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Q+A with Charles Richard-Hamelin, who performs with Toronto Summer Music July 19

Q+A with Charles Richard-Hamelin, who performs with Toronto Summer Music July 19 featured image

Charles Richard-Hamelin is a regular on our playlist at The New Classical FM. He is one the most exciting new Canadian pianists to emerge in the last few years, and he has the touring schedule to prove it. I wanted to learn more about this pianist who’s soon headed to Toronto for the Toronto Summer Music Festival to perform some solo works and appear with members of the Dover Quartet.

It’s been five years since winning the silver medal at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. How has this achievement changed your career?
It changed everything ! Truly night and day. I had around 20-25 concerts a year before the competition, all in Quebec and Ontario only. Since then, I’ve played around 80 concerts every year in over fifteen different countries. I know that winning a top prize in a competition doesn’t necessarily guarantee a steady career anymore so I feel very fortunate that I’m still busy!

You also won the Krystian Zimerman prize for the best performance of a Chopin Sonata. You chose the Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58. Are you expected to program Chopin each season, and especially that sonata?
Chopin will always be at the heart of my activities. Although the B minor Chopin Sonata is my absolute favorite romantic sonata, I want to keep exploring his works in the years to come (I just recorded the 4 ballades and 4 impromptus which should be out in September this year). However, I often bring the Sonata No. 3 back when I have a debut recital in a new country or a very prestigious series. I think I must have played it well over a hundred times now…

Wow, that’s a lot. Do you consider yourself a Chopin specialist?
I wouldn’t make that statement, but I do feel however a deep and personal connection with his music, and the way he writes for the piano. It just feels right in my hands. Also, his unique and visionary harmonic language speaks to me the most.

We love your recording of the Beethoven Sonata with Andrew Wan (Concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra). You are a soloist, so is it hard to do a recording with another person? Is it hard to compromise?
Not at all. I wouldn’t consider myself a soloist, only a pianist who has been given the opportunity to play recitals and concertos with orchestras. I was in a professional piano trio for two years before the Competition, so I have learned a lot of chamber music prior to my success in Warsaw. I’m glad to still find the time to do chamber music, and the Beethoven complete violin sonatas project with Andrew Wan is very exciting to me. I like to think that I learn as much from him that he does from me.

I love that. You sound like a true collaborator. Then there is your recording Chopin: Concertos No. 1 & 2, with the esteemed maestro Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Was that your first recording with orchestra? How does that compare with recording chamber music and solo music?
It was a dream come true, since the last pianist to record those with the MSO was Martha Argerich in the 1990s. It was a very intense experience because the recording was done live over three concerts where I played both concertos each time. Since I’m from Montreal, I felt the audience was really with me and that helped to bring out the best in me. I’m very happy with that recording.

Yay! Now, your upcoming performance with Toronto Summer Music and members of the Dover Quartet. You’re opening with solo piano, Rachmaninoff’s Morceaux de fantaisie, and Chopin’s Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante. Then the Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor with members of the Dover Quartet. Which players are you collaborating with? And is it a big “switching of gears” to go from solo to chamber music in one concert?
I’m not sure which violinist from the Dover will do the Brahms with me, but I’m super excited to collaborate with them. I’ve heard them live before in Montreal and I was very, very impressed. I don’t find it difficult to mix solo and chamber music in the same concert, it’s actually really fun for the audience to hear how one plays differently when alone or with others.
(Editor’s note: since the Q+A, I found out he will perform with violinist Joel Link, violist Milena PajardoVan de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw. The other Dover violinist, Bryan Lee, gets the night off.)

Last question – you spend a lot of your life on the road. What are your tips for staying healthy, surviving jet lag, and keeping energy levels up for all your concerts?
Coffee, bananas, and melatonin !


The details:
Friday, July 19: Toronto Summer Music with members of the Dover Quartet

2:00 pm Open Rehearsal at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building (University of Toronto) FREE

7:30 pm Performance – solo piano and chamber music with members of the Dover Quartet at Walter Hall (University of Toronto)

Visit his website here.

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