York pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico launches her 20th CD

York music Professor Christina Petrowska Quilico launches her 20th recording, titled Ings, with a May 14 performance and reception at the Heliconian Hall in Toronto’s Yorkville district.

One of Canada’s foremost pianists, Petrowska Quilico is widely recognized as an innovative and adventurous artist and a leading champion of the music of our time. She has appeared in solo recitals, chamber settings and with orchestras on four continents. Much in demand as an interpreter of contemporary music, she has premiered more than 100 works, many written especially for her. A professor of piano performance and musicology at York since 1987, she frequently collaborates in live and recorded performances with her colleagues.

Right: Christina Petrowska Quilico

Ings, released on the Welspringe label, is a two-CD compilation of performances recorded by and broadcast on CBC Radio during the last few years. Selections range from the spiritual and sacred, including Canadian composer Ann Southam’s Glass Houses (one of Petrowka Quilico’s signature pieces), to blues, boogies and jazz, including Frederic Rzewski’s Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues.

While a majority of the featured composers are North American, the recording also includes works by Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez from France, England’s Gavin Bryars, and Japan’s Toru Takemitsu and Masamitsu Takahashi. Produced by David Jaeger, whose Quivi Sospiri is also featured, the album is named for the title track, the evocative 6 Ings by American composer Henry Cowell.

Left: Petrowska Quilico with composer Pierre Boulez

Some of the composers are expected to be present at the launch. 

“The production started with a plan for one disc, but grew into two and a half hours of music, including many live tracks,” Petrowska Quilico says. “There is a certain thrill and energy in live recordings.”

Two of the works were recorded on York’s Keele campus in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall during Petrowska Quilico’s 2007 performance in the Music Department’s Faculty Concert Series: the swinging Suite for solo piano composed by York music Professor William Westcott, and the Canadian premiere of Takahashi’s Capriccio for Piano.

Known for her outstanding technique, Petrowska Quilico generally requires only one or two takes when recording a piece – and that’s a good thing, she says. “With the contemporary music I focus on, some works are over two hours long and virtually impossible to edit. I would be too exhausted to play it more than once.”

On the disc is Boulez’s Première Sonate, recorded when Petrowska Quilico performed the piece live when the celebrated composer received the Glenn Gould Prize in 2002. Boulez personally coached her in interpreting his work for the occasion.

“Boulez has the best ears in the entire world,” Petrowska Quilico says. “I studied the piece thoroughly before the performance but there was only one rehearsal, on the same day. Boulez changed many details on the spot. ‘Faster, faster’ he kept hounding me, until I told him there was no way I could play any faster without coffee. I had never seen such a nervous group of musicians — but everyone played brilliantly that night and Boulez was very happy.” 

Petrowska’s rendition of Alexina Louie’s composition Star-Filled Night, also featured on Ings, went into outer space with Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean on the space shuttle Columbia in 1992 – an event that Petrowska Quilico describes as a career highlight. (See the August 25, 2006 issue of YFile for the full story.)

“My colleague [York Music Professor] David Mott, who is a friend of MacLean’s, asked me if I had any star-inspired music to send into space. I thought perhaps he’d been partying too hard, but I gave him a CD,” said Petrowska Quilico. “It wasn’t until my students brought me the press clippings that it really sunk in – it was really special.” 

In recognition of her exceptional commitment to Canadian composers and their music, Petrowska Quilico will be honoured next month with the Friends of Canadian Music Award given by the Canadian Music Centre and Canadian League of Composers.  

Petrowska Quilico’s recordings are available through the Canadian Music CentreAmazon.ca and Indie Pool. 

The May 14 launch party for Ings starts at 7:30pm at the Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave. Tickets, $10, are available at the door or may be reserved in advance by calling 416-922-3618.