Chamberfest: Hewitt finds Finland just to her musical taste

Angela Hewitt. Photo: Keith Saunders

Finland has become an annual destination for Angela Hewitt.

She goes there annually, she said in an interview with Artsfile in advance of her Bach Odyssey concerts March 16 and 18. (She talked about those with Artsfile here).

Hewitt collaborates often with the Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu and she also goes to the Scandinavian nation to play chamber music.

It has become a familiar destination, she says, one that feels very Canadian.

“There are similarities between two northern countries. And the way the people are although the Finns are a bit particular. I feel at home there.”

The people and government of Finland are also keen supporters of culture, she said.

“They do give a lot of money to the arts there and really support culture which is important. I think it is a model to the rest of us what they do there.”

But her Finnish sojourn has also produced something else for Hewitt … some new music in the form of a piano concerto that will premiere next fall as part of the Ideas of North festival at the National Arts Centre in October.

The work is by another roving Canadian, the composer Matthew Whittall, who has an Ottawa connection in the form of his brother, the former marketing director of Chamberfest, James Whittall.

Hewitt met Matthew Whittall about four years after a performance in Helsinki.

“When I heard he was writing a piano concerto,” she approached him about it. In the end, she will perform in in Ottawa and in Finland. The Finns are celebrating 100 years of nationhood in 2017 as Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation. It seemed like a natural project, Hewitt said.

Whittall, who calls Ottawa his Canadian hometown, told me in an interview in 2013 that he had moved to Finland in the 1990s to pursue a musical education. He has been able to successfully carve out a career as a horn player and composer of chamber, choir and orchestral pieces.

Conductor Lintu has been a major supporter and promoter of Whittall’s work. Whittall  lists Debussy, Mahler, Sibelius and the American minimalists, especially Steve Reich, as major influences on his musical thinking.

Hewitt is still pursuing her cycle of recordings of the music of Domenico Scarlatti. She is currently writing the liner notes for the second recording in that series. The album will be out in the fall, she says.

“I could do up to 30 CDs of Scarlatti,” she said. Don’t rule it out entirely but she likely won’t do that in the end. Although, “I’d like to keep going on that because I enjoy it and people really respond to the music.”

And she’s just finished the seventh recording in a cycle of Beethoven sonatas. There will be two more of those.

“These days agents and marketers want to know what you are going to play in advance which drives me crazy so you have to have some sort of shape to it all otherwise

“It’s more a marketing thing but it does matter for your own personal journey. In Beethoven it has been wonderful to have that goal of finishing the sonatas.”

Hewitt relishes the intellectual challenge. “It’s important. I do I think it’s important to know. I was always taught to know about the history of a composer and of a piece when he was writing it.”

She is a fitness fanatic, she says, and she can still “fling my legs over my head when I’m on the floor.”

She is a regular on the massage table and has a “great” osteopath” that she attends when in London, Eng. where she maintains a residence. She also has an Ottawa home and a spot at her festival site at Lake Trasimeno in the Umbrian countryside in Italy.

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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.