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Volume 17 Issue 2 - October 2011

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When we contacted

When we contacted ChristinaPetrowska Quilico early thispast summer, she was, no surprise,busy on more than one front. Forone thing, she was busy writing programnotes for her 26th CD. The CDfeatures two piano concerti writtenfor her, by Heather Schmidt (PianoConcerto No.2) and by GeorgeFiala (Concerto Cantata for piano,opera chorus and chimes). “I gavethe world premieres for both pieces”she explained. “And I am stuck onfinding a good title so that was whatI was working on right now.”“For another thing,” she said,“I am looking forward to takingone of my daughters to see Alicein Wonderland with the NationalBallet of Canada. My daughtersand I love the ballet and we haveall taken lessons.”“So no slacking off during thesummer?” we asked.“I am looking forward to workingwith Christopher House of the Toronto Dance Theatre on a new majorproject for next April,” she replied. “Rehearsals begin in Septemberbut the works starts now. I’m also working with dancer Terrill Maguirefrom York University on a dance/piano concert for September.”And that wasn’t all, “This July I’m recording new works byConstantine Caravassilis (the first CD of a 2 CD set). I am practisingthe Grieg piano concerto to perform with the Kindred Spirits OrchestraNovember 5 at the Markham Theatre. I will be learning more musicby Constantine Caravassilis to record the second CD of his music. Iam reviewing my Ann Southam repertoire for several tribute concertsand working on the rest of the Glass Houses and other pieces shewanted me to record.”And then there is her teaching: “I am a Full Professor at York somy work begins there very soon. I’m Director of Classical Piano andthere are a lot of piano students which is extremely encouraging. Ihave to plan my courses and course kits, audition and do quite a bit ofpaperwork so that everything runs smoothly.”Well, the saying goes that if you want something done well, youshould always give it to a busy person! So, fast forward three months,and, no surprise, everything on Petrowska Quilico’s list is three monthsfurther ahead. As she said, she prefers things to run smoothly.The dance/concert with Terrill Maguire has been and gone(September 15 to 18). The 26th CD’s program notes are complete,it has a name — Tapestries — and Centrediscs will be launching it inearly November. As for the first Constantine Caravassilis CD she wasworking on, it’s “in the can” and the second is under way.Caravassilis is a young composer who won the 2009 Karen KieserPrize in Canadian Music for his work Sappho de Mytilène for mezzosoprano,flute and piano and subsequently was awarded the first HarryFreeman Prize for young composers, along with Petrowska Quilico,towards this recording project.Fact is, that in terms of new commissions and performances of contemporarymusic, there is no greater champion than Petrowska Quilico.This is her fifth CD of Canadian piano concerti (and third concerto CDon Centrediscs) — for a total of eight recorded Canadian piano concerti,two of which had Juno nominations for best composition (Glenn Buhrand Larysa Kuzmenko) and twoof which have been, quite literally,“out of this world” — astronautSteve MacLean took her recordingof David Mott’s Eclipse on the spaceshuttle Atlantis, and her recording ofAlexina Louie’s Star-Filled Night onhis first mission on the space shuttleColumbia in 1992.For almost her entire performingcareer, Petrowska Quilico has championedthe music of her time. Soit was less of a surprise to findout there are more projects of thistype in the wings, including a CDof piano music by Canadians KatiAgocs, Abigail Richardson, and AnaSokolovic, than it was to hear of theupcoming performance of the Griegpiano concerto with Kindred Spiritsin Markham.It shouldn’t be so surprising,though, if one thinks back on herconcert tours, as a soloist and aspartner to her late husband, theBusily Weaving a Musical LifeChristina Petrowska Quilico// DAVID PERLMANlegendary Metropolitan Opera baritone Louis Quilico. She has touredfour continents — been to Taiwan, the Middle East, France, Germany,Greece, Ukraine, throughout the United States and Canada. On therecital stage, she has appeared at such prestigious New York venuesas Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, and MerkinConcert Hall.She is at home with many other musical periods — particularly theromantics and early 20th century composers. Among her over twodozen recordings are Romantic Gems, which includes works by ClaraSchumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Amy Beach, Granados, Janacek andRachmaninoff; a Chopin and Liszt CD, and another of Debussy. Andwith Louis Quilico, she recorded four CDs — of French and Russiansongs, and of recitals of arias, art songs and show tunes.In a nice turn of phrase the Toronto Star’s William Littler calledher an “astonishing pianist … particularly gifted as an interpreter ofthe language of the moderns like Stockhausen and Messiaen ... whocan [also] control the Niagara of sound in a great Chopin Polonaise.”When it comes to breadth of repertoire, technical facility and interpretiveprowess, few pianists can match her. Trained from an earlyage in the demanding Russian tradition, she can wrap herself aroundrepertoire from Bach to Boulez and beyond. Composer Gyorgy Ligeticalled her “one of the absolutely best young pianists” when he firstheard her, and in 2002, when Pierre Boulez was in Toronto to receivethe Glenn Gould Prize, he coached Petrowska Quilico only hours beforeshe was to perform his Première Sonate on a live national broadcast.As the story goes, even though she had meticulously followed his ownmetronome markings, he exhorted her to “Play faster, play faster” — soshe did, to his great satisfaction. That energetic performance is preservedon her Ings CD.Of all the performing and recording that she is doing, though, onestill senses that her dedication to the work of composer Ann Southam,who died last year, remains central, and there is no doubt that theadmiration was reciprocal.“I didn’t think anyone would play this piece,” Southam once remarkedof her work ‘Rivers’ “but when Christina performed it, I loved thesound and what was happening as the hands interacted. And I loved thePHILIP LITEVSKY8 thewholenote.comOctober 1 – November 7, 2011

little tunes and motifs that could be heard in the interaction betweenthe hands. It takes a whiz-bang pianist to make those heard. I don’tknow how she does it!”And Petrowska Quilico wrote a piece for The WholeNote afterSoutham’s passing in which she quoted Schoenberg’s comment “thatthere was still great music to be written in C” and that Ann Southamproved him right,“It takes a whiz-bang pianist,to make those heard. I don’tknow how she does it.”“cheerfully huntingfor Middle C — andin doing so [having]a disconcerting wayof reinterpretingfamiliar forms and techniques.” And of Southam’s “continuing to usea 12 tone row and spin it out, one note at a time for 20 years,” PetrowskaQuilico observed: “Ann hoped she could bring some tonal sense to theserial technique. It may be called “minimal,” but her works embroiderthe layers of tonal fabric created through the serial row — weaving, infact, in a manner that reflects traditional women’s work.”Interestingly, Petrowska Quilico sees in Southam something of thetradition of Chopin and Liszt. “Her pieces are characterized by aflow and energy produced by rhythmic cycles that repeat within interchangingmelodic motifs. Her slow music suspends our sense of time,while the fast pieces, with their undercurrent of recklessness, becomehypnotic and surprisingly tranquil and reflective. Although maintainingan angular tone row, both extremes reveal a serene lyricism that is acommon thread in her music.”Petrowska Quilico’s performances of Ann Southam’s music continue.In October, she is performing Southam’s “Rivers” in three concerts— first in early October at the 2011 Contemporary Music Festivalat James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, followed byexcerpts as part of an Arraymusic tribute to Southam on October 14 atGallery 345, and, again excerpts, in a Celebration of Women Composersat the Heliconian Hall on October 28.Not only a versatile performer, Petrowska Quilico is also a valuedteacher. At 20 years old, she began teaching at the Paris AmericanAcademy, focusing on the music of the 20th century Viennese schoolof Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. Since that early start, she has beenon the faculty of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, and both Carletonand Ottawa Universities. While in Ottawa, she was director of thenew music group Espace Musique for five years and music director ofOpera Lyra for its first year.If teachers are shaped by their own teachers, then Petrowska Quilicohad a head start. One of her first teachers was the “revered but exacting”Russian-born pedagogue Boris Berlin at the Royal Conservatory ofMusic in Toronto. Besides demanding equal technical facility with bothhands, Berlin opened Petrowska Quilico’s ears to new music, refusingto let her study a Chopin concerto unless she learned a new Canadianwork as well. Through hours of practice and her mother’s encouragement,she grew attached to the piece. When she received her ARCT atthe Conservatory, Berlin recommended her for a scholarship to Juilliard.(She also managed to emerge from Juilliard with a degree in scienceas well as music, but that is a story for another day.)In 1987, Petrowska Quilico joined the faculty in the Music Departmentat York University in Toronto, where she remains to this day, a tenuredFull Professor of Piano and Musicology. She is also Director of ClassicalPiano and a member of the Graduate Faculty, in which she continuesto teach and supervise Masters and PhD students. As her curriculumvitae puts it, “primarily an exponent of the Russian tradition — withtraining in baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary, and experienceas a soloist, chamber musician and accompanist — she adds hervast knowledge gleaned from working with diverse composers, andher personal insights from years of study and extra-musical pursuits.”Another story goes that just as she was entering university, PetrowskaQuilico had a poem printed in the New York Times, published an entirebook of poetry, and seriously considered writing as a career. As sheasserts, “I didn’t want to be just a pianist, or to give up the writing.”She has continued writing over the years, as well as painting. And ifthere is anything such a “just a pianist” Christina Petrowska Quilicois certainly not it.Expect Music TORONTOto introduce the world’s bestclassical musicians to Toronto.THE JERUSALEM QUARTETAcclaimed Israeli quartetmakes its Toronto debutwith a masterworks programmeof Beethoven, Shostakovich and Brahms.Thursday, October 13 at 8 pmLISE DE LA SALLEBrilliant young French pianistmakes her Toronto debutwith a gorgeous programmeof Ravel, Debussy and Liszt.Tuesday, November 8 at 8 1-800-708-6754order online at www.stlc.comPHOTO: LYNN GOLDSMITHOctober 1 – November 7, 2011 9

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