Bryn Blackwood shines in piano solo at the Isabel

Eckhardt-Gramatte National Music award winner demonstrates skills

Bryn Blackwood performs on Oct. 17 at the Isabel.
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Bryn Blackwood has arrived on the scene—and in Kingston—as a rising Canadian musician. 

Blackwood performed a two-hour solo piano recital at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on Thursday, Oct. 17. The event, hosted by the Dan School of Drama and Music, took place in the Isabel’s intimate Rehearsal Hall.

Waiting for the show to begin, audience members leafed through the program and chatted amongst themselves. Then, Blackwood emerged through an inconspicuous door in the wall and sat down to play.

Sitting in the front row, the piano only a few feet away, it was easy to see how fast Blackwood’s fingers danced over the keys. Seeing this up close only added another layer to his impressive work.  

The opening number, Image Astrale—written in 1981 by Jean Coulthard, a Vancouver composer and music educator—set the tone for the night, which ranged from haunting to turbulent.

The concert ranged from mysterious and haunting to discordant and turbulent.

Blackwood used advanced techniques such as “stopped notes,” which involves reaching into the back of the piano to dampen a string and cut the resonance short to prevent notes from echoing.

Kingston is only the first stop on a tour that will take Blackwood to Sackville, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Brandon, Manitoba. 

This tour is part of his prize for winning the prestigious 42nd Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music award (the “E-Gré”). Each year, around 75 to 100 applicants play anonymously for a panel of three judges.

This group is then whittled down to approximately eight semi-finalists, before only three of them make it into the final round. The semis and finals take place over a three-day period.

On April 21, Blackwood came out on top.

Along with the tour, he received a cash prize of $6,000, as well as a residency and debut recital that took place in Italy at the Casalmaggiore International Music Festival in July.

The Canadian tour was funded by the City of Brandon, Brandon University, Canada Council for the Arts, Manitoba Arts Council, and the SOCAN Foundation.

On receiving the award, Blackwood said, “I am absolutely thrilled to have been named the winner of the 2019 E-Gré Competition. Learning, preparing, and connecting to this repertoire has been a joy. I am in awe to be in such esteemed company and cannot wait to bring this music to the rest of Canada in the fall.”

Blackwood, a Torontonian by origin, has also won the Paul J. Bourret Memorial Award and the Joseph-Armand Bombardier SSHRC award, among others. He received a Bachelor of Music from Western and a Master of Music from McGill. Currently, he’s working towards his Doctorate of Musical Arts at the University of Toronto.

His concert programme contained nine works, five of which were composed by Canadian artists. The E-Gré’s requirement is that at least 50 per cent of the finalists’ music be Canadian in origin, to support Canadian talent and to build a Canadian music legacy.

By the end, the E-Gré’s legacy of supporting artists like Blackwood was apparent.

Blackwood is one to watch for the future, earning his place among the ranks of the great Canadian pianists.

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