We managed to snatch Daniel Wnukowski away from his busy schedule to ask him a few questions about what inspired him to relaunch Piano Six. We’ve divided the story up into two parts with the first part offering a short introduction and the second part including a longer sit-down interview. Access the first part here.
1. In the classical music world, the original Piano Six group stands out as an icon – a model of just how much long-term impact a small touring group can make. What are your goals for the relaunch of Piano Six?
Our mission is to serve remote and rural communities that currently lack access to live classical performances, providing a new generation of audience members with live, quality music experiences. Our goal is to bring tens of thousands of Canadians into contact with live concert music performed by world-class musicians each season, with a special focus on those small and remote communities that currently lack access to live classical performances. Although we are honing in on the “new generation” of post-millennials with our extensive outreach activities, we don’t want to exclude everyone else. We will most certainly come across very musical families or advanced music students during our touring next year. This project is designed to inspire them as well! Furthermore, we plan to perform “gala” concerts in various Canadian cities to help the collective build its profile in Canada. The gala concerts will feature all six pianists sharing the stage together with two pianos.
2. Why relaunch Piano Six now?
Twenty years ago Ontario had over 60 classical music presenters showcasing the country’s top talents, 90% of which have dissolved and are no longer active. Many large Canadian metropolises still have a great concentration of youthful entrepreneurs and creative energy, however the situation in small towns is getting worse each year. Many small community-driven classical music series in Ontario are on life support or have directors that have long retired without a contingency plan in place. We’re addressing the situation now because all six pianists have never been more ready to give back to the country that nurtured them as artists. We have all reached a kind of zenith point, where our international performing experience coupled with a lifelong dedication and passion for sharing music makes us pre-destined for ultimate success in a project of this scale.
On a more worrying tone, I believe that if something isn’t done soon, then “mass-produced, auto-tune” music may be the only music some young people in these communities will ever get to know. Music & Arts education and individual artistic expression are the keys to helping youth reach their full cognitive and emotional potential, while allowing them to envision a future reality that propels societies forward.
3. Technology plays an important role in the new Piano Six, how so?
Today, we have many more technological resources at our disposition and can reach an even greater number of Canadians thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. These tools together with web 2.0 technologies have made it much easier to communicate with prospective communities before we come and perform for them. Although we are already unique among touring groups due to our special focus on the piano, as an “artist-driven” group, we also have the unique ability to maintain direct contact with presenters easily and securely during the course of the entire season using just a few of the platforms mentioned above. For example, each pianist provides a short YouTube clip presenting their thematic programme in order to help host communities prepare for their arrival. The Collective also provides a curriculum with activities to help school students and teachers prepare for the outreach events.
We are also exploring opportunities to incorporate new technology into our performances to add a visual element to the concert experience.
4.What can people expect at a Piano Six performance?
We will create a relaxed setting where the pianist provides exciting, detailed commentaries between the pieces, pulling the music apart and suggesting why certain components generate specific emotional responses within listeners. The pianists will draw connections between the historical materials and more recent popular music. Essentially, our goal is to take the audience on a special journey through the music of Western history and show them why so much of the classical music we perform today remains relevant and modern.
We also have a mandate of including as many Canadian works as possible into our concert programs, especially those of the younger generation who have a big, bright career ahead of them, such as Dinuk Wijeratne and Darren Sigesmund.
5. Why is it important to include works by Canadian composers?
The inclusion of Canadian works helps listeners humanize composers and allows them to draw connections between “European greats” and composers from this country, ensuring that our beautiful art is presented in a way that engages diverse audiences.
6. How were your fellow pianists chosen for the project?
It all began with a simple phone call to my colleague David Jalbert, in which we shared our thoughts and ideas regarding the future of the arts in Canada. We shared a similar vision of attracting like-minded musicians on the basis of dynamic speaking capabilities, imaginative repertoire selections and a solid track record of championing Canadian music. I started sending out emails to prospective pianists. The talent pool remains very large in Canada, so there was certainly no shortage of pianists to contact!
Each of the musicians who are now my Piano Six colleagues recognized the name immediately and each was well acquainted with the background story. There was never any explaining required. Furthermore, not a single pianist asked about the terms of participation in the project; rather, the response from each pianist was unanimous: “Yes, absolutely – we have to do this now!”