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This article was published 18/1/2017 (979 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s a long tramp from Portage la Prairie to Auburn, Ala., where Manitoban pianist Jeremy Samolesky has recently been named one of the top classical recording artists in the United States.
The musician has been awarded the American Prize in Piano Performance (professional solo division) for his 2015 debut album Dichotomy, which the 40-year old artist submitted last February to the nationwide competition on "a whim."
Founded in 2009, the American Prize is presented annually to performing artists, ensembles and composers currently residing in the U.S. In addition to cash prizes, it offers invaluable — and rare — constructive feedback from an illustrious panel of judges. It’s unique for being awarded solely on the basis of recordings, with Samolesky’s fledgling CD featuring eclectic solo works by Chopin and Prokofiev.
"It was a big shock," Samolesky says over the phone from Alabama, where he has taught with Auburn University’s department of music since 2007. "I was at a coffee shop on a Saturday morning when I got the email telling me I had won. I immediately called my parents, and my dad kept saying, ‘Back up. Back up. Tell it again.’ My mother was just laughing the whole time. They were both very happy, very proud."
With his solo and chamber music performances hailed by critics as "brilliant," "distinguished," and "full of intensity and drama," Samolesky has performed and lectured throughout North America, Italy, Austria, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Serbia, Colombia and Ecuador, including giving a full recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He’s also graced Manitoba’s Agassiz Chamber Music Festival stage in past years.
There’s truth in the idea that artists are born, not made. After beginning lessons with a local piano teacher in Portage when he was seven, Samolesky knew that music would become his life’s passion. He recalls running home after school each day to practise for hours — including learning his mother Lorraine’s 300-page Beatles pop songbook (she was also his piano teacher) — which helped hone his razor-sharp sight-reading skills.
He came to Winnipeg in 1994 to pursue his undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of music, and remains appreciative that his piano professor, Delores Keahey, helped instil in him a sense of rigour and a keen attention to detail. She also nurtured his love for chamber music and confidence in exploring a lesser-heard repertoire, including contemporary fare.
But it’s also clear that Samolesky likes to set the bar high. After completing his masters degree at the University of Washington, he went on to become only the second person in the Eastman School of Music’s illustrious history to graduate with double doctorate degrees in piano performance and literature, and accompanying and chamber music. It’s a feat that took Samolesky four gruelling years, eventually graduating in May 2007.
"I really wanted to take my education as far as I could in each of those areas," he says. "There were definitely some tough moments... but I was doing all of those favourite things I love to do. It was all fun."
When asked the proverbial "what’s on your iPod" question, his answer surprises, to put it mildly. Rather than listening "only" to elegantly refined classics by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart or one of his all-time favourite composers, Brahms, Samolesky admits to a penchant for heavy metal. He credits his brother Jordan, the drummer in the punk band Propagandhi, for nurturing his lifelong love for bone-rattling hits.
"Every tape that I had was heavy metal," the soft-spoken artist reveals. "My first concert was Mötley Crüe. My second one was Metallica when I was 14."
He dreams of joining Jordan sometime in the future in a duo concert, quipping about the "extreme dichotomy."
When asked about someday returning to Canada, Samolesky grows wistful. He travels back home every Christmas, save this year, when his parents — who still live in Portage la Prairie — ventured south to Alabama for the first time. He still likes playing pickup games of shinny — he played goalie until he was 12 — with his brother and hometown friends, as well as visiting his sister.
He also sings praises for Winnipeg’s renowned reputation as a cultural hotbed.
"I think it must be something with the four months of cold. I’ve been fascinated with that notion of isolation producing creativity," he says. "Every time I go back it’s almost like visiting a little European city with the amount of culture there, and the number of different ethnicities."
"Winnipeg’s artistic landscape is so vibrant and had such huge influence on me," he says with palpable Manitoban pride. "The impact that had on my life as a musician has been really amazing."
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Winnipeg composer and educator Zane Zalis is packing his bags for Lodz, Poland, where his acclaimed i believe: A Holocaust Oratorio for Today will be performed by the Orchestra of the Grand Theatre during VII Days of Memory/International Day of Remembrance being commemorated on Jan. 31.
The large-scale choral work premièred by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 2009 has been performed to nearly 30,000 people in Winnipeg, Toronto, New York City and Stuttgart, Germany, in addition to a recording released that same year.
"I am deeply moved by the Day of Remembrance and why we need to actively remember the Holocaust and other acts of senseless inhumanity," Zalis states via email of the full-length piece based on his own lyrics. "As a composer, I am grateful that others think that i believe can assist in some way to counter hate and contempt by provoking the heart and mind to reflect on remembrance, humanness, inhumanity, and hope; especially hope."