Performances in Calgary

2005-09-24 / Calgary Herald / Bob Clarke

Pianist finds her “paradise”

Angela Hewitt recalls running into trouble soon after sitting down at the piano in the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Thursday to rehearse the Chopin first concerto she was to perform the following day with the Calgary Philharmonic.

“To be perfectly frank, when I was here two years ago I felt the piano was not in good shape,” says Hewitt, one of the world’s leading concert and recording artists. “But when I was invited to try it during rehearsal I was quite shocked at its condition.”

Work had been done to the piano, Hewitt says, “but it obviously needed new hammers.”

The renowned Canadian pianist, known for her recordings of the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach, decided to play the instrument anyway, as best she could, because no other piano was close at hand.

“We got through the first movement, but then in the second movement I could feel the action really getting very sluggish,” Hewitt says. “Finally, in the middle, it just stuck.”

Not wanting to take a chance on having the same thing happen in concert, the performer stopped the rehearsal and went off in search of a replacement piano. Advised there was a Fazioli concert grand at Mount Royal College Conservatory—very similar to the instrument she herself keeps in her home in Italy—Hewitt decided to try it.

“It’s a fabulous piano,” she says. “It has it all: You can play fast and clearly—and yet still brilliantly when you’re playing lightly. It has such a gamut of colour and responds to the slightest variation of touch. For me, it’s a true inspiration. And a nice end to the story.”

Hewitt will perform on the instrument again tonight, courtesy of the Conservatory, on a program that also includes the Symphony No. 4 (“Romantic”) by Anton Bruckner. Yannick Nezet-Seguin is the conductor.

Hewitt divides her time between a condo in her native Ottawa, a one-bedroom flat in London where she has lived for 20 years, and a property in Italy on which she had a house built three years ago.

“I chose everything—from the door-handles and the flooring to the tiles and the shutters,” she says.

The 47-year-old pianist recalls coming across the land on which her house now stands (beside Lake Trasimeno in Umbria district) while searching the Internet.

“I just thought it would be nice to have a place where I could be with friends, practise until midnight if I wanted, and have a full-sized piano,” she says. “It was the only piece of land I looked at in Italy because I fell in love with it immediately. It was like a paradise.”

Last July, Hewitt inaugurated her own week-long annual festival of recitals and chamber music in the courtyard of the nearby Castle of the Knights of Malta in Magione.

She says the move to Italy has given her a great excuse to learn Italian, and to develop a new group of friends—“who have the deep sense of honesty, honour and integrity, which I really like,” Hewitt says. Living in Italy also offers respite from a hectic touring schedule.

“Just to know it’s there and to know I can go and regenerate—that’s one of the great things it’s given me,” she says. “It’s opened me up in a way. I feel a different person when I’m there.”

But Italy has its drawbacks when it comes to maintaining a strict dietary regimen that eschews caffeine, dairy products and sugar, Hewitt says.

“It’s very hard to resist those Perugina chocolates that are made about 20 minutes from my house.”