Keeping in touch: Angela Hewitt celebrates Canada Day … in Italy

Angela Hewitt. Photo Mai Wolf

Every year the seemingly unstoppable Angela Hewitt, in between concerts and other commitments, organizes and performs at her own music festival near the shores of Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, Italy. Yes it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. This year’s event runs begins with a pre-festival concert on June 27 and concludes on July 4. In the middle is a special concert for Canada Day featuring four Canadian pianists of international stature. They are Jon Kimura (Jackie) Parker, Charles-Richard Hamelin, Janina Fialkowska and Hewitt herself. As well the Canadian author Madeleine Thien, who is this years Governor General’s award winner for English fiction will be present for a discussion. Hewitt answered some questions for ARTSFILE about this special Canada Day far from home. Fans will be able to see Hewitt part three of her Bach Odyssey during Canada Scene on July 20 or at the Westben festival in Campbellford, Ontario on July 23.

Q. When did you dream this up?

A. I first started thinking about it immediately after last year’s festival, so in the summer of 2016. And I first contacted the other pianists in September. So it’s been a while in the making. But they all very enthusiastically accepted. Janina and Jackie of course were, along with me, three of the original members of Piano Six, a project we did between 1994-2004 (going into the small towns across Canada, giving concerts, masterclasses, and most importantly playing for school kids; we did several six-piano galas during those years). So this is in a way a bit of a reunion. The original “Hamelin” (Marc-Andre’) was not available for July 1, 2017, but I’m thrilled to have Charles Richard-Hamelin who is doing so well after his prize in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. He participated in masterclasses with Janina and myself years ago when he was just a student, so that’s a rather nice connection.

For the scheduling, well you know—either they were free on July 1st or they weren’t. There wasn’t the possibility of moving Canada Day.

Q. What about the music?

A. Putting together the programme was challenging but fun. It includes some old favourites of ours (Milhaud and the Rachmaninoff Tarantella), but also some new things (Dukas and Rossini). We also have a very special arrangement of Oh Canada for an encore.

The hardest thing was getting the venue free. I wanted it to be in the wonderful Teatro Morlacchi in Perugia which is a theatre like La Scala in looks — just not quite as big. We’ve never hosted an event there during the Trasimeno Music Festival, so this is important for us. It’s also the only stage in Perugia that would take four Fazioli concert grands at once. Of course (Paolo) Fazioli himself will be in attendance. As will Canadian broadcaster and writer, Eric Friesen.

A few hours before the concert, we are also hosting, on the same stage, an interview with the prize-winning Canadian author Madeleine Thien (with Eric Friesen). I wanted very much to have a Canadian personality as well for Canada Day, and Madeleine adores music and was thrilled to be asked. We feel very honoured to have her for what I believe is her first major appearance in Italy.  Representatives from the Canadian Embassy in Rome will also attend both events, and there is a Gala Dinner served in between.  So that has been a lot of work to set all that up.

Q. How did you get all those Faziolis?

A. One of the four Faziolis will be my own concert grand which will come out of my house in Umbria. Two of the others will come directly from the Fazioli factory near Venice, and one belongs to a piano dealer in Perugia.

Come to think of it, the hardest thing was arranging all the travel for the other three pianists — coming from Poland, Germany and the U.S. And all the bureaucracy involved — people have no idea.

Then we had to decide who plays which part. I decided that more or less myself, with a few requests from the others if they had already played a certain part in a piece. We will be playing musical chairs during the evening, so we’ll have to write in our scores which piano to go to next after each piece.

Do you do something Canadian every Canada Day?

A. No, but this year is, of course, special, and I’m an “Ambassador” for #Canada150 so … I wanted to play my part. I hope that many Canadians in Italy will come and attend, and that people from all around the world (which is the case with our audience) will realise what great talent we have in Canada.

Here is the Canada Day programme in Perugia, Italy with Angela Hewitt, Jon Kimura Parker, Janina Fialkowska and Charles-Richard Hamelin

Mozart: Overture to the Marriage of Figaro
Dukas (arr. Adam Stern): Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Chopin: Impromptus Nos. 3 and 4   (Charles Richard-Hamelin)
Chopin: Scherzo in B minor  (Janina Fialkowska)
Milhaud: Scaramouche


Rossini (arr. Gottschalk): William Tell Overture: Finale
Schubert: Serenade (for one piano, six hands—with a volunteer from the audience!)
Rachmaninoff: Romance (for one piano, six hands—with a volunteer from the audience!)
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major first movement
Debussy: Clair de lune   (Angela Hewitt)
Oscar Peterson: Blues Etude    (Jon Kimura Parker)
Rachmaninoff:  Tarantella from the Suite No. 2 in C minor

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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.