Solo Phil: A Q&A with Philip Chiu

Philip Chiu, acclaimed for his collaborative piano work with Jonathan Crow, Janelle Fung, James Ehnes, Andrew Wan and Raphael Wallfisch among many others, makes his Toronto recital debut for Music Toronto on November 28.

In a mid-October email exchange, the talented and personable Hong Kong-born pianist told me that he was excited to come back to Toronto, “very much my hometown and place of musical birth.” He left when he completed his studies at the Glenn Gould School in 2006 and has returned many times for concerts and recitals (most recently with Jonathan Crow at Toronto Summer Music) “but this feels like a real homecoming artistically, especially since it’s a return to form as a soloist.”

WN: Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child? 
Who were the first performers you fell in love with?

PC: I like this pair of questions because I can answer them with the same story: In brief, 1) Mendelssohn 2) Jon Kimura Parker. I forget exactly how old I was, maybe 14 or 15, when I was studying Mendelssohn’s G Minor Piano Concerto. Between working feverishly on that piece (so many arpeggios!) and constant exposure to the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, I had completely succumbed to the infectious effervescence of Mendelssohn’s writing. Up until this point in our story, I never really listened to much classical music, so after years of taking me to classical music concerts and trying to keep me awake, my parents must’ve been totally confused to be hearing orchestral music coming from my room… I’m sure they thought I was hiding something! Suffice it to say, I was not your classic case of a young pianist dreaming of being the next Rubinstein or Horowitz.

One day I happened to catch a performance of that same concerto on CBC, and I was so thrilled to hear someone playing it the way I hoped I could play it! I caught the name of the pianist (Jackie Parker) and tried locating a recording to purchase. Sadly, his website revealed no such recording. In mild distress, I wrote to the email address on his website expressing my admiration for the recording I had heard and asked if it was available for purchase (expecting an efficient, dismissive reply from his agent).

I was totally floored when I received a reply from Jackie just a few days later. He had written an explanation of the recording (a live CBC recording that was not available for purchase) and excitedly asked about my progress with the concerto and shared his thoughts on the piece. He finished by saying that he would ask his father to search for the recording in his archives and to send me a copy (on cassette tape, of course) as soon as possible. I received the recording with another kind letter from his father within a short period.

This tiny, personal moment has stayed with me these last 15 years; among other things, it has shaped my idea of what it means to have success and to encourage those coming up (in my case, from very, very far away) behind you.

You’re known as a top collaborative pianist. What are the challenges of a solo recital?

Going solo involves an interesting mix of challenges and rewards. First and foremost, the memory component of the solo piano recital requires its own special mention: No thanks to Liszt for creating an expectation of pianists that far exceeds those of any other instrument. I am not one of those musicians with a prodigious mind that memorizes music the first time they hear it on the radio; it was one thing when I was a teenager and my brain was a soft, malleable mass, but now, trying to find the time to memorize about 85 minutes of music (for one program!) is not particularly easy nor, frankly, the most rewarding part of music-making. I am buoyed by more and more famous pianists (e.g. Alexandre Theraud, Gilbert Kalish) having scores on stage, but it’s still quite hard to shake the stigma associated with doing so.

Another challenging aspect of performing solo, as someone who has found some degree of success as a “very sociable pianist,” is convincing the established musical community that a pianist can be many things and, shockingly, even perform all roles extremely well. There is little doubt that collaborative pianism and solo pianism have some stark differences in their skillsets, but there is a surprising amount of bias (from all sides) about the ability of one to perform the other.

I absolutely love the thrill of having the stage to myself; the not-inconsiderable allocation of brain power dedicated to playing with others is now freed up for… anything! Even the finest of collaborations have somelimitations to how far one can stretch timing/phrasing or introduce new ideas on the fly (of course, one of the joys of chamber music is pushing that boundary and being amazed by the results), but when I’m alone on stage, I have only to answer to the composer, the audience, and myself.

What went into choosing the repertoire for your Music Toronto recital? Please give us a snapshot of each of the works you’ve chosen.

“Stories & Legends” is a program I created specially for my Music Toronto debut. I would like to add how grateful I am to be performing in this longstanding series in the city where the majority of my education took place. I have many fond memories of attending great piano and chamber music recitals hosted by Music Toronto, so I was ecstatic when I heard from my agent Andrew Kwan that they had gotten in touch. When choosing the program, it was vitally important to me to share something of myself and not only to present A Good Piano Recital Program.

Our evening starts with The Mother Goose Suite. It is a brilliantly simple work that showcases Ravel’s uncanny ability to channel innocent wonder into song. It is a work I came to know intimately through my work with Janelle Fung (as part of the Fung-Chiu Duo), and is also, in a small way, my homage to our musical partnership. Fairy tale after fairy tale, Ravel gifts us beautifully rendered, first-person perspectives from these stories. I present it here in its solo arrangement by Ravel’s friend Jacques Chariot.

The companion work I’ve chosen for the first half is a personal selection of Rachmaninoff

Preludes. I find they are not unlike the Mother Goose Suite; self-contained tales that evoke diverse images and emotions. I’ve chosen five for five, five preludes that loosely match, in sense and style, the five movements of the Ravel suite.

Schubert. Yikes. The Wanderer Fantasy. Double yikes. This is a beautiful, impressive (every piano program needs some fireworks) piece that strays fairly far from its source material, at least in character. Save for the second movement, which quotes the original Der Wanderer lied almost directly, the remaining three movements present this melancholic song in a more jubilant, high-spirited manner. Twenty minutes of keyboard intensity with plenty of Schubertian modulations, melodies, and mood-changes.

Our night concludes with Liszt’s Deux Légendes; epic storytelling at its very epic-est. Liszt uses all his tricks in the piano-writing book to vividly illustrate two biblical stories (St. Francis’ Sermon to the Birds, and St. Francis of Assisi Walking on the Waves). You will hear birds, you will hear undulating waves, you will hear quiet, awestruck wonder and also very loud wonder.

Two years ago you were the first recipient of the Prix Goyer, an award so covert that the performers in the running for it don’t even know they’re being considered. Now that you’ve had time to digest it, what has winning the prize meant to you?

I can’t say I’ve really taken much time to digest it, haha. I was obviously flabbergasted to know I was the first recipient of the Prix Goyer, but my next reaction was to think of all the other more-deserving musicians I know who should have received it. Honestly, I think I’ve spent most time trying to find ways to justify (to myself) having been awarded this prize.

In another way, I took winning that prize as a message that it was time to change direction. It felt really, really good to be recognized for my work as a collaborative artist, but it was also a sign to myself that it was time to take stock of what I had accomplished thus far and consider where I wanted to go next. It’s a big part of the reason I’m answering your questions today: I knew that it was time to set aside the collaborative hat for a moment and show everyone a lesser-worn, but much-beloved hat: Solo Phil.



Ottawa Pianist Recognized With Prestigious International Award For Classical Music

OTTAWA, April 20th, 2016 – Mauro Bertoli, an Italian-Canadian classical pianist living in Ottawa (, is the 2016 recipient of the CAB Foundation’s Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli Prize for young interpreters. The Prize, which bears the name of a legendary pianist from Brescia, is awarded by the Foundation in collaboration with the International Piano Festival of Brescia and Bergamo. It recognizes outstanding achievement in classical music and is meant to foster and support musicians who have dedicated their lives to the art.

Since 2000, the musicians awarded have been:
2000 Maurizio Pollini – 2001 Martha Argerich – 2002 Vladimir Ashkenazy – 2003 Mstislav Rostropovich – 2004 Lorin Maazel – 2005 Riccardo Muti – 2006 Radu Lupu – 2007 Evgenij Kissin – 2008 Grigory Sokolov – 2009 Lang Lang – 2011 Uto Ughi – 2012 Mischa Maisky – 2014 Yuri Temirkanov.

For the first time ever, a new category “young interpreters” has been added and the prize is assigned to a young musician that is establishing himself on the International stage.
This year, the committee in charge to select the recipients has chosen Mitsuko Uchida for the “prize to the career”, while Mauro Bertoli has been chosen as the first recipient for the new category “young interpreters”. Bertoli will receive the prestigious “Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli Prize for young interpreters” on April 29th, during his debut for the recognized 53rd International Piano Festival of Brescia and Bergamo in Italy where he will perform a solo recital with music by Haydn, Clementi, Beethoven and Liszt.
The idea of adding this new category comes from the willingness of the CAB Foundation and the International Piano Festival of Brescia and Bergamo to help young musician to develop their career in the music field. In fact the award consist in a monetary prize, and a certificate.
Mauro Bertoli comes from Brescia, home town of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and for this reason the local administration as well as the major of Brescia have received the news with a big plaudit.
At the link it is possible to read the complete press release, where the reason of the choice it is also published and which is the following:

Mauro Bertoli has studied piano at the Conservatory of Milan, under the tutelage of Sergio Marengoni, as well as with world renowned pianist in different European countries. Several years ago he moved to Canada, in Ottawa, where today he is Piano Accompany Professor at the Conservatoire de Musique de Gatineau. His excellent technique allows him to present an extended and difficult repertoire that goes from Scarlatti to the Rhapsody in blue by Gerhswin, whom Bertoli is a brilliant and refined interpreter. With his wife Elisa he recently adopted three siblings. With his talent, determination and sensitivity Mauro represent a positive example for the new generations of musicians, on both the human and professional level.
During the month of May 2016, Mauro will tour BC in duo with cellist Paul Marleyn, and in June 2016 he will perform Beethoven Piano Concertos n.1 and n.3 with Wuhan Philarmonic in China.


“We are proud that the Mauro Bertoli, who comes from Brescia, has been chosen for the first edition of this Prize for the young. It’s a pity that Mauro had to leave Italy to follow his dreams. We hope that from now on, even thanks to our help, more young musicians will decide to build their future in their own Country”

Giovanni Trerotola – Secretary, CAB Foundation

“The monetary prize to a young musician is a great news that shows an important choice, since it’s necessary to support and count on new generations.”

Emilio Del Bono – Mayor, City of Brescia

Brookside Music Association Hosts Local Students for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra Workshop

Brookside Music Association Hosts Local Students for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra Workshop, Followed By a Sold Out Performance at MCC.

Some very lucky intermediate students, from four local elementary schools, were able to attend an authentic demonstration of baroque music by world renowned Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra Thursday afternoon at the Midland Cultural Centre.

Students met with the orchestra who gave a fascinating account of both the playing and the making of Baroque music. Using projections and narrative the production explained the origins of Baroque styling’s, the history behind it and the instruments used.

Tafelmusik is derived from the German word “tafeln” meaning to dine or to feast, and eventually became used to describe music used for a banquet.  In this case Tafelmusik delivered an educational banquet.

Students were intrigued to discover how original instruments were constructed by local artisans from materials not commonly used today, such as sheep gut. Then they were able to hear music written by one of the period’s principal composers Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – played as it was intended to be heard.

One teacher commented, “To see these instruments and hear them played so professionally might be the only time many of my students will ever hear and get a chance to appreciate them. Thank you”

Brookside Board members, Angela Monaghan and Anne Wilkes, provided the schools with an Educational Program and Teacher’s Guide developed by Tafelmusik Bass player Alison Mackay whose production of Bach and His World was later performed to a sold out audience.

“I totally loved every second of the performance. It was the most spectacular musical event I have ever attended. It really pulled you into Bach’s world as we met his neighbours and artisans and learned so much more about the city and what was happening during his time in Leipzig.” – Ken Woods

The orchestra later came out to meet with audience members who had been held spellbound throughout the performance. Many patrons were so invigorated that they later convened next door to a local pub to share their appreciation and prolong the experience.

It was another great Brookside day!

Musical complement to Penetanguishene’s Rendez-Vous Champlain

Midland Mirror

PENETANGUISHENE – One of the last people who can speak the Wendat language is a consultant for a special composition commemorating French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in the Penetanguishene area.


Brookside Music Association commissioned the piece, called “Wendake/  Huronia,” which will be performed throughout the region in time for this summer’s Rendez-Vous Champlain event. It takes the perspective of the Wendat people when Champlain landed in the area 400 years ago.

“It’s such a rich culture. The cultural life of our community is important,” said Brookside artistic director John French.

John Steckley, a professor of liberal studies at Humber College, is a leading expert in the Huron language and has been brought on to help the performers perfect their pronunciation of some Wendat words.

The six-movement composition by distinguished Canadian composer John Beckwith aims to take audiences from pre-contact times through Champlain’s arrival, a lamentation of European influence and the hope for reconciliation.

The piece features writings from the 1600s, such as poetry, a Jesuit narrative and a description by Jean de Brebeuf of the Feast of the Dead ceremony at the Ossossane bone pit in Tiny Township.

Work by Wendat poet Georges E. Sioui will also be incorporated.

The performers will include 20 members of regional choirs, including from La Clé d’la Baie in Penetanguishene, the Toronto Consort, alto vocalist Laura Pudwell, baritone Theodore Baerg as narrator, and First Nations singers and drummers.

Toronto Consort artistic director David Fallis will conduct the choir members, who will sing in French and Wendat. English subtitles will be displayed. The 30-minute show will also feature music from period instruments.

Music lovers “can go anywhere and hear a string quartet,” quipped French.

“Wendake/Huronia” will premiere July 30 at St. Paul’s United Church in Midland, and French said he hopes to organize a discussion panel.

The composition will also be performed in Parry Sound and Barrie on July 31 and in Meaford on Aug. 1.

“I’m quite thrilled with how this is turning out,” said French.

Summer concert series expands to Meaford Hall

Meaford Express

A series of concerts comes to Meaford Hall this summer through an expansion of the Midland based Brookside Music Association.

Z-meafordhallX-NO10-CF___ContentFeatured in the series are performances by the Toronto All Star Big Band, Susan Aglukark and Sultans of String among others. A total of seven concerts will be held at Meaford Hall as part of Brookside’s: Festival of the Bay.

“We are excited to be working with Meaford Hall to expand our summer festival in order to bring outstanding musical presentations to another state of the art venue,” said John French, Founder and Artistic Director of Brookside Music Association.

The series features world class performers beginning with the Toronto All Star Big Band on July 4, Adam Crossley July 11, Mauro Bertoli and Wolfgang David July 17, ‘Wendake/Huronia’ featuring the Toronto Consort Aug 1, Africville Stories featuring Jackie Richardson and Joe Sealy August 8, Susan Aglukark Aug 14 and the Sultans of String August 29.

For fall, ‘Stories and Songs of Stompin’ Tom’ featuring Whiskey Jack, goes on stage September 12.  Prices vary – become a Brookside Loyalty Member to receive $5 off per ticket throughout the series. Tickets go on sale April 17.

Brookside Music Association is a not-for-profit organization with a mandate of promoting the love of music. Now in its fifth year, the organization is run by a volunteer Board of Directors and is supported by The Ontario Arts Council, The Ontario Media Development Corporation and Heritage Canada.

“Being part of the Festival of the Bay series ensures both visitors and residents have plenty of reasons to attend events at Meaford Hall this summer,” said Meaford Hall Manager Susan Lake.

For more information about these events please visit or

Vienna Boys Choir thrills Midland audience


MIDLAND – More than 500 people packed into St. Paul’s United Church to hear the world-renowned Vienna Boys Choir last week.

Hosted by Brookside Music Association, the March 24 concert saw conductor Jimmy Chiang lead the young singers through pieces ranging from sacred music to Hollywood tunes.

In existence since 1498, the choir represents numerous countries and languages.

“What a fantastic evening,” said Mary Nason of Tiny Township. “The boys were everything we expected. An incredible performance….  We couldn’t believe they sang our favourite songs from ‘The Sound of Music.’”

Chiang – himself an award-winning instrumentalist and one-time child prodigy – began as choirmaster for the Vienna Boys Choir in 2013. He spoke to the choir in German during warmup and bantered with the audience in fluid English during the performance.

Brookside Music reserved sections of the seating and provided discounted tickets for members of Midland’s Children’s Community Choir and the Sudbury Children’s Choir.

The acoustics at St. Paul’s, coupled with the wall projections, added to the experience for audience members.

Those who attended the performance have been offered a two-for-one deal on tickets to Brookside’s next presentation, Donizetti’s opera “Don Pasquale,” on April 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Midland Cultural Centre.

Opera/ballet cinema series announced for Midland

Midland Mirror

MIDLAND – Brookside Music Association will show Midland audiences films of operas and ballets from the Royal Opera House cinema series starting next month.

John French, Brookside’s founder and artistic director, called the new series “a wonderful way to make these incredible art forms accessible to the people of our region.”

He added he is considering pre-show talks about the operas as a means of enhancing the understanding and appreciation of the performances.

The series will kick off Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. with the seasonal favourite ballet “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky.

The season will continue in the new year with showings of the Puccini opera “Tosca” on Jan. 20, Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” on Feb. 17, Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” on March 24, Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake” on May 19 and Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” on June 16.

The series will be held in Rotary Hall at the Midland Cultural Centre. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for students. Children 13 and under will be admitted free.

Vienna Boys Choir to perform in Midland

Midland Mirror

MIDLAND – The world-famous Vienna Boys Choir will perform this spring in Midland, Brookside Music announced last week.

John French, Brookside’s artistic director, said the concert will be “an exceptional event.”

“There is nothing like the sound produced by a boys choir,” he stated in a press release, “and the level of talent required for acceptance into the Vienna Boys Choir makes it truly one of the most outstanding choral groups in the world.”

The centuries-old choir, which provides the music for the Sunday mass in Vienna’s Imperial Chapel, also sings contemporary and experimental music.

The choir will perform March 24 at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Church. Tickets will be available through Brookside’s website at

Broadway tunes ring out during Brookside gala at Midland Cultural Centre

Midland Mirror

MIDLAND – Local singing student Alexandra Kuniewski performs to a full house Sept. 19 at the Midland Cultural Centre as part of the annual Brookside Music gala. The theme of the event was Broadway musicals, and Kuniewski performed “Pick Yourself Up” from “Swing Time.” She was accompanied by pianist John French, Brookside’s artistic director.

Baritone Theodore Baerg, who was featured at the gala with Midland soprano Victoria Thompson, conducted a free class beforehand to singing students from the area.

Ontario Youth Choir to Give Midland Concert

Midland Mirror

MIDLAND – Some of Ontario’s finest young singers will perform in Midland on Aug. 23 at an event dubbed “Roots and Wings.”

Members of the Ontario Youth Choir, all of whom are between the ages of 16 and 23, will give a 7:30 p.m. concert at St. Paul’s United Church.

“I am thrilled to be working with such superlative young artists,” conductor Marta McCarthy stated in a press release. “Their vocalism, energy, commitment and musical sensitivity will bring the music to life.”

The concert will open with two examples of the foundation, or roots, of the Western choral tradition: G.F. Handel’s coronation anthem “Let thy hand be strengthened” and “Carmina chromatico” by 16th-century Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso.

The wings of the concert title will be represented by a variety of songs about birds and insects.

Tickets are $25 ($10 for students) and are available online through the Brookside Music Association.