Laplante Plays Beethoven
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 2: 30 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: $18 to $55 at rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121
Musicians of the classical world are sometimes dragged into extreme territory. It may be pressure to become master of one style at the expense of others - to become the foremost interpreter of a single composer's work, for example - or pressure to cram as many concerts as possible into a year.
Pianist AndrÃ© Laplante has unshackled himself.
"People make their choices," he said on the phone from his Montreal home. "My choice is to stay balanced."
The veteran musician and Officer of the Order of Canada, who returns this weekend to perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Victoria Symphony, made that decision long ago.
Raised in the small community of Rimouski, Que., before landing at The Juilliard School, Laplante showed an early gift for technically difficult repertoire, so he was pushed toward the late-Romantic-era virtuosos. After he won the silver medal at the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1978, his career took off. Naturally, he was expected to play Tchaikovsky, successor Rachmaninoff and the like - it would be his bread and butter. And it would make him marketable as a musician.
But in a bold move, especially for a musician early in his career, Laplante told his managers he didn't want to be limited to a certain style. "The demand was high for that kind of repertoire and I understood - I did as much as I could of that," he said. "I simply tried to convey to them the idea that I did not want to be a casualty of my own success."
Without the challenge of new repertoire and new styles, he was in danger of becoming jaded. Laplante was willing to lose his own label as romantic virtuoso in favour of becoming more of a generalist.
"I don't like labels," he said. "Because I think my main aim is that I always want to progress."
He began playing the classical repertoire he had neglected, dipping into Mozart and romantic composers known more for musicality than virtuosity, such as Beethoven. Any initial career hurdles it caused were worth it - it gave him an incredible flexibility, with the new styles serving to help the old. Far from rejecting the composers he had built his name on, he simply balanced them with others.
Since that time, Laplante has performed with nearly every major Canadian orchestra and toured China, Australia, North America and Europe. He has won the Prix Opus multiple times, including for best performer of the year and best concert of the year. His performance of Jacques HÃ©tu's Piano Concerto No. 2 for CBC Records won the 2004 Juno Award for orchestral recordings, as well as a Western Canadian Music Award.
His 2010 recording of Liszt's AnnÃ©es de Pèlerinage was awarded a Felix Award for Best Classical Solo Album of the Year.
Most recently, Laplante has exercised control by limiting the number of performances this year to 40 or 50, down from 100. Every musician goes through feeling pressured to constantly be ready and perform, he said. But there's value in staying home, having a life and working on your repertoire.
"The relationship we have with music is really the relationship we have with ourselves - it's like a relationship that you have with someone," he said. "If you want a relationship that works and is serious, you have to work on it all the time."
Lately, his focus has been on Mozart's sonatas, Schubert's sonatas and, of course, Liszt - he's always been a fan and recently finished another recording of the revolutionary composer's work.
Laplante's last concert in Victoria was cancelled when he injured his finger and neck in a car accident. This time, if all goes well, he'll return to play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3.
While it's not the most difficult technically, the musicality of it is a constant challenge."That's why Beethoven is so difficult. He never gave too much of a hoot about the medium he was writing for - it's musical ideas that are so incredibly beautiful and strong and well put together. He was a great architect in music."
Though it has been in his repertoire since his days at Juilliard, this will be the first time he performs it since then. It's nice, he says - that's what he likes. New challenges.
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