A donation to McGill and UdeM gives life to a collaborative piano hub

After two years of health restrictions that have often drained concert halls and left artists in trouble, a generous donation from the Azrieli Foundation is helping to revive the world of high-level musical performance.

This $2 million donation to McGill University and the Université de Montréal has made it possible to create a joint residency for experienced pianists specializing in accompanying opera singers. Dubbed UdeM-McGill Residency in Piano Vocal Art, this intensive nine-month program will give six emerging artists a year the opportunity to deepen their skills in accompaniment and as vocal coaches.

Shared between UdeM’s Faculty of Music and McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, this gift is considered the largest collective gift in music in Canada, offering musicians a rare opportunity to benefit from the expertise, resources and facilities of both universities.

“On behalf of McGill University, I would like to thank the Foundation for its generous support of this unique inter-institutional residency that will give promising artists the opportunity to truly become masters of their art,” said Director Suzanne Fortier. This investment in musical excellence is a real source of inspiration that will help revitalize a field deeply disrupted by the pandemic.”

“Thanks to the generosity of the Azrieli Foundation, two very high-calibre musical education institutions are joining forces to serve the next generation. The dreams of young pianists will come true, international careers will emerge, but the main beneficiary of this gift is the public, who will be able to see and hear even more talented artists,” said Daniel Jutras, Rector of the Université de Montréal. †

A residence inspired by the passion for music

All vision for this project is from Sharon Azrieli, award-winning soprano and board member of the Azrieli Foundation. Those who performed in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera and the Opéra Bastille in Paris noted that there was a lack of accompanying pianists with the skills necessary to work with experienced singers.

“In Canada we produce some of the best singers in the world,” explains Sharon Azrieli. Imagine how well they could excel if they had the best piano partners! When I thought about how to meet this need, I had a spark: why not invite two of Canada’s top universities to join forces to train pianists of exceptional high-level potential? With the indispensable support of the Azrieli Foundation, this spark gave birth to the UdeM-McGill Residence in piano vocal art.

Intensive training with renowned artists

Focusing on recitals and operatic repertoires, the residency is co-directed by two renowned pianists and vocal coaches, Professors Francis Perron (UdeM) and Michael McMahon (McGill University). Marie-Michelle Raby, herself a pianist, will act as the inter-institutional coordinator of the programme.

The six members of the inaugural cohort, from France, Brazil, Canada and the United States, were selected this spring and will begin their residency this fall. All artists receive a grant and thanks to the philanthropic efforts of the Azrieli Foundation, they also receive a living wage and a study grant at the end of their academic year.

The program also provides opportunities to collaborate with some of the world’s most renowned artists and experts in a wide variety of specialties, including conducting, lyrical diction, opera and song.

“I believe this residency will provide me with the skills needed to work with graduate or professional singers,” said Erin Palmer, selected pianist from the first cohort. This allows me to take the next step by becoming a singing coach or even working for an opera company.”

“The opportunity to study a language intensively also delights me,” she added. She currently lives in North Carolina and wants to improve her French and experience life in Montreal.

Montreal’s music scene will reap the rewards

The scope of this program goes far beyond the effects on the annually selected artists. Public concerts and masterclasses offered by several well-known guest artists will enrich the Montreal music scene. The Canadian music community will also benefit from an influx of specialist artists who will be highly sought after for artistic collaborations and help make Canada a major player in opera and music performance.

This is not the first collaboration between UdeM and McGill University in artistic performance research and education. In 2015, a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Quebec enabled the two institutions to create a research center for the study of live performance by virtually connecting McGill University’s Multimedia Music Hall with the Claude-Champagne room in UdeM.

Soon, the two universities will also be physically connected by the Metropolitan Express Network’s light rail system, which will facilitate travel between the two campuses.

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