Volume 10 Week 10

Sunday, Dec. 14


Updated March 2

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Orléans Ward
Bob Monette





(Posted 9:30 p.m., May 1)

Gifted pianist honours 'piano mom' with memorial concert
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Pianist Claudia Chan performed with friends Barbara Zuchowicz and Camilo D'Avila at a special concert at the Orleans Theatre last Saturday night to benefit the Ride to Conquer Cancer and the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. Fred Sherwin/Photo

It's been nearly a year since Gloucester music teacher Elaine Kruse passed away suddenly following a short battle with cancer. Her death came as shock to many people that knew her, especially her extended family of piano students who knew her simply as their piano mom.

Claudia Chan is one of those former students. She studied with Kruse for nearly 10 years from the age of 8 to 17. During that time Kruse not only taught her about scales, movements and octaves, she also taught her many things about life and over time they became close friends.

"She had a huge influence on me in being more open-minded and not afraid to try different things," says Chan who has signed on to take part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 200 kilometre bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls on June 13-14 to support cancer research at the Princess Margaret Hospital.

The ride is a huge challenge, but no bigger than the challenge she's faced during her first year at the Glenn Glould School of Music in Toronto. Where before Chan was a big fish in a small pond living and studying in Ottawa, at the Glenn Gould School she is definely a small fish in a big pond of incredibly talented young people.

Chan credits the life lessons Kruse has taught her for not only helping to get through her first year at the Glenn Gould School, but excelling. In fact. she made it to the finals of the school's 2009 Concerto Competition.

During the past year she's performed at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre. She played at the Bad Bertrich Klaviersommer Festival in Germany and performed as soloist with the Hart House and Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestras in Toronto. She was also one of four finalists in the Guelph Concerto Competition.

But the two performances she's been looking forward to the most are a pair of concerts she planned and put together to help raise money for the Ride to Conquer Cancer. The first of the concerts took place at the Orleans Theatre last Saturday night.

The evening featured several memorable solo performances by Chan as well as a number of works featuring accompanists Camilo D'Avilo on clarinet and Barbara Zuchowicz on cello.

D'Avila is a tremendously gifted clarinettest from Columbia and a recent graduate from the Glenn Gould School, as well as a close friend of Chan's, while Zuchowicz is also a friend of Chan's who lives and performs right here in Ottawa.

The pair teamed up on the opening piece, Ravel's Concerto in G+, which Chan has arranged as a duet for piano and cello. The 19-year-old pianist then performed a selection of movements from Musica Ricercata by Gygory Ligeti before being joined on stage by D'Avila for Drei Romanzen by Robert Schumann.

After the duet, Chan remained on stage and performed a mesmerizing rendition of Frederic Chopin's Scherzo No. 4 entirely by memory, which was the highlight of the evening.

Following a short intermission, Chan returned to the stage for a fiery performance of Ile de Feu I by Olivier Messiaen. The stage manager then came out and started setting up five music stands, side by side, across the front left of the stage which raised a few eyebrows in the audience,

Before long D'Avila appeared from behind the stage curtain and laid out several pieces of sheet music across the stands before announcing that he would be playing Moonflowers, Baby!, a jazz sonata written by Meyer Kupferman which he rather audaciously said included ever aspect of the clarinet. What followed was filled with emotional undulations that would make Kupfermann proud.

Following D'Avila's solo performance, it was Zuchowicz's turn to dazzle the audience, which she did with a spellbinding performance of the second and third movements of Suite for Cello, Op. 72 by Benjamin Britten.

The program then came to a close with all three musicians taking to the stage to perform "The Swan" from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens. It was the perfect ending to what was an absolutely flawless evening of music.

It's been a long time since the Orleans Theatre stage has been graced with the presence of three such talented classical musicians as Chan, D'Avila and Zuchowicz -- if ever, and it had me dreaming of the potential performances we may see when the 500-seat Shenkman Arts Centre opens next month.

More importantly, with the proceeds garnered through the ticket sales and donations brought in by last Saturday's concert, Chan is well on her way to meeting the $2500 minimal donation required for the Ride to Conquer Cancer and she will very likely exceed if through on-line donations and next week's second benefit concert in Toronto.

Kruse's husband André Lepage was overwhelmed not only by the concert, but by the generosity shown by Chan and her friends.

"Wow, this is so nice. I'm flabbergasted to be honest with. For Claudia to do something like this says a lot about the type of person she is," said Lepage who believes his departed wife would have been immensely proud of the entire endeavour.

"Quite a few of Elaine's students called her their piano mom and she used to tell them that she would always be their teacher no matter where they were. They had a very special bond."

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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