to Carl Stalling’s original scores. Stalling is a ferociously interesting miniaturist – a bit like an orchestral Satie on speed. You can imagine why the project might have caught Outwater’s interested eye.

David Perlman is deputizing for Allan Pulker, the usual patroller of this beat.

p14As well as bringing some of the best pianists and string quartets to Toronto, Music Toronto also supports young talent with its three-concert Discovery Series. The second Discovery concert of the season will be a recital on January 20 by soprano Laura Klassen, with collaborative pianist Megan Chang.

I asked Jennifer Taylor, the artistic and administrative director of Music Toronto, how she selects young artists for the three annual Discovery Series concerts. She told me it’s not by a formal process, but rather by getting out and hearing performances and sometimes even by reading about young musicians who sound interesting. She first heard Laura Klassen in a student opera at the University of Toronto a few years ago. Klassen made an impression, not only on her but also on some of her subscribers, and a year or so ago, when programming the 2010-11 season, Taylor invited her to participate.

There are various bits of biographical information about Klassen on the Music Toronto website: she has ARCT diplomas in both piano and voice, has a Master’s degree from the U of T Opera School, received the Canadian Opera Volunteers Committee Borowska Distinguished Graduate Award, and sings with the Canadian Opera Company Chorus and with the Orpheus Choir. But who is the person behind all this good news? What kind of person earns the opportunity to give a solo recital presented by Music Toronto’s prestigious Discovery Series?

In corresponding with Klassen, I was astonished to learn that it wasn’t until her second-last year of high school that she started to sing. “I went to an arts high school to play the flute and we all had to sing solos as a ‘music project,’” she said. “In grade 12 I got the lead role in our school musical, Once Upon a Mattress. I was terrified, but my love of acting helped get me over my fright pretty quickly!” With that under her belt she started taking private voice lessons from her high-school teacher just in time to be ready for university auditions.

What she had been doing musically since the age of two was playing the piano, which undoubtedly helped her to progress quickly with singing. “My mom was my first and only piano teacher. When we were kids, it was made clear that all three of us would become proficient pianists. I thank my mom so much for it all now! I sing often with my mom at the piano, and she has really encouraged me with all of my performing.”

Asked why the voice rather than the piano is her instrument of choice, she said that she has found it much easier to perform as a singer than as a pianist, and that singing just came naturally. “I’m really thankful that I started out on the piano, though, because I feel that I have a solid musical background. Also, it’s handy to be able to play my own accompaniments when practising!”

I asked Klassen how her years of music have shaped her character. Not only has work in music fostered her creativity but it has also helped her to channel her competitive nature. “University was very competitive, and I learned to be more focused on competing with myself rather than with others.” What led to this was the realization that there will always be someone out there who’s better than her, which put things into perspective.

Now, with university studies behind her, she is fortunate that all her work is music-related: “I enjoy it so much, and I think that makes me a really happy person. I’ve started singing in the Canadian Opera Company Chorus this year, and though it probably won’t enhance my solo career, it’s a great job. It’s a lot of fun, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot just being able to sing on the same stage as the amazing singers who have the lead roles. It’s also very interesting to be able to view all that goes on behind the scenes of such a large company.”

As for the future, her plan is to do her best and sing for as many people as she can. “So far, all of my big opportunities haven’t come from auditions, they’ve come from other performances that I’ve done. Of course I’ll keep on auditioning and see where it takes me! Every performance is an audition, and you need to be fully prepared. I just make sure that I’m as prepared as I can be for every performance and then just try to do my best. You never know who’s going to be in the audience.”

I was intrigued by her programme for January 20: it’s varied, covering four centuries and a variety of genres. “I wanted a very diverse programme,” she commented, “different languages, different periods, different styles. I wanted it to be interesting. I mostly chose songs that I absolutely love, and I hope that comes through in my performance.”

I’m sure it will – along with an energetic and practical personality with more than a tinge of idealism. I think it is true to say that behind every great singer there is a great person, a person who has risen to the challenges both of music and of life. Brava Laura!

Laura Klassen's Music Toronto recital, January 20th CANCELLED!

For health reasons: Ms Klassen recently had emergency surgery and  has been advised she will need 4-6 mnths for complete recovery. To inquire about a ticket exchange or refund tickeholders should contact the box office 416-366-7723

Elsewhere in the News

Superstar soprano Renée Fleming will sing with the Toronto Symphony on December 8 as will the Canadian mezzo Marie-Nicole Lemieux on January 22 and 23, in performances conducted by Bernard Labadie.

p15bOn December 10, Sinfonia Toronto will be joined by Spanish trumpet player Vicente Campos, who will perform the Hummel Trumpet Concerto. On January 21, violinist Judy Kang will perform Affairs of the Heart by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich.

The Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall is making an enormous contribution to the musical life of the city. In December, along with a number of other performers in genres covered elsewhere in The WholeNote, it is bringing us the Canadian-born violin superstar Leila Josefowicz to do a solo recital on December 10, and on December 12 the highly individual American pianist Simone Dinnerstein. January is particularly busy, with the RCM Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian on the 21st, pianist Hélène Grimaud on the 23rd, the RCM Piano Competition Finals on the 26th, the Banff String Quartet Competition winners, the Cecilia String Quartet, on the 27th, and flutist Kathleen Rudolphe and collaborators on the 30th.

Mooredale Concerts will bring us trombonist extraordinaire Alain Trudel, and organist also extraordinaire Patrick Wedd, at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church on January 16. And two days later, on January 18, the co-founders of the CCC Toronto International Piano Competition, Lu Wang and Lang-Ning Liu, will perform as the Juilliard Duo at the Glenn Gould Studio.

All this is, of course, just scratching the surface. Read the listings to get the whole story!

Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at

My focus last month was Toronto as a cultural tourism destination, looking at the potential of several weekends for offering what I termed a festival experience – that is to say, more or less wall-to-wall concert going. Extraordinarily, November will begin with a whole week of just that, in the form of the new Chinese Cultural Centre’s Toronto International Piano Competition. This is a major development in the musical life of Toronto.


Lu Wang and Lang-Ning Liu

p14aThe minds behind the CCC International Piano Competition, November 1 to 8, are two young adopted (like so many of us) Torontonians, Lang-Ning Liu and Lu Wang. Concert pianists themselves, they perform all over the world as solo recitalists, concerto soloists and together as the Juilliard Duo.

p14bWhen they sat down with me to talk about their lives in music and the festival it was only two days before Lang-Ning was leaving for France to give two recitals and about a week before Lu was leaving for China, where (among other things) he was going to be meeting the conductor of the orchestra with which he’ll perform a concerto next year.

I asked why they had decided to make Toronto home, and what had motivated them to undertake such a major project as an international piano competition. For Lang-Ning, who had come here at the age of 17 to study at the Glenn Gould School, and then went to Juilliard, Toronto is an ideal place for an artist. “You can find quiet places here where you can work,” she told me. “In New York, no place is quiet.” Lu told me he had lived in New York most of his life, and would not have thought of settling in Toronto except that his parents told him they want to come here to retire. That was a good enough reason for him, and within seven months of applying for landed immigrant status he was here. His parents, however, haven’t yet arrived. “His mother runs a big music school in China,” explained Lang-Ning; “She’s not ready to give that up!”

Their reasons for putting their energy into a piano competition are related to their personal aspirations and goals. Lang-Ning feels strongly that music can be a force for good and for peace in the world. Lu, a child prodigy, has been immersed in music his whole life, and wishes to continue learning and to share his musical gift both as a performer and as a teacher. What motivated them was a wish to do something for the musical tradition.

“Each generation,” said Lu, “needs to find its own reasons for embracing, mastering and continuing the art music tradition; it’s as if each generation needs to re-invent it for themselves.” They see this competition as a way of doing this, by encouraging and supporting the next generation of pianists and giving audiences an opportunity to hear the great pianists of the future before they are considered stars. “Think how many people there must be who would love to have heard Marta Argerich when she was 17!” commented Lu.

Their original idea was a music festival that would feature the best young pianists in the world. The difficulty of bringing many artists together at the same time persuaded them that a competition would be more feasible. To make the event more like a festival for both audiences and competitors, in the first two rounds each of the 24 competitors will give a short recital, and the jury will select the six semi-finalists. For those of us fortunate enough to attend much or all of the first round, it will be a wonderful opportunity to develop a more discerning ear, by hearing a wide range of approaches to
the piano.


p17Christina Petrowska Quilico

To put this event into context I asked a few questions of Christina Petrowska Quilico, an international concert pianist who lives in Toronto.


Is there a hierarchy of piano competitions in the world? Where does the new Toronto competition fit in this hierarchy? In Canada the most prominent piano competitions are the extremely high profile Montreal International Piano Competition; the Honens, which is also becoming a Mecca for international pianists; and the Eckhardt-Grammate International Competition, which in addition to requiring classical and romantic repertoire has a contemporary music component. The competitions currently at the very top of the international hierarchy, however, are the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Queen Elisabeth and the Leeds.

The Toronto competition has an excellent jury, one of the factors that have enabled it to attract a good range of competitors from all over the world. I believe it will grow and develop into a major international event.

On what does the prestige of a competition depend? The winners and juries are what give these competitions prestige. Winners who make successful CDs and tours bring them notice. Pianists also feel that it is important to be judged by the top artist/performer/teachers from major schools. More important than prize money are the subsequent connections to the professional concert world: tours, bookings and media attention.


How does an aspiring concert pianist decide which of the many competitions available to enter? Aspiring concert pianists should have realistic expectations about their ability to perform under extreme pressure. They should select those competitions that require a repertoire that is comfortable and dependable under stress and suits their unique talents. You should have enough confidence in your ability to believe that you can win. Teachers are important in guiding the young pianists in repertoire selection and training. There are a lot of intermediate level competitions that would be a good training ground before attempting the big international ones.


What are the benefits to the competitors besides the prize money and the professional connections? The discussions about performances are invigorating, inspiring and educational for the performers. Feedback is crucial for competitors. That is how they learn to improve their performances. Competitions are about performing to your highest expectations. The satisfaction is not in the prize money but in being able to accept the challenge. For me the satisfaction in performing to the best of my ability is what I remember. I also loved bonding with the other pianists. We were extremely supportive of each other because we knew how difficult it is to be a concert pianist.


The first two rounds of the Toronto competition will be recitals by each competitor, which is somewhat unusual. What are your thoughts on that? I believe that the solo format is the way of the future. This gives the jury an opportunity to hear how the pianists construct a recital program and how they shape it musically.


What’s in it for the audience? Forget “reality TV” – get the real deal! At piano competitions you get the entire gamut of human emotions: fear, obsession, desire, triumph, happiness, living on the edge, love and hate. They bring out the best and worst in people – but what a ride! There is always excitement, debate and occasional controversy in the selection of the winners.  So everyone should definitely go and cheer on the pianists for Toronto’s new international competition.


Other Piano Events in November

Looking at other events featuring the piano in November I see that the month is particularly rich in piano concertos: Toronto pianist Peter Longworth performs Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Oakville Symphony Orchestra on November 6 and 7. Longworth appears again in the listings on November 27 playing Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. On November 13 and 14 Natasha Paremski will be the soloist with the Toronto Symphony in Dvořák’s Piano Concerto in G Minor; and on November 17 Andreas Haeflinger will perform Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 with the Toronto Symphony. The Unionville Symphonia’s Remembrance Day Concert (actually on November 14) will include Mozart concertos performed by three youngsters: Frederick Kwan, Jerrick Lo and Bjon Li.

However, there seem to be fewer solo piano recitals than usual. Among them are Todd Yaniw performing Schumann’s Carnival at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on November 2, Olena Klyucharova and Andriy Tykhonov at the KWCMS Music Room on November 7, and at noon the same day at the Royal Ontario Museum a recital by Leonard Gilbert.


Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at

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