Returning home after an extended period away always seems to encourage a wide range of emotions. The predominant happy feeling was a constant throughout the visit, especially in circumstances such as this spring where it was a significant opportunity to tour for home-town family and friends. This Ontario tour, which was part of my album release tour for the Crossing Borders album of Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, included seven performances over a span of six cities.
Despite a packed schedule, there were highlights from each event that are worth remembering. This blog is different than the others as I present it to you as more of a journal – offering my perspective from each performance.
May 17 – The tour began with a return visit to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Kitchener. It felt great to return after making my first appearance there last year. It is always a nice feeling to be invited back to any venue, let alone a special series – hosted by Mr. Doug Haas.
One of the things that made this particular performance special for me was that it was the first time I was able to truly appreciate the feeling of playing at a “familiar” venue. I have played at other venues on multiple occasions – St. Paul’s in Dundee, Pilgrim Father’s Church in Rotterdam, and St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh for example – but now I felt like I better understand and embrace the return. Though it is difficult to say for sure, it could have been due to the hospitality of the promoter (Mr. Haas) and the wonderful audience, or familiarity with the instrument (a lovely Yamaha C3), or simply the overall warmth of the church. One particularly notable moment in this event was that it was the first time I chose to play a non-classical encore (What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong), thereby “breaking the rules” of the conventional classical practice though to the delight of the audience. After the recital, it was time to enjoy lunch with Mr. Haas and my folks with our conversations spanning a wide range of deep and interesting topics.
May 19 – The second performance on the Ontario tour took place in Guelph – a city I have not visited in many years, and one which I had never previously performed. This recital also held a particular significance as it took place at Heritage Hall – now recognized as a Canadian heritage building. From the moment I walked into the building, I felt an instant, deep connection – especially considering the history of the building. At the same time, there was also the lingering sentiment of remorse and disappointment since it is truly a shame this establishment is not better known. Through the audience turnout was modest, it was still a very warm and receptive group. A small clip can be seen here: VIEW HERE.
May 20 – The series continued into Brampton at St. Paul’s United Church (hosted by Brampton Chamber Music Concert Series). This particular series features two main performance acts supplemented by young artists. Despite the multitude of performers, I was the first to arrive and was greeted by a beautiful Schimmel grand piano. It admittedly felt strange to be part of a multi-performer event (I have done it before, though it was the first time since appearing at the Beethoven Haus several years ago). Preparing for one such event inevitably means a completely different warm-up procedure and alternate preparation routine than usual, so arriving with enough time to get “locked in” as quickly as possible becomes the first task, especially when sharing an instrument. One of the most interesting notes of that occasion was that you could feel the tension, nerves, and slightly stressful vibe – particularly from the other performers, the audience who arrived early, and yourself. This atmosphere only added to the atypical routine and search for calmness that one needs before going on stage to perform. Despite it being my first time appearing in that series, the audience response was incredible, which included hearty applause, some highly appreciated feedback and comments, and positive amount of album sales.
May 21 – Representing the fourth performance of the tour (third consecutive day, fourth in five days), the next recital took place in Toronto at St. Barnabas on the Danforth. This church is deceptively large in its size (from outside it looks considerably smaller than it really is), decorated in red carpet and crowned with its beautiful piano near the alter. This recital was most meaningful as it was the best opportunity for my extended family to attend, which was a great surprise because I did not expect them to be able to attend.
Another extremely exciting note is it was now the third time that my most internationally travelled follower was in attendance to see my performance. This man, a former representative of significant enterprises such as the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, first came to hear me play a few years ago in London, England at St. Martin-in the-Fields. To my surprise about a year later, there he was again in Montreal to see my recital at Christ Church Cathedral (L’Oasis Musicale) in Montreal. So for him to again shock me (which is not easy to do!) by attending this recital in Toronto was truly a heart-warming feeling. It is always interesting to get feedback, and with his background and knowledge I always admire and respect his impressions; in this case, he particularly loved your understanding of the humour in Beethoven’s music. Beethoven’s “Funeral March” sonata, Op. 26 was on the programme – which in some instances carries quite a gravity and seriousness to it, though is filled with light, cheerful moments in some of the variation, scherzo movement, and finale.
What added to the intrigue of this given recital was that there was another curious character sitting closest to me (from the audience perspective). Having been one of the first to arrive in advance of the performance – to exacerbate the situation even further – he was polite yet quick to intercept me, asking about that afternoon’s programme. Though I generally tend to focus on the task at hand and avoid contemplating individual audience members, I admittedly couldn’t block him out completely. His demeanour throughout the recital seemingly remained positive (which was thankfully was confirmed in our chat afterwards), though he somehow passively mentioned that he is a (former?) critic at the Globe and Mail news. It goes to show, yet again, that you never know who is going to be in the crowd!
May 24 – It was then onwards and eastward to Ottawa for the first of two recitals in the nation’s capital. The first recital in this city was at First Baptist Church which, as a beautiful church and concert venue in and of itself, featured a beautiful Steinway D concert grand piano which had apparently been donated to the church in recent past. This series is promoted by Shawn Potter, who himself is an accomplished musician and exceptionally hospitable organizer. This event yet again attracted another great (notable?) audience – in this case including a lovely couple who had somehow years ago hosted the legendary Nat King Cole at their home in Ottawa! One funny aside about this performance was that I had somehow accidentally mixed up the programme, and proceeded to perform Robert Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien instead of the agreed-upon Scherzo by Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz. Apparently, nobody seemed to mind – or at least stop me!
May 27 – It was then back to Trinity Anglican Church for the second performance in Ottawa. It was my second time performing at that church – the first being at the beginning of 2016. It felt exceptionally comfortable being back, which should sound like an obvious point to make, though some venues tend to generate a warmer vibe than others. The was definitely the impression that the audience included many who had heard me on the previous occasion, which certainly added to the anticipation, and pleasantness throughout the event. The recital was rounded off with a Chopin Mazurka as encore. It certainly added to the excitement of returning was the promo – it’s always a heart-warming feeling to find your concert being highlighted in the news!
June 1 – To cap off the Ontario tour was a trip to Waterloo – slightly more than an hour’s drive (if you’re lucky!) from Mississauga. I must admit that I haven’t been to Waterloo often, even though it does feature a couple of the country’s most reputable and eye-catching universities, so a venture in this direction was surely a treat. One thing that certainly added to the anticipation of this particular event was that the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society had also matched my level of enthusiasm and had been heavily promoting this performance with fervour. The icing on the cake was to receive a copy of the performance almost immediately after the recital – high quality and a great keepsake!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more soon!