Concerts by the Canal: Violinist Véronique Mathieu talks about the allure of new music

Véronique Mathieu and Stephanie Chua will perform Saturday at Southminster United Church.

The musical duo of Canadian violinist Véronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua will open the 2017-18 Concerts by the Canal series at Southminister United Church on Sept. 16. In advance, ARTSFILE talked to Mathieu, who is based in Toronto, is an award winning performer, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas and a dedicated commissioner of new music, about her career and her upcoming concert.

Q. When did you pick up the violin and why?

A. I was born in Montreal, and moved to Quebec City when I was a child. I was about 3 and 1/2 when I started taking violin lessons. I had been wanting to learn the violin after seeing the Nutcracker. (I was already taking ballet lessons.)

Véronique Mathieu.

Q. What awards did you get at the 2012 Eckhardt-Gramatté Contemporary Music Competition and the 2010 Krakow International Contemporary Music Competition?

A. I got a third prize in both competitions. Competitions were for me always a great way to set a goal for myself, and to learn specific pieces. These competitions have several rounds, and you play different pieces in each round. There are also new works that are commissioned for specific rounds of the competitions.

Q. You have a strong interest in new work. What is the appeal?

A. Since I was a student at the conservatory, I always thought that violinists played the same pieces over and over. There is so much repertoire available, yet we keep performing the same works. There was something really exciting for me about discovering new pieces, and finding composers that weren’t well known. It takes a lot of time and patience, but it is so rewarding to find amazing new compositions

Q. That has led to you commissioning new pieces. That’s a major step in music making. How do you afford that?

A. We are very fortunate in Canada to have such great support from the Canada Council for the Arts. Over the years, we have received several commissioning grants from the Canada Council, some support from the Ontario Arts Council and several private individuals have supported the commission of new works.

Q. Can you give some examples of pieces you have commissioned?

A. Most recently, Stephanie and I have commissioned works for violin and piano by Brian Harman, Adam Scime, Emilie Lebel, Caitlin Smith, and Gabriel Dufour-Laperrière. Fuhong Shi and Chris Paul Harman will be writing a piece for us in the coming year. I have commissioned a work by the American/German composer Ingrid Stölzel this season for violin, soprano, and piano. I also have another project with Adam Scime for next year.

Q. You also have worked around the world as a teacher and as a performer?

A. Traveling is part of every musician’s life. We constantly meet new colleagues, and that often leads to new collaborations.

Stephanie Chua.

Q. You are playing an evening of Canadian music. Any new works in there?

A. This recital presents, in large part, the content of our newest CD, True North. For that project, we commissioned two Toronto-based composers that are long-time colleagues and collaborators of ours: Brian Harman, and Adam Scime. Brian wrote a piece for violin, piano, and electronics, and Adam wrote a piece for violin and piano. On Saturday, Stephanie will present a solo work by Brian Harman, and we will perform Adam’s new work. In addition, we are playing Extasis by Alice Ping Yee Ho, a work we premiered a few years ago. We are very fortunate to work with composers that are around us, and that we can play for as we learn their pieces. It helps us develop a strong connection with their music.

Q. I know Healey Willan as a composer for choir. What did he write for violin? Or are these arrangements?

A. He wrote two violin sonatas, one that is reminiscent of Baroque music, and one that could be mistaken for a sonata from the romantic period. We are performing both of them on saturday. They are so different, we could never guess they were written by the same composer. Willan also started a third sonata, but tonly finished a fragment of that work.

Q. You have played with Stephanie Chua before. When did your musical partnership begin?

A. We met in 2011 through a common friend, and we quickly discovered that we had very similar musical interests. We had an opportunity to play together shortly after, and had a very good connection. We kept collaborating on a regular basis, and together we commissioned several new works for violin and piano.

Q. Can you tell me something about her?

A. Stephanie is a wonderful pianist and collaborative artist. She is very active in the contemporary music scene in Canada, and works with many Canadian composers. She is also a certified yoga instructor.

Véronique Mathieu and Stephanie Chua
Concerts by the Canal
Where: Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Ave.
When: Saturday Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.