The Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition has announced soprano Alexandra Smither as the winner of this year’s voice edition. She and her collaborative pianist Pierre-André Doucet will receive a comprehensive prize package, including the $10,000 first place award, a residency, and recital at the Casalmaggiore International Festival in Italy this July, and a cross-Canada concert tour in the fall. The duo also collected the $1,000 prize for best performance of the new Canadian work commissioned for the Competition, which advocates for the creation and performance of Canadian and contemporary music.
Both winners affirm the Competition’s importance in the Canadian classical music landscape. For Smither, “the E-Gré Competition has always represented to me the commitment, pride, and dedication in the Canadian musical community to promote contemporary and home-grown music at the highest level […] I think we as Canadians should be very proud of the art that is being made in this country and do all we can to make sure it is given the platform it deserves! We are so excited and grateful to be given this opportunity.” Doucet’s experience in the competition was one of immense musical growth: “Preparing for the Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition pushes you to your limits. It’s a process that allows you to explore and bring meaning to music that is oftentimes very complex and layered, but which also reflects our life and times.”
Second prize and $4,000 went to soprano Maeve Palmer and pianist Joy Lee. The $2,000 third prize was awarded to soprano Lisa Mulgrew and pianist Jesse Plessis. The other participants received $1,000 each: Adanya Dunn, soprano (Cheryl Duvall, piano); Kristin Hoff, mezzo-soprano (Antoine Joubert, piano); and Virginie Mongeau, soprano (Anna Huettel, piano).
As collaborative pianists gain increasing recognition for their supportive role alongside the soloists they accompany, this year’s E-Gré Competition also fostered an atmosphere that recognized both performers in equal measure: winner announcements included both musical partners, and the public offered compliments to singers as well as their pianists during the live competition webcasts. On stage, there were numerous moments of deep connection between each pair of musicians, including between Smither and Doucet: “To be onstage with someone who you implicitly trust allows you to take risks and really put yourself out there. I know that if I stumble, [Doucet] will be there to catch me.”
The E-Gré Competition has served as a stepping stone for the launch of many Canadians’ musical careers, including those of Jon Kimura Parker, Jamie Parker, Ben Heppner, Louise Bessette, and James Ehnes. Categories alternate yearly between voice, piano, and strings.
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