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​​by David Richards
oronto ON August 27th 2019

Fifth Canadian Chopin Competition and Festival: a week of great music in Toronto

Jury Chair Krzysztof Jablonski; Photo credit Sara Garcia

Last night, I enjoyed a most memorable evening billed as Portraits: Words and Music. The creation of Lopinski, the program involved dramatic readings interspersed with the music of Chopin, enhanced by projected images.

Brandon David and Carla Zabek read a scripted story of important moments in Chopin’s life complete with personal letters, diary notations, and contemporary press clippings.

Ten-year-old Anthony Vu representing Chopin in his childhood, performed the Polonaise in G minor, op. posth.

Soprano Paulina Swierczek with pianist and jury member Anton Nel demonstrated the bel canto music of Bellini which influenced Chopin and later the touching Aime-moi that Pauline Viardot, Chopin’s piano student and singer, arranged from a Chopin mazurka.

Former competition winner Leonard Gilbert and Thomas Torak added other piano selections that related to Chopin’s life events. I especially enjoyed Gilbert’s performance of the Ballade in F minor, op. 52.

For me, the highlight of the evening was the integration of the words and music throughout. Janet Lobinski’s script was artfully written. The moving Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65 which cellist Emma Fisher and pianist Todd Yaniw artfully performed the first and third movements of, formed a fitting climax to the evening. Indeed, one could hear in the music, the pain and suffering of Chopin’s final days.

The Senior Competition has already progressed through two rounds and five finalists will take the stage on Friday August 29th in Koerner Hall at 2pm and 7pm. Aaron Chow, Eric Guo, Agnė Radzevičiutė, Lingfei (Stephan) Xie and Jessica Yuma will each perform one of Chopin’s two piano concertos with the Tokai String Quartet. The semi-finalists in the Junior Division take the stage today and tomorrow (August 27th and 28th ) at 10am in Mazzoleni Hall with the Junior Finals taking place on Thursday August 29th at 10am in Koerner Hall. The Awards Ceremony will be held following the Senior Division Finals on Thursday August 29th at 7pm in Koerner Hall. More information is available at

On Sunday evening, each of the jury members was interviewed on-stage by Lopinski. Thereafter, each performed for an audience, the majority of whom were competitors and family members.

Anton Nel emphasized the need for young performers to be open to adapt to different opportunities and performed the virtuosic display piece Allegro de Concierto op.46 by the Spanish composer Enrique Granados.

John O’Conor talked about the importance of young musicians building their own career by recognizing the importance of all performances and using every opportunity to make contacts. He performed two pieces composed by John Field, music that influenced Chopin in writing his many nocturnes.

Midori Koga added a unique impression with her emphasis on story-telling through music, and the suggestion that young performers give back and learn through teaching. A video of Twinge by Jon Magnussen as performed by the Haven Trio of which Koga is a member, was emotionally very powerful. I found myself thinking back to where I was on that fateful day in 2004 when the Sumatra Tsunami killed over 200,000 people.

Golda Vainberg-Tatz talked about her youth in Lithuania and Israel and performed Debussy’s Images (Book 2).

Krzysztof Jablonski, the chair of the jury, talked about his own preparation before becoming Laureate of the 1985 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Indeed, he devoted 10 years of his life getting ready for it, having realized that winning would mean the procurement of not only a passport but a whole new way of life as a young person from Poland. Last evening’sperformance of Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 concluded an insightful evening and gave the audience a taste of his solo concert scheduled for 7pm on Wednesday August 28th in Koerner Hall.

Sijing Ye, second prize winner of the Third Canadian Chopin Competition
and Festival performing in the Alan Walker presentation
Photo credit: Antonio Infante

August is usually the time when we take a break from the musical activities of Toronto as there is less going on. This year however is different. The Fifth Canadian Chopin Piano Competition and Festival is offering a week of music and musical events sure to attract music lovers who don’t want to let a month go by without a ‘fix’ so to speak. And of course, one can’t miss with the music of Fryderyk Chopin. Alan Walker in his book entitled Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times, wrote that Chopin’s music has “the timeless power to move the listener to a better place”. It is no wonder that all of Chopin’s music is still in the standard concert repertoire of pianists 260 years after his death.

Held every five years, the Canadian competition has offered winners their expenses to the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw which takes place the following year. In the 2015 International Competition, Tony Yike Yang, the 2014 2nd prize winner of the Canadian competition was awarded the 5th place prize in Warsaw.

The Canadian Chopin Competition began in 1999. This, the fifth, has attracted 38 pianists from across Canada to its Junior and Senior Divisions. Prizes total more than $30, 000. This is the third time that the competition has featured the add-on of a festival featuring ‘all things Chopin’. Both the competition and the festival are the brainchild of its Founder and Artistic Director, Janet Lopinski.

Artistic Director Janet Lopinski with jury members John O’Conor and Anton Nel
Photo credit: Sara Garcia