Every year Brandon University in Manitoba hosts the Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition. Named in honour of composer, pianist and violinist S.C. (Sonia) Eckhardt-Gramatté, the competition founded in 1976 focuses on contemporary music and up-and-coming musicians. The winner receives a $8,000 cash prize, a performance tour across Canada and a three-week residency at the Casalmaggiore International Music Festival.
This year’s winner is Saskatchewan’s Amy Hillis. “I first heard about the Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition as an undergraduate when many of the older, more accomplished students from McGill were finalists in the competition,” Hillis recalls. “Carissa Klopoushak – an inspiration to this day for me – ended up winning that year.” She credits the victories of Klopoushak and Kerry Duwors, both violinists from Saskatchewan, as the inspiration behind her hard work.
“My musical journey officially began when I was five years old and started to play the violin,” Hillis says. “This was something that my parents encouraged me do but I remember thinking it was cool because no one else in my kindergarten class played this particular instrument. Only in the last few years of high school, after a few really good experiences with chamber music and orchestra, did I decide this is what I wanted to do as a career.”
The competition did present challenges to the young violinist, in particular balancing such a large workload of pieces. “In total, I was preparing eight different pieces by eight different composers, all of which had their unique challenges.”
Hillis explains her process in preparing for the E-Gré: “Figuring out how to budget my practice time to learn the pieces and polish them was the most challenging part of the preparation experience. Becoming comfortable with switching between the styles of each piece during the full performance program was also an important part of my rehearsals.”
The submission process is itself no mean feat. Programming is something that takes a while to master. Applicants are required to submit three separate programs, each including at least 50 percent Canadian music. All contestants played the commissioned work, Foxy Fox’s Musical Games, by Carmen Braden.
“The first is a recording round the second is the semi-final,” Hillis explains. “Each should be varied, interesting and represent who you are as a musician. I listened to hours of recordings and took out piles of new scores from the library in order to find the repertoire that I found the most convincing.”
Starting her tour in Yellowknife, NWT on Oct. 24, Hillis will perform 12 concerts and finish in Brandon, MB on Nov. 20.