York Fine Arts Recording Label

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Northern Sirens

About the Artist

Christina Petrowska has established herself as one of Canada's foremost pianists. Recognized internationally as an interpreter of contemporary music, she has premiered more than a hundred works written for her by leading Canadian, American and European composers. She has appeared in solo recital and with orchestra on major concert stages and at festivals throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, Greece and Taiwan, and is heard frequently in radio and television broadcasts. Parallel to her career as a performing and recording artist, she teaches piano and musicology at York University, Toronto.

About the Music

Trust, mutual respect and love of the piano create a bond between composer and interpreter which can result in a fascinating listening experience for the audience. This is what I hope happens here.

I love playing all the works on this CD. Happily - and much to my surprise - the actual recording was done in complete takes in just a few hours, so there remains a concert edge to the performances. Pattern-music must have a flow and consistent energy which should not be stopped, and all the pieces have moods which I felt reluctant to desecrate by splicing or sectioning. This is, after all, an art of the moment, to be fully enjoyed by playing and listening in the present tense.

The five composers featured on this CD have a lot in common. They are Canadian women, consummate musicians, and they know how to play and write for piano. They are also good friends of mine, who have always encouraged and inspired me, especially for this recording.

The music of these artists is evocative, lyrical, romantic and frequently tonal. It requires a virtuoso technique in the tradition of Chopin and Liszt. And while they look into the past for inspiration, these Canadian composers approach tonality with freshness and new insight which are very much of our day. Their masterful piano repertoire is a pleasure to perform, and offers its audience a unique listening experience.

Ann Southam
Winnipeg native Ann Southam (b. 1937) studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and at the University of Toronto's electonic music studio. She is well-known for her electro-acoustic scores for the Toronto Dance Theatre. I have been enjoying and performing her compositions for almost two decades.

Over the years, Ann Southam has composed several sets in her Rivers series. This is the premiere recording of a work she composed in that cycle in 1981, the same year she wrote Glass Houses, a piece I have played many time.

Glass Houses and Rivers, written in C major, requires crisp articulation on the part of the performer to bring out the harmonic changes within the continually evolving rhythmic patterns. The effect is hypnotic, calming and exhilarating at the same time. The music is characterized by a flow and energy produced by the rhythmic cycles which repeat within interchanging melodic motifs.

Alexina Louie
That Alexina Louie (b. 1949) is a talented pianist is clearly attested by the idiomatic challenges and colouristic vigour of her piano pieces. Her music often refers to images in nature as well as an exoticism derived from her conscious reference to the music of her Chinese-Canadian heritage and her gift for orchestral colour and musical gesture.

Vancouver-born Alexina Louie now makes her home in Toronto. I have had the pleasure of working with her on several compositions, including Star-Filled Night for solo piano which made its debut on the Space Shuttle Columbia with Canadian astronaut Steve Maclean in 1992.

Music for Piano, written in 1993, is a suite of four pieces: Enchanted Bells, Changes, Distant Memories, Once Upon a Time. These works demand a beautiful tonal palette and a refined sensitivity in performance. The composer's comments in the score suggest that the pieces are mystical in nature and should be played in a wistful, longing manner. Changes, written in a minimalist style, is somewhat reminiscent of Southam's works. While she is renowned for her symphonic writing, these pieces are delicate reminders of the pianist within Alexina Louie.

Larysa Kuzmenko
Toronto-based pianist and composer Larysa Kuzmenko (b.1956) teaches at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto. Schooled in the virtuoso keyboard style, she has frequently appeared as soloist in orchestral works by Rachmaninoff and other great romantic composers. As a composer she is known for her exciting virtuosic compositions such as her 1996 Piano Concerto, which I had the honour of premiering with the Winnipeg Symphony under Bramwell Tovey and subsequently performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

Larysa Kuzmenko's considerable pianistic gifts are evident in the two solo piano pieces recorded here for the first time. Diabolic Dance, which I premiered in Winnipeg's Groundswell Series, is toccata-like, brilliant and fiendish. In Memoriam was inspired by the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The piece begins with a quietly rising melody, a sort of premonition that hypnotizes the listener into further investigation. Ukrainian melodies veiled in coruscated harmonies suddenly explode into a rhythm so furious that it seems untameable by human hands. Finally, the tension erupts into a long rumbling phrase that takes the listener into the profound silence that follows.

Heather Schmidt
Composer and pianist Heather Schmidt (b. 1974), a native of Calgary now living in New York, has gained wide recognition through performances, broadcasts, commisions and awards in Canada, the U.S.A. and Europe. A child prodigy, she gave her first piano performance at the age of six, and at 21 earned her doctorate in music composition as the youngest student ever awarded the degree from Indiana University. She also studied piano with Yoheved Kaplinsky and composition with Milton Babbitt at the Juilliard School, New York.

Solus, written in 1996, was premiered in January 1997 in New York by pianist Emma Tahmizian. Both the composer and I performed it for the CBC that year, and I had the pleasure of presenting it in recital in New York in October 1998.

Having been written by such a wonderful pianist, Solus falls perfectly in the hands and lets the performer weave and interpret its special web of magic. A wide range of touches, from tender to percussive, involves the listener in worlds both introspective and passionate.

Diana McIntosh
Diana McIntosh (b. 1937), originally from Calgary, has made her home to Winnipeg for almost four decades. She is well-known not only as a composer and pianist, but also for her distinctive one-woman shows. She has a great sense of humour and enjoys writing exotic sounds made by tampering with the piano.

Worlds Apart, composed in 1988, represents an inner journey in time and space through contrasting landscapes of serenity and turbulence. Combining non-metric and metric rhythms, hand pedalling with the three pedals of the piano, and long spaces between phrases with fast-moving, active lines, the mood of the piece moves through many different worlds. In a letter to me written shortly before the recording, Diana McIntosh suggests that the work be given a lyrical, evocative and peaceful performance with a dramatic climax. She also writes: "I like different interpretations of my music - play it the way you feel."

Christina Petrowska
Toronto, November 1998

Track Info

1. Glass Houses (1981) Ann Southam 8:26
  Music for Piano (1993) Alexina Louie  
2. Enchanted Bells   2:35
3. Changes   1:46
4. Distant Memories   3:22
5. Once Upon a Time   2:28
6. Diabolic Dance (1997) Larysa Kuzmenko 2:46
7. Rivers (1981) Ann Southam 6:36
8. In Memoriam (1997) Larysa Kuzmenko 6:08
9. Solus (1996) Heather Schmidt 9:36
10. Worlds Apart (1988) Diana McIntosh 10:48

Total CD length: 54:34

Producer: Michael Coghlan
Recorded at Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto, Canada 1998