Pianist Carson Becke is ‘Brexiting’ the U.K. and heading home to Luskville

Carson Becke will perform in Southminster United Church on March 29. His festival begins March 30 in Luskville.

For the past 13 years, Carson Becke has been living in the United Kingdom performing professionally and studying for a PhD.

But now the pianist is planning to pack up and come home to the Ottawa area sometime this fall. One reason is Brexit.

“My situation is interesting. I have a German passport as well as a Canadian one. So I have no problem in Europe.” But he is worried that he will have a problem in the U.K. “so I’m not planning on staying here much longer.”

He is worried that if he stays he’ll have some fairly serious difficulties trying to live there.

“Nobody has made it clear what will happen to European residents living in Britain and being Canadian doesn’t get you anything.”

Becke is back and forth to Canada a lot but he has been based in Britain since graduating from high school.

He’s isn’t getting a PhD in performance, however.

“I wanted to perform and do that professionally. But I am keeping that separate from my studies.” His musicology PhD is looking at the piano music of Richard Strauss

“I was just in Strauss’s house in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It’s a huge Bavarian country house full of memorabilia. All his manuscripts are there, scores too. It’s a gold mine of stuff.”

Becke won’t be playing Strauss when he performs in Southminster United Church on March 29 as part of UpBeat! Productions Master Piano Recital Series.

Becke started playing as a five year old. His first teach was his great-grandmother, an Ottawa woman named Mary Mackey. She recent;y passed away at age 104.

“She could be tough. If I showed up and had made zero progress, that was not going to be good enough,” Becke said.

The family story goes that when she was 12 in 1927, Mary Mackey was asked by a local music critic if she wouldn’t mind coming along to the Capital Theatre to meet someone.

“She arrived and the guy on the stage was Sergei Rachmaninoff,” Becke said. She had and hour long lesson from him.

Mary Mackey would go on to study at The Juilliard School.

“She was a wonderful musician. My mother thought I should take lessons from her because I was interested in music.” He was actually more into Beethoven symphonies and even Pink Floyd early on.

But when Becke turned 11, he started to really want to practice and he started composing as well.

Sometime after that his parents purchased a farm near Luskville with a riding stable. They kept that business going. It’s now run by Carson’s sister Rae.

But for their musical sons the Becke’s built a performance space and studio in 2008. The Venturing Hills space has become a bit of a mecca for local musicians who are playing and recording there.

Apart from Brexit, this space is one of Becke’s main reasons for wanting to return home.

“I have some ideas for the space. I think there is a lot of potential. We have been hosting concerts for 10 years now and we have a year-round series called Festival Pontiac Enchanté. I would also like to create opportunities for artist residencies there.

Becke has learned how to be more that a performer locked into his keyboard. He’s his own manager and he books his own gigs.

He’s played in Europe and the U.K. Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and even in Brunei.

“That was a fun experience. I had to give a demonstration of the concert to the national censorship board there.”

Brunei is a wealthy state on the island of New Guinea. Becke was flown in to give a masterclass and perform at a school which happened to have a lush 1,000 seat theatre and a Fazioli grand piano on the stage.

His musical interest is in mid to late 19th century and early 20th century music. That is reflected in his Southminster concert.

“I find the idea of improvisation in music interesting. Composers in this time were improvisers and all of these pieces are based on what I think of as improvisational approaches to piano.”

Becke does juggle a lot in his career.

“But it does work. If I were to project myself 10 years down the line, I want to work in a university present concerts and develop the series at farm and I want to perform.”

He believes that the music profession has become too specialized.

It’s a good thing, Becke says, if a performer programs concerts, for example, “you think about performing differently when you have had to present concerts.”

Becke sees a model in the artistic director of Chamberfest Roman Borys, who is a performer and a teacher as well.

The day after Becke’s concert in Ottawa, his serie opens in Luskville.

His festival connects many of the performers. It reflects the musical friendships that are present in Ottawa.

One of his goals is to give the stage to people who deserve to be heard.

“I am interested in bringing out younger artists.”

Carson Becke
UpBeat! Productions Master Piano Recital Series
Where: Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Ave.
When: March 29
Tickets and information: upbeatproductions.ca

Here is Festival Pontiac Enchanté’s lineup:

March 30 — Maghan McPhee and Carl Philippe Gionet

May 4 — Brahms’s German Requiem

June 15 — Kit Downes – Obsidian

July 20 — Summer Gala Evening

Sept. 28 — Trio DaNols

Oct. 26 — Mauro Bertoli and Jethro Marks

Nov. 16 — Flute Sonatas by the Bachs

Dec. 14 — Season Finale

For tickets and information: venturinghills.ca

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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.