Eve Egoyan, 2019 Recipient

Eve Egoyan is an internationally acclaimed concert pianist based in Toronto. She has released a dozen discs and toured worldwide. Eve’s curiosity compels her to reinvent the piano for herself and her audiences, to curate exceptional programmes and to commission new works by like-minded artists and composers.

We asked acclaimed pianist Eve Egoyan to tell us all about her relationship with her instrument and how her long career has evolved over the years.

Last year you premiered your project SOLO FOR DUET: works for augmented piano and images at Luminato, which is still currently touring. What has been the most challenging aspect of this project?

I created SOLO FOR DUET to challenge how I think about myself as a pianist and to broaden the piano’s capacities beyond what we normally expect from the instrument. SOLO FOR DUET is not just a concert. It embraces a wide range of performance practices, theatrical elements and emotional pathways.

Some of the pieces on SOLO FOR DUET’s programme invite me to perform choreographed movements, to speak and to sing. Since much of my artistic practice requires that I work alone and I tend to be a somewhat non-verbal, introverted person, this was both challenging and expansive. The theatricality requires a different approach to performance from me. To help me on this journey, I was able to work with outstanding composers/artists, a great theatrical team and my exceptionally creative director, Joanna McIntyre.

With SOLO FOR DUET, you are creating a series of work which looks at what a piano can do – and what you wish a piano could do – by working with new technologies. What inspired you to examine this aspect of the piano?

The piano is at the centre of my creative universe. I am inspired by it and continually re-invent my relationship with the piano through the creation of new works. I am always seeking ways to push the piano’s limits as well as my own.

In retrospect, I feel like the creation of a new piano has been a way for me to break from the past – both music I have heard, and how music written by others inhabits my body. In order for me to do this, I have had to deconstruct everything, both the instrument itself and how I write for it.

In my piece, I use a physical modelling synthesizer that allows me to manipulate all the physical variables that determine the sound character of an acoustic piano. I augment and extend the sound range of the piano in ways I have long dreamed of, but have never been able until now to achieve (like holding a note forever, crescendoing on a note, revealing harmonic overtones, pitch bending). At the moment, I use a Yamaha disklavier (an acoustic piano with a computer interface) to trigger the modelled piano so that as I play, I mix the acoustic and modelled sounds together.

I have always dreamt into the sound of the piano as a way to share my musical imagination with my audience. As a student in Berlin, I was overwhelmed by the rich variety of musical colours of the Berlin Philharmonic. The enhanced piano allows me to share with my audience a palette of sound colours that stretch far beyond the capabilities of the traditional piano. These sounds are grounded in the sound of the piano, but are magically expanded through the technology.

You’ve called your initial performance of Maria de Alvear’s music [De Puro Amor and Amor Duro] over 20 years ago as a “seminal moment” due to your intimate experience with the audience, despite the long duration of those pieces. Do you continue to feel that connection with your audience today? How has that relationship changed over the years?

I don’t think it has changed, but that moment twenty years ago was profound. It still inflects the connection I feel with my audience in all of my performances.

Maria’s score is a map which both challenges and invites its interpreter into a new type of dialogue, allowing room for the performer to adjust to the given acoustics of the performance space, the piano, and the shared energy between performer and audience. It blends composer, piano, pianist and audience into an emotionally charged performance experience. I will never forget how I felt after performing the first half of that two hour-long piece. I will never forget how connected I felt with my audience – how clearly I experienced their listening.

Partly inspired by my performances of Maria’s works, Toronto composer Ann Southam wrote the hour-long Simple Lines of Enquiry for me. Two remarkable women taking up large amounts of creative space!

There is something else about Maria’s piece that was very important for me. En amor duro and De puro amor are written in very loose proportional notation, which leaves many musical decisions to the interpreter. I believe performing Maria’s music also invited me to eventually compose for myself.

That experience continues to feed my performance and creative practices to this day.

In addition to being a prolific concert pianist, you have also made 12 albums so far. Are there aspects of studio recording that you prefer over the live experience?

It is super-important for me to record new, mostly Canadian, works. It is a way for this body of amazing new solo piano music to be shared with wider audiences and, indeed, pianists who might want to perform these pieces.

I am fully aware that recording is a totally different type of communication with my audience. By purchasing an album, my audience takes it into their own private listening environments. The live experience is heightened by the moment and the act of shared listening. A recording is amplified in a totally different way. It is another type of communicative journey – one that is supremely intimate. A recording can pick up what I hear from the piano, all the intricacies of overtones and the decay I hear after a note is struck. These elements are often lost in a concert hall.

In both my concerts and albums, I am curating experiences for my listeners. How pieces are placed in relation to each other makes a difference for a listener. I only release an album when I am able to conceive it as a whole, a complete artwork.

What does being nominated for the Muriel Sherrin Award mean to you?

I am thrilled and honoured to be nominated for this award. Toronto is an unbelievably rich city of music (and art in general). We have so many types of music living here – one has only to open the WholeNote magazine to get a sense of the breath and quantity of music that pulses through the city.

Toronto has created me. I came here as a graduate student and stayed. My artistic and personal growth has been nurtured by this city. I have grown under the auspices of my local audience and have been supported by granting organizations at all levels, including the Toronto Arts Council. I am a very grateful and fortunate person to live in Toronto, the place where I have grown as an artist, and so to be nominated for this award has very special meaning for me.