The multifaceted pianist, teacher, colleague and mentor, Peter Longworth, who died aged 54, maintained throughout his life an amazing balance as a soloist and chamber/collaborative musician. He has touched many people’s lives through performance and teaching, and as musical collaboration builds life relationships, the news of his untimely early death is truly devastating.
Born in 1964 in London, England, to American parents, Peter spent much of his childhood all over Europe. As a teenager, he knew he wanted to study music and was especially drawn to music of Brahms, of which he eventually made two recordings: a selection of solo piano composition by Johannes Brahms, (2013, Azica ACD-71279), and the three Brahms Violin Sonatas with long-time friend Mark Fewer (2010, Azica ACD-71259).
As a young man, Peter attended the Northwestern University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; at University of Michigan, he began to work in the studio of American violinist Camilla Wicks- one of the very first international female violinists. Soon, Peter was collaborating with Camilla, and his love of chamber and collaborative piano continued throughout his life.
He spent a year at the Banff Centre after graduation, where he met Marek Jablonski. With an invitation from Jablonski to join the Royal Conservatory of Music’s New Program (which then became current Glenn Gould School), Peter moved to Toronto in 1987 to study with Jablonski, Marc Durand and Leon Fleisher, and since then stayed in Toronto to become a true force majeure in Canadian classical music.
Peter’s musical life was quite diverse. On top of being one of the most sought-after chamber musicians in Canada, he and violinist Mark Fewer and cellist Thomas Wiebe founded the Duke Piano Trio. As a soloist, he collaborated with conductors such as Bramwell Tovey, and Edwin Outwater. However, he made his greatest impact through his teaching, influencing and inspiring a whole generation of young musicians in Toronto and beyond.
Peter joined the Glenn Gould School as a faculty member in 1991; he also taught chamber music at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto in the early years. Peter was always involved and interested in people, in their successes and struggles. So many young musicians remember him as a superb listener, whose compassion went beyond music and learning.
The role of a music teacher is a quite an interesting one, especially in higher education. The simple teaching and learning of techniques, which we all spend much time on, are never the final goal. The final ‘musical’ goal demands dedication beyond the technical aptitude — it demands an understanding of the syntax, self-synthesis and a certain amount of daring. It can often be a fragile process, and many young, as well as experienced musicians struggle through various points of their development. Peter was always there for his students and peers. He encouraged them, he demanded from them, and he cared for them.
And they understood.
“…Thank you for teaching me so much about music; for always challenging me; for telling me to always believe in myself and to take more risks; and the RCM library would probably like to thank you for the hundreds I paid in fines over the years because I refused to return any music that had fingerings written by you…All of my stupid mundane concerns are so insignificant now, just at the thought of never having another lesson with you again, never again running to G54 for some advice. I promise I will quote your sassy chamber music comments to anyone who’s there to listen for the rest of my life.” (Marina Simeonova, Pianist
“Peter Longworth was the first person I met on my very first trip to Toronto in February 2009. He accompanied me for my entrance audition at GGS. I remember his words of encouragement, urging me to have fun even though I was rattled with fear. Six years later, he chose me as one of the students he would accompany all year. This photo was from our warm up right before playing the Debussy Sonata in my last recital at GGS. I remember how alive I felt during that performance, all because Peter was the one supporting me. It was one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever given…” (Lyssa Pelton, Violinist)
“I feel that I could just walk down to the Con, run into him and end up having a chat about life. As a former student at the RCM, I remember his serious, yet often hilariously truthful coaching at our weekly Sonata class in the Remenyi Room. I remember marvelling at his incredible musicianship whenever he demonstrated for us…he was able to play anything on the spot! I will never forget when he helped me prepare for a competition years ago. I asked him to accompany me, and he ended up also acting as my teacher, coach, mentor, therapist, etc. Those few rehearsals with him helped me reach a level that I didn’t know I was capable of at the time. His words of encouragement have always stayed with me…and I am still trying to live up to them. He leaves a legacy behind in all those who have had the privilege of learning from him.” (Suhashini Arulanandam, Violinist)
“Peter… such a wonderful, sensitive, beautiful human being. He is one of the most beautiful people I have never met. He gave me so much during my years of studies in Toronto. Through music of course. But also when I lost my father. He was one of the only ones to really have the right words. He invited me out with Melanie. He gave me so much love and trust as well. OMG Peter… I left Toronto 2012 and we emailed only three times to each other. I had no idea …” (Joëlle Mauris, Cellist)
“I first started playing with Peter Longworth when I was still in high school. He helped me nail my UofT entrance audition. After that, he continued playing with me at every important occasion, including my UofT recitals, NYO auditions, concerto competitions, CBC recitals… you name it. He was not only an exceptional musician, a fabulous pianist and a great coach, but also a totally genuine person who really cared about your development as a musician. Growing up, he was a young pro whom I always looked up to. He was a real mentor to me. We last played a recital together a few years ago, and after that we both said we would do it again soon. It was not to be. Gone way too soon. I will miss our lunches at Bloor Street. I would have loved to chat with him about the World Cup…” (Stephen K. Tam, Flutist)
“Peter was one of the rare souls whose beauty of playing the piano seemed a natural reflection of his entire being. He was filled with the love of life and people, and approached his music making with the glee of a young person that has just begun to discover the treasure trove of great works we are blessed with. He never became the least bit tired of this discovery, and seemed a constant well of enthusiasm that nourished us all. He would think nothing of reading chamber music into the wee hours; not because he was asked to, but because he was responding to a calling.
Off the stage, Peter was the type of mentor that builds the fabric of a school. He made an extraordinary contribution to the many people he taught at The Royal Conservatory and in the course of his work changed the trajectory of many. He will be deeply missed.” (Barry Shiffman, Associate Dean, Director Chamber Music, Glenn Gould School)
Peter was also a favoured collaborative pianist for many, and the news brought many reflections from the community:
“…A few years back I invited Peter to perform as soloist in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and he was enthusiastic to collaborate on this beautiful oddity. When I asked him if he would like to add another work to fill out the program he practically interrupted me calling out Liszt E-flat! He had chosen one of the most difficult works in the repertoire to pair with one of the most difficult works in the repertoire! He was fearless and keen for challenge. We had already performed Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 together and I knew what he was capable of. The moody Liszt and the tuneful Beethoven made for a stunning contrast of characters which Peter revealed with authentic expression and dazzling technique. It was a thrilling and fiery performance, an unforgettable experience for which I am grateful.
I will never forget the looks we shared in performance or the energy exchange that buoyed every phrase. To work with Peter was rewarding and enriching. He was a complete artist.” (David Bowser, Artistic Director, Toronto Mozart Players and Pax Christi Chorale)
“…Peter was a radiant and inquisitive soul, truly kind and compassionate. He was one of my favorite people and musical collaborators in the world, a brilliant pianist and exceptional listener. I’ll always cherish the time we spent working together, answering questions with more questions, pushing each other’s limits, always driven… Our conversations and musical discourse were always unpredictable, and always utterly satisfying. I know there are many of us who feel the same way – he shared his gift everywhere he went, and with utter humility. Anyone who knew Peter is missing him deeply, and we will all be carrying his light within us.” (Benjamin Bowman, Co-Concertmaster, Metropolitan Opera)
“…Just a few weeks ago we celebrated his daughter’s first birthday together with so many close friends in Toronto – we spent the day putting up streamers and turning the hospital patio into a party zone. We talked about music, life, love. We cried together, we laughed some more. Peter changed my life at 14 years old. He opened my world up to playing chamber music with a pianist, and loving every single phrase I would try and play on the violin. We toured together in the USA, we shared delicious wines, and chamber music parties. I’m crying because I miss him already, and he was and always will be such an amazing positive influence on so many young musicians all over the world. Thank you for everything Peter. I will try to bring your love of Music with me wherever I go.” (Edwin Huizinga, Violinist)
“Peter Longworth was as great a friend as you could ever hope for. I was blessed to have known him for 31 years, during many of which he was indeed my best friend. He was like a brother and I loved him.
We both arrived in Toronto in 1987 — he from Chicago and I from St. John’s. In December of that year (I was 15, he was 23) he was recommended to me as an “accompanist” for an audition I was taking. He was a far better pianist than I was a violinist, and his presence at the piano helped me that day – and in days and years to come – to succeed. Six years later we joined forces with cellist Thomas Wiebe and formed the Duke Piano Trio, which stayed intact until Peter’s passing. We were three very different people from three very different backgrounds. But music brought us together, and over the years our friendships deepened to the point where we felt (and behaved!) like family.
Peter was a passionately loyal friend to everyone. He was passionate about all things in life, as well. We spent years of our lives together seeing films (back then he loved Tarantino films), talking about relationships (we both had issues), drinking wine (Woodward’s Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla County), playing video games (MLB 1997/98) until the sun came up, watching baseball (Chicago Cubs), lusting over cars on the road that we’d never afford (at one point he drove a 1964 and a half Mustang Convertible – red, of course), looking in awe at the beauty of the natural world (his favorite place was Tofino, British Columbia), experiencing the extreme beauty of music (we’d listen to records, tapes, CDs endlessly into the wee hours of the morning)…the list goes on and on.
Just pick a topic and Peter would invariably be interested in it, and would love to know more about it from you. If you were his friend, he gave you his full attention. Every time, and without judgment. He taught me so many things about friendship over the years but that last part was his greatest gift to me. In a judgmental world, Peter was able to let people be who they were. If he was your teacher, he would tell you the truth about what you did or didn’t understand and what you needed to do to improve, but he would never insinuate that it was a fault of your character.
As a faculty member at the RCM he influenced more than 25 years worth of students with his expertise and goodwill. The young pianist Phil Chiu once told me “Peter was a huge inspiration for the path I took when I was out of school; someone who took seriously (and was taken seriously) how to play with others, and everything that entails.” Peter also developed a large class of adult amateur piano students who were fiercely devoted to him. A more generous spirit as a teacher you would not find. I believe that influence will move into the future for years to come and make the world a better place. (I have images in my mind of students from his Sonata Class at the Glenn Gould School encountering one another somewhere in the world 20 years from now and saying “Remember when Peter said….”).
As a musician, he was a fully engaged human. Every ounce of his being went into the notes he played. In rehearsing together, he loved discovering things in the score and seeing how they would sound. Sharing that delight with audiences was his greatest desire. Chamber music may have been his first musical love, but he was also a formidable soloist, with credits that included performances with the Chicago Symphony, the Vancouver Symphony, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and countless others. The fact that he was best known as a collaborator is something I interpret symbolically as a reflection of his skills in friendship.
If Peter experienced something he wished you to experience as well, he would say “I recommend it, highly.” Thank you, my dear friend for sharing your immense gift with us. Our hearts are Broken, but from what you gave, we are better for it. For those who want to hear you again, your Brahms recording will give us your voice that we know so well. I recommend it, highly.” (Mark Fewer, Violinist/Duke Trio)
Peter happily married violinist Sheila Jaffé in 2015, and they welcomed their daughter Amelia last year. Unfortunately, Peter developed kidney cancer, and on the morning of 26 June 2018, Peter lost his year-long battle. Peter is survived by his wife, Sheila, and their daughter Amelia, and his parents and sister, Susan Longworth. There will be a private funeral service, and a public memorial event in the fall is being organized by the Glenn Gould School.