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This article was published 17/3/2015 (2081 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's not every day you compete against yourself -- and win.
Yet Thunder Bay-born musician Gregory Lewis did exactly that when he won the 97th annual Winnipeg Music Festival's top instrumental prize, the Aikins Memorial Trophy, on Saturday night. He performed on not one, but two distinctly different instruments: violin and piano, a notable feat that, while not completely unprecedented, is still considered rare.
"I was very surprised to hear I had won, because there were just so many phenomenal friends and other musicians here with me tonight," the 18-year old musician says graciously in an interview at the Winnipeg Art Gallery after being given the nod by the five-member jury. "It could have gone to anyone."
The Aikins Memorial Trophy, named after James Aikins -- Manitoba's ninth lieutenant governor, from 1916 to 1926 -- has been awarded since 1930 for most outstanding performance in an instrumentalist competition.
Lewis won the trophy for overall muscality and both of his performances on Saturday. First he wowed the crowd with his virtuosic performance of Ysaøe's Caprice d'après l'Etude en forme de Valse de Saint-Sa´ns for violin, followed shortly after by his respective keyboard work, Bach's Toccata in E minor BWV 914. He competed against 19 other musicians in the gruelling, nearly four-hour trophy class.
"His sheer commitment to communicating his musical point of view," says guest adjudicator Claudette Caron of the jury's unanimous decision to award Lewis the coveted first prize, as well as the Victor Feldbrill Trophy presented for the festival's most outstanding solo string performance. "Gregory is such a performer and has this wonderful musical personality. Everybody here felt that."
Born into an artistic family that includes four siblings -- three whom are also musical -- Lewis first began piano lessons while a toddler with his piano-teacher mother. He subsequently took up violin at age six after begging his parents for lessons. He recounts being taken as a child to a concert in Thunder Bay, where he was instantly electrified by the violin soloist performing Vivaldi's La Stravaganza Concerto in E minor, Op. 4 No. 2. Smitten by the instrument's richly expressive voice, Lewis knew his life had changed forever. He was three.
"It's all about the sound," he says of the fiddle's wide palette of tonal colours. "As soon as the soloist came in, I knew that was what I wanted to do."
After first taking music lessons in Thunder Bay, Lewis moved to Winnipeg two years ago to pursue a performance major at the University of Manitoba's Desautels Faculty of Music, where he currently studies with violin professor Oleg Pokhanovski.
However, Lewis is loath to give up his other musical love -- piano. He continues to take weekly lessons with pianist Carole Pollard, who also accompanied his violin performance this weekend. He practises up to four hours each day on his own, dividing his time between instruments, and six to eight hours when rehearsing with his various ensembles all on top of his rigorous academic studies.
"Sleep goes first," he states. "I don't watch much TV. I just cut out a lot of things that don't need to be done every day."
It's been a good year for Lewis. In addition to receiving an Award of Excellence through the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, winning the 2014 Provincial Student Competition through the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the rising star also garnered first prize in the 2015 American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition and was invited to perform at New York City's legendary Carnegie Hall in May.
When asked what inspires him as an artist, Lewis doesn't miss a beat.
"Listening to music," he says. "It helps me remember how powerful music is, and what an incredible influence it holds." His dream -- for now -- is to someday be a concertmaster in a professional orchestra that will also provide him with solo opportunities.
Until then, Lewis is keenly aware he'll likely have to choose someday between his two musical loves.
"It will be the piano that goes," Lewis says. "I've always known since I was three that violin was my true passion.
"After I heard that first violinist in Thunder Bay, I knew there was no going back."
The WMF's second major trophy, the Rose Bowl for most outstanding vocal performance, will be contested Saturday at 7 p.m. at Westminster United Church. A gala concert featuring festival highlights takes place March 22 at 2 p.m. at the same venue.