Friday, February 07, 2020

Dream Big: An Interview with Laura Loewen and Judy Kehler Siebert

The Dream Big conference at the University of Manitoba is less than two weeks away, and I recently had a chance to ask Drs. Laura Loewen and Judy Kehler Siebert a few questions a few questions via email about the conference and its aspirations.

If you're able to get out to Winnipeg on February 20-22 and are interested in attending, you can register here. I look forward to meeting all of you there and talking about the future of our magnificent profession.

CF: Dream Big is not the first collaborative piano conference, but its aims are much broader than others in the past. Could you elaborate on your vision?

LL/JKS: Collaborative piano is an inspiring field with limitless repertoire and with vast possibilities for partnerships. We think that the only things that limit us are our imaginations and desire. It makes sense to us to hold a conference that is ambitious, looks at big issues, and dreams about the future of collaboration – this scale of conference and thinking fits the nature of our art form. This is the first Canadian collaborative piano conference that we know of, and we feel a responsibility to really honour the art form and set a template for future events. Collaborative pianists so often meet on the sidelines of other conferences or events, and it’s important for us to meet to talk about art and its place in society from our point of view. We believe that we will discover commonalities through our discussions, but we hope we also discover differences that will challenge and expand our ideas of what we can become.

There is an extraordinary group of musicians coming together for this conference; our registrants represent students, free-lance performers, private music teachers, and university professors. It’s really important to us that we create the space and atmosphere to build a community during these three days, so in true Winnipeg fashion, we have built in many opportunities to eat together, at lunches, dinners, and post-concert receptions. Also in true Winnipeg fashion, we have done everything we can to keep the conference affordable – check out our website for rates for the full conference and also for individual events.

We are so excited to welcome people to Winnipeg in a few weeks! Winnipeg in winter is an amazing place. The city really celebrates the season, and you will be able to experience the beauty of how this prairie city faces the elements. And we are even more excited to welcome you to the Desautels Faculty of Music. Three years ago, we moved into a beautiful Music facility, full of light and space – very much like our city. This is the first big conference to be held in the building, and we are so glad that it is our community that is creating this first event.

CF: The two headline teachers for this conference are Jean Barr from the Eastman School and Margo Garrett from Juilliard. Why is their presence at the conference so critical at this point in time?

LL/JKS: Both of us, along with many other conference performers and presenters, understand that we were extremely fortunate to study with these extraordinary women. They are inspiring mentors who bring a wealth of passion, wisdom, and experience to our conference. It is such a privilege to be able to host them, and through the conference to welcome other people to get to know them. The insights that they bring from their lifetimes of collaborations will be the touchstone of the conference. We need to know where we have come from to know where we can go – Margo and Jean will be able to give us a sense of the history of the profession as we dream together of what it may become.

Through our open invitation in Fall 2019, we have chosen 8 masterclass duos to perform vocal and instrumental music at our masterclass series. These duos include a diverse spectrum of musicians from students to young professionals, and the masterclasses, on the afternoons of Feb. 20 and 21, will definitely be a conference highlight. The duos will also perform in a final afternoon recital on Saturday, Feb. 22. We are so excited for the masterclass participants, because we know how amazing their experience is going to be!

CF: All of the panel discussions are somehow related to the theme of the artist within community. Why is this so important for collaborative pianists?

LL/JKS: Our entire art form is about relationships – we think that people who are drawn to collaborative piano are naturally inclined to create community. And, the act of performing music with beautiful ensemble is a strong statement about the power of community. So, in this first Canadian Collaborative Piano conference, it makes sense to us that the artist within community is one of our strongest themes. We are fortunate that Winnipeg is the home of the beautiful and thought-provoking Canadian Museum of Human Rights, (CMHR) the only museum to grapple entirely with human rights. Inspired by the Museum and the nature of our work, we decided that all of the performances at our two evening concerts would be music that was written in response to war or other forms of trauma. This music runs the gamut from responses to war, personal trauma, digitalization, and the work towards redemption. The performers have chosen music that they are passionate about, and their perspectives will be an important voice at the concert.

We have organized a curated tour of the CMHR on Friday Feb. 21, visiting exhibits that will give us a deeper understanding of the background for the music performed at the Dream Big concerts.

We are really fortunate to present our conference panelists. The extraordinary pianist Rena Sharon will talk about Chamber Music and mediation and share her research and insights. Naomi Woo, collaborative pianist, assistant conductor of the WSO, and Music Director of Sistema Winnipeg, will speak about her experiences with Sistema. Naomi joined our faculty in September and her presence has already been transformative. Christopher Foley will lead all of our discussions about the possibility of creating a Collaborative Piano Society. He has deep knowledge of the current state of our profession, and his insights gained from the Collaborative Piano Blog will inform us throughout our three days together.

And, of course, there will be beautiful music at every conference session. The evening concerts on Feb. 20 and 21, where we will weave performances and conversations together, will be fascinating and thought-provoking. On Feb. 20, Margo Garrett and Jean Barr will speak about their lives as collaborative pianists. On Feb. 21, we have a wonderful panel of Collaborative pianists, including Audrey Axinn, Daniel Fung, Christopher Kayler, and Lisa Rumpel, who will all share their experiences and vision for the future.

The performers include: Singers Ben Butterfield, Mel Braun, Tracy Dahl, Martha Guth, and Monica Huisman; Instrumentalists Minna Chung, Kerry DuWors, Allen Harrington, and Oleg Pokhanovski; and Pianists Jocelyn Dueck, Valerie Dueck, Judith Kehler-Siebert, Alexandra Nguyen, Futaba Niekawa, Laura Loewen, Steven Philcox, and Erika Switzer.

CF: What are some of your ideas and objectives for how a potential collaborative piano society could operate?

Through our conversations and round-tables, we are looking forward to conversations where we will work together to develop a collective vision of this Society. Both of us envision an organization that supports and encourages collaborative pianists at all levels. We hope to continue to hold collaborative piano conferences on a regular basis and to seek joint projects with other Collaborative Piano groups such as CollabFest in Denton Texas, which is directed by Elvia Puccinelli and Steven Harlos. Those are our first ideas – we will see how much these ideas grow over the course of Dream Big!

LL/JKS: The conference also includes a bespoke curated tour of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Could you talk a bit more about this activity and how it fits into the conference?

We have asked the guides at the CMHR to design a tour that parallels the music of our conference. If you haven’t yet visited the museum, prepare yourself for a powerful and thought-provoking experience. Located at The Forks where two rivers meet, the architecture is stirring, and the exhibits powerful and educational. The visit to the museum will give us insights into the music we will hear each evening at the conference.

CF: Dream Big is only a few weeks away! How can people still attend and participate?

LL/JKS: See our web site and let us know you want to take part in this new exciting adventure!

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