Concert helps launch new piano festival

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Jason Cutmore is the first to say that events occurring during the teenage years can have a profound influence on major life decisions.

When the Edmonton-raised pianist was 13, he remembers attending the Banff Centre’s Young Musicians Program at the recommendation of his piano instructor Michael Massey. It was the final year the program was offered.

“I had such an amazing transformative experience. That was the first time in my life studying piano I met other kids that were just as crazy about classical music as I was. It was amazing and inspiring,” explained Cutmore in a telephone conversation from his home in a New York suburb.

“I had the chance to play some fabulous repertoire beyond what you would normally do, and it made you want to go home and play the great works. It was motivating and thrilling.”

Although Cutmore is now based out of country, he still has a large flock of family and friends living in the Edmonton area. And the memories of that special summer camp still linger.

In fact, the concert pianist and chamber musician is dedicating a large chunk of his time to launching the inaugural Alberta Pianofest this coming July 6 to 21 at Pigeon Lake.

Alberta Pianofest is designed as a two-week artistic retreat providing top tier instruction to pianists 12 to 18 years in a quiet, back-to-nature setting. Cutmore knows of no other retreat of this kind in the province.

“Alberta was and is ripe for the creation of a music festival at a popular vacation destination, and it’s only a matter of time before it happens. I’m amazed at the interest beyond what I’d expected, and I feel fortunate to be there at the right time and the right place.”

To help fund this start-up venture, Cutmore is performing a benefit concert at Don’s Piano Showroom on Saturday, Jan. 5.

The 38-year-old Cutmore, whose work has been praised for his “brilliant technical finesse” and “deep emotional penetration,” will perform timeless favourites including Bach’s spirited Italian Concerto and Liszt’s hair-raising Dante Sonata.

In bringing his vision to fruition, he chose Pigeon Lake as the retreat’s base from his own bank of memories.

“When I was younger I spent a lot of time at Pigeon Lake and Sylvan Lake, and they’re etched in my memory as special places. I grew up water skiing and I have lots of good memories,” he said.

As Cutmore worked through different levels of studies and boarded the international touring circuit, he noticed there were many artistic retreats but few geared to teenagers.

“I chose that age because it’s an area that is underserved. Most retreats are geared to college students. At a younger age, the impact can be even greater,” he said.

And young emerging pianists are unlike most other musicians. They practice and rehearse alone instead of in a band or symphonic orchestra. But at the end of the day, they need a certain amount of human interaction to further their skills.

Out of all the applicants, 12 students will be chosen to study with Cutmore, Robert Shannon, Stéphane Lemelin and Ursula Oppens. Students will be involved in about five hours of musical activity including master classes and private lessons daily.

“We want to remove them from the usual activities and find a quiet place to practice. One of the most basic necessities to performing a difficult task at a high level is a strong focus. The way we live undermines that terribly.”

Computers, cellphones and tablets will be discouraged.

“It’s about getting back to nature and meeting other students,” Cutmore said. “Meeting other people is as much a part of my memory as the master classes. The students they meet will become their colleagues.”

Admission to the concert is free, however donations will be gratefully accepted.

“Any bit will help. It would be great if we could get $5,000 or $10,000. We aren’t asking for admission because we like people to feel it comes from a desire to support the festival.”

The festival budget is $90,000. It includes scholarships for tuition.

For more information visit www.albertapianofest.com

Preview

Jason Cutmore in Recital
Alberta Pianofest Benefit Concert
Saturday, January 5 at 8 p.m.
Don’s Piano Showroom
8 Riel Drive
Admission: Free

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Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.