Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart celebration continues this week, and Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin returns to Toronto, to perform perhaps one of the most loved Mozart Piano Concertos, K.488. Since his major breakthrough at the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, Charles has performed over 200 concerts around the world, and it is quite touching to hear how this self-professed introvert has seen the world during his remarkable spurt of growth.
Within the continuous flux of concert, travel and practice days, Charles finds it impossible to define a typical day. Even after numerous international tours (he just finished the Warsaw Philharmonic’s Japan Tour, last Friday, performing the Chopin Piano E Minor Concerto, Op. 11), concert days are always different:
“… Having played with the same orchestra and conductor at the final round of the Chopin Competition about two years ago, I can’t help but realize how much has happened since then, not only for me, but in the world as well.”
Challenged to learn a lot of repertoire very fast, especially concertos, Charles became more in tune with himself: “I know a lot more about my weaknesses and my strengths […] I sometimes miss the more relaxed attitude that I had before — before there was a real expectation around my performances, but that’s always the price one pays with more experience.”
Even with the continuous ups and downs, Charles considers himself lucky to have an active solo career; since 2015 Warsaw competition, his highlights have included being chosen to replace Maurizio Pollini at the Prague Spring Festival, performing on a piano that survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima; and playing in George Sand’s estate in Nohant, France, where Chopin composed. However, the most memorable concert for him was at his hometown in Joliette at the Festival de Lanaudière in the summer of 2016, performing Brahms’ D minor Concerto with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano: “It felt like a big homecoming, and I will remember that evening forever.”
Charles continues to nurture his Canadian roots. He regularly collaborates with Montreal-based pianist Jean Saulnier, and in addition to an extensive Canadian concert schedule for 2018 spring with record company Analekta, Charles is planning to record his third solo album, as well as the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Andrew Wan, a project that will span three years.
In preparation for this week, Charles quotes Artur Schnabel: “The sonatas of Mozart are unique; they are too easy for children, and too difficult for artists,” as he, like many others before him, faces the eternal Mozart challenge:
“…Playing Mozart on the modern piano gives us too many tools of expression that were not available in the 18th century — both a blessing and a curse… To me, a successful Mozart performance lies in the balance between the contradicting elements.”’
It reminded me of Paul Griffiths’ article on the youthfulness of Mozart:
“Because the sophistication of feeling in music depends on the presence of an underlying simplicity. Sophistication in this sense is the algebra of simple emotions.”
Mozart, composing in unequal turning, often associated certain emotions to musical keys, as each key would have had its own sonic colour palette. K.488 is set in A major — a key of warmth, tenderness and joy, and the concerto is scored quietly, without oboes, trumpets or timpani. As the temperature drops again, perhaps it is a good thing to go hear this tender music composed long ago by a young man, performed by one of today’s most sensitive and thoughtful young musicians.
TSO and Peter Oundjian present all Mozart program with soloists Charles Richard-Hamelin (Piano) and Adrian Anantawan (Violin). January 19, 20, 21, 2018. Tickets: 416.598.3375
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO