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Pianist to serve 'Russian sandwich'

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As proud Canadians, we extol the talents and successful exploits of fellow countrymen and women. Our pride swells even more robustly when a Canadian artist, while succeeding internationally, chooses to stay and make her home in Canada.

Pianist Jane Coop is a perfect example. The New Brunswick-born Coop will be here on Sunday, Oct. 28, in a solo recital as part of the Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg's concert series. Her career spans more than 40 years. She has played in more than 20 countries, made 16 recordings, and taught for 32 years at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she was head of the piano division.

"I didn't feel the need and I didn't want to leave Canada," says the energetic 62-year-old in a telephone interview from her Vancouver home. "I had a great teaching job. I had wonderful luck and a community here in Canada. And the CBC, in its heyday, helped me get known."

The Calgary-raised artist has worked with a who's who of conductors -- the likes of Sir Andrew Davis and Sir John Eliot Gardiner -- and with orchestras all around the world. Her recordings have earned her several Juno nominations and she isn't stopping anytime soon.

"Being a concert artist is a full-time job," says Coop, who now also has an apartment in New York City, something of which she'd always dreamed. "I only recently left my academic position at UBC and still have four students who I didn't want to abandon, so I can't stay away for too long at a time. I am still getting used to it," she says of retiring from UBC. "I am practising like a fiend and getting my career in line. I am really busy."

Coop travels to New York "fairly often" to play concerts and recently judged a competition at the Juilliard School.

She is looking forward to her performance in Winnipeg. "A solo recital is pretty different from a concerto or chamber music performance," she explains. "As a soloist, no compromises have to be made. You do what you want -- it's an amazing feeling. But it's also a huge responsibility. You are responsible for the whole afternoon."

Coop has a hefty program planned. "It's a Russian sandwich," she quips, explaining that she opens with Shostakovich's "dark and gloomy" Prelude and Fugue Op. 87, No. 14 and ends with Rachmaninov's Études-Tableaux Op. 39, No.8 and Prelude Op. 23. In between are Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin's Prelude and Fugue No. 12, Oiseaux Tristes by Ravel, Beethoven's popular Moonlight Sonata and Eight Klavierstücke, Op. 76 by Brahms.

"The Shchedrin is quirky and esoteric," she says, adding that she has met the composer, who even had dinner at her house. "It's dense in texture and thought. The Ravel and Beethoven go together. They are both night pieces, with lots of quiet in them, very evocative of night."

The Brahms is a work that Coop has taught to students many times, but this is the first time she has played it in concert. "It's lovely to do it myself," she says.

As for Rachmaninov, Coop touted him as a favourite composer among pianists. "He is an amazing colourist and his harmonies are unbeatable."

Looking back over her lengthy career, she attributes her success partly to good fortune and partly due to her own "stupid perseverance."

"I had an amazing education," she says, crediting her two main teachers, Anton Kuerti in Toronto and Leon Fleisher of Baltimore, whom she calls a stunning teacher. Of her wide palms and long fingers, natural advantages of a pianist, she says, "I am genetically blessed."

"This has been my life. I've always found it fascinating. The ability to communicate that only music can do -- a very deep communication. I've felt the highest highs. You can reach people and you don't even have to have a conversation. I feel privileged."

Coop was last in Winnipeg in 2003, playing in Virtuosi Concerts' BeethovenFest with violinist Andrew Dawes. It's high time this Canadian treasure returned.

The concert is at 2 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Tickets ($25) are available at McNally Robinson Booksellers and at the door. Student tickets ($5) are available at the door only.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2012 D4

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