Master Piano Recital Series: Teacher, performer, Richard Raymond sets his sights on a Beethoven bonanza

Richard Raymond.

Like many Canadian families of a certain era, Richard Raymond’s owned an upright piano. The instrument had pride of place in the home and Raymond’s older siblings were taking lessons and practicing. Watching and taking it all in was three year old Richard. He was captivated and soon enough the young boy jumped up on the piano bench and started noodling on the keyboard.

As Raymond remembers it today, “I was not from a family of musicians, but my siblings were taking lessons. I just happened by coincidence to be listening to the music and I just started to play.

“It was kind of surprising to do that at three years old. I never chose to do that … it was just there from the beginning.” His innate talent led, six months later, to music lessons from Catholic nuns.

“The nuns were teaching a lot. They had a lot of experience with young kids like that,” Raymond said.

It’s certainly turned out alright. Now in his 60s, Raymond can be proud of a long career as a respected performer and teacher. His resumé includes a top prize in the 18-25-year-old category of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Competition in 1990 and a first in the Canadian International Stepping Stone Competition. The next year he won CBC Radio’s National Competition for Young Performers.

By 1993, Raymond had gone global, picking off the Chamber Music Prize in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the first Canadian to do so. In 1998, he finished second in the William Kapell International Piano Competition and won the Virginia Parker Prize.

A busy performing career followed with recordings, solo recitals, chamber music work and performances with orchestras such as the Toronto Symphony and the MSO. He was always a teacher and that part of his professional life grew over time until it has taken over.

These days, he picks his spots for performances.

“I played many countries as a young man, from Brazil to the former Soviet republic of Georgia and all across Europe.

Nowadays, “I just want to do what I want. For me anything I would do now is a bonus. That’s how I take it.”

Ottawa just happens to be one of those choices. He’ll perform a recital in his debut with the Master Piano Recital Series at Southminster United Church next weekend.

He plays a lot of solo music and that suits him just fine.

“I have myself to deal with. It’s easier to manage. But I do have experience with many things, orchestra of course, chamber music too. But solo is my cup of tea, my preference.

“Teaching is important too, especially now. The first 20 years of my career I was mostly playing. The teaching started to take more of a role. Now I’m blessed to be at the Conservatoire (in Montreal) because we work with gifted students, from nine year olds to 20-somethings. It’s a big range and I really enjoy that.”

Teaching is another way of learning, he says.

“We play totally differently when we teach a lot than when we are just playing solely. I like to do both as much as I can.”

That would certainly be the case when one of your students was the rising keyboard star, Charles Richard-Hamelin.

“He was my student. His potential was always evident, but to know he would go that far we couldn’t predict that. I’m quite happy for him.”

He credits those early music competitions with preparing him well for a musical career.

“It’s both mental and physical. I would say to build a repertoire, to get to that point (of being ready for a competition) is hard. But once you have done that, you are prepared for other events.” It is, he says, comparable to being an athlete.

Those years of training, of muscle memory, will be brought to bear in Ottawa with a full program of five Beethoven sonatas, including the familiar Moonlight and Apassionata.

“I love the music and the composer. He represents, for me, a strong individuality, a strong character. I had never done an all-Beethoven recital. So I thought, ‘I’ve have played a lot of these so why not just do that’.”

This is a program just for Ottawa, where he hasn’t play for several years, but in an interesting coincidence Raymond will play three of these Beethoven sonatas in “this crazy project that will happen a week after that. We are doing all 32 Beethoven sonatas in one day” in Sorel, Quebec.

He says 16 pianists in all will take part on the show. They will start at 9 a.m. and finish by midnight.

“When I was student I did this. There were 12 of us. We did it in an academic setting over a few days. I think this might be the first time this has been done professionally in one day. ”

For the Ottawa show, Raymond says he wanted to present works from the three main periods in the composer’s life.

“I wanted to pick from different periods, to give a sample of his work. To me there is no small Beethoven sonata. For example, the Sonata in E major, Op. 14/1 is very classical. Moonlight, everybody knows that. TheSonata in C minor, Op. 111 is a piece I played a long time ago and I wanted to do it again. I did it in competitions it was time to revive it.

When Raymond tackles Beethoven he says he tries to “take the view that I’m going to play Beethoven like it’s the first time anybody plays these sonatas. It always needs to be a new and unique experience; that’s what I am trying to achieve in these concerts I am doing. I don’t know if it is always successful. (but that’s the goal). I’m not the kind of guy who would do something different just to be different. I have my own approach to the piece. I live it.  That’s what is important for me: to really live it, to love it and to communicate that … every time.”

Richard Raymond 
Where: Southminster United Church
When: Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: Series organizers say that if you subscribe to the rest of the series through the website, a 50 per cent off code will be emailed to you. The code is valid from 7 p.m. Feb. 1 through  Feb. 4 at midnight.

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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.