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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 10

Charles Richard-Hamelin, laureate of the Prix d’Europe’s 100th edition

by Renée Banville / July 1, 2011

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[Translation: Aleshia Jensen]

The Académie de musique du Québec has just crowned the 2011 Prix d’Europe winner: the young pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, a graduate of McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. The award, given by the Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine du Québec, comes with a $25,000 prize.

Picture this: a long, nerve-racking wait while the jury deliberates, and then the President tells the crowd that four of the nine finalists will remain in the running for the grand prize and… the winner will be announced on the night of the concert gala! On the big day, the results draw a cry from the audience: a sudden shout from pianist Richard-Hamelin’s mother—her son’s young career has just reached a whole new level.

On May 29th Richard-Hamelin had already won first place at the 2011 Toronto Symphony Orchestra National Piano Competition, taking home an $8,000 prize and the opportunity to play a concert with the TSO, recorded by the CBC, at Roy Thomson Hall; the young pianist will play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 during the 2012-2013 season. The year before, he was awarded the $10,000 first prize from the Association de Repentigny pour l'avancement de la musique and second prize at the Canadian Music Competition’s International Stepping Stone competition.

Richard-Hamelin grew up in the Joliette region of Quebec. His father introduced him to the piano at the age of four. Soon after, he began lessons with Paul Surdulescu, the Joliette music school professor who taught him until he was 18. Richard-Hamelin’ path was not the easiest at times: he attended a public school with less-than-ideal learning conditions. But Quebec’s generous Père Lindsay Foundation took him under its wing; Père Lindsay paid for lessons until he started CEGEP. For many years, Richard-Hamelin was one of the young musicians who attended the Lanaudière music camp.

Richard-Hamelin has been performing in competitions his whole life: he first participated in Joliette’s Festival-Concours at age six and at the Festival de musique classique du Bas-Richelieu at age 10, where he won first prize at age seventeen. At the time, he told journalist Jean Doyon: “It has really been a great year for me, musically. I was a finalist for the second time at the Canadian Music Competition and I won first prize at the Festival de Lanaudière. Here, at the Festival de Sorel, I finished fourth last year. I’m really happy that I won this year!” In 2008, after four attempts, he ranked first at the Canadian Music Competition. The same year, he applied to McGill and his audition won him the prestigious Schulich Scholarship for $15,000, which covered the costs of his undergraduate degree. After studying with Tom Plaunt, he worked with Richard Raymond and then Sara Laimon, who he just finished his degree with—three professors in three years.

Richard-Hamelin has many interests: cinema, composition and electric keyboards. He learned the drums in high school and during CEGEP he played in various rock bands. His classical music tastes lean towards Russian composers who wrote for piano: Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Prokofiev. Richter and Horowitz are his favourite performers. Currently at the Orford music camp, where he has spent many summers, Charles says that, despite the hard work, he feels like he is on vacation. His recent success has encouraged him to pursue his dream of a career as a soloist. In the fall, he will be starting a master’s degree in performance at the Yale School of Music with Boris Berman.

Still in shock after winning the Prix d’Europe, he says: “Winning was a pleasant surprise, especially because it’s the 100th edition.”

The three other finalists, laureates of $5,000 prizes from TD Bank, are: Andréanne Paquin (voice), Isabelle Tardif (percussion) and Victor Fournelle-Blain (strings)—also the recipient of the $4,000 John Newmark prize.

The Prix d'Europe also gave out journalism awards this year. La Scena Musicale was awarded the 100th anniversary special prize for its excellent work and influential role in the Quebec music world over the past 15 years, the Léo-Pol Morin Prize was awarded to Lucie Renaud for her profile of Gidon Kremer, which appeared in our November 2010 issue, and the Hommage Prize was given to journalist Claude Gingras for his lifetime achievements.


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