CALGARY, AB, July 30, 2020—Arisen from a remarkable confluence of events and people, the Esther Honens International Piano Competition Foundation (Honens) announces the commission of a piano concerto for 2018 Honens Prize Laureate Nicolas Namoradze by Canadian-American composer Kati Agócs. The new work, in memory of Canadian jazz pianist, mathematician, educator, and composer Bruce McKinnon, is to premiere in 2022 with additional performances across Canada and internationally anticipated for the 2022 / 23 season.
This concerto commission fits both pianist Namoradze and composer Agócs perfectly. Namoradze shares, “I am a passionate advocate of new music. Having a major concerto written for me by a young composer I have the greatest admiration for is a dream come true.” The piece will be an expressive, virtuosic showcase for Namoradze, twenty minutes in duration. For Agócs, concertos have become her trademark in the last few years. Her new horn concerto for James Sommerville will premiere in 2020 / 21 as a consortium commission from five orchestras in the U.S. and Canada. Her recent Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra was featured last summer at the Aspen Music Festival with Jennifer Koh as soloist, and recorded for the Naxos label. Continuing this thread of writing for great soloists in the concerto genre, a piano concerto with standard orchestration is the natural next step.
Honens President & CEO Neil Edwards comments, “We feel there is no one better than Team Agócs / Namoradze to pay musical tribute to Bruce McKinnon. Through a pan-Canadian partnership, this new piece will represent the Calgary area across Canada and on the world stage. We believe that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has the potential to bring disparate communities together to honour Bruce and to make music at the highest level.”
This commission project is rooted in deep relationships. Agócs met McKinnon at the age of 16 when they represented their respective provinces in the same year at Pearson College (United World Colleges). Their special friendship formed during that first year, when they each wrote old-fashioned paper letters to each other over Christmas break, and lasted throughout his life, which was cut short at age 32 by cancer in 2007. McKinnon encouraged Agócs to perform and to write her own music, which helped to launch her as a musician. Although he did not get to see her come into her own as an orchestral composer, their last conversation impacted Agócs greatly. She was writing her quintet Immutable Dreams at the time, and the last movement “Husks” evoked his presence and anticipated his imminent loss.
Several years later, in 2015, Immutable Dreams was performed at the Chelsea Music Festival, for which Namoradze was the pianist. This first collaboration for Agócs and Namoradze was the beginning of a warm friendship—they share a Hungarian background, cosmopolitanism, and musical synergy. Namoradze was very moved by the background story of the quintet, and during the preparation for this premiere would reflect on how he’d have loved to have met Bruce, given the many interests and passions they shared.
A few years later after winning the triennial Honens International Piano Competition, Namoradze serendipitously befriended a couple in Calgary who were supporters of Honens and would turn out to be McKinnon’s parents. Just a week before his Carnegie Hall debut, Namoradze received an email from Russell and Vickie McKinnon who had found Immutable Dreams in his repertoire list online, and informed him that Bruce was in fact their son—a testament to how art and music can connect us all in ways we could never expect.
However, the interpersonal connections don’t stop there. Neil Edwards and Kati Agócs have also worked together previously. They met when Agócs was serving on the Composition faculty of Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, her first job, from 2006 to 2008. Edwards was CEO of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, who performed her works on three different occasions during this time period.
Agócs remarks, “These unprecedented times have underscored music’s unique ability to connect and sustain us. I am honored to fulfill a commission from Honens to write a new piano concerto for the brilliant Nicolas Namoradze in memory of Bruce McKinnon, one of my oldest and most deeply influential friends, lost far too soon. Bringing together so many collaborative threads, this partnership has the potential to tap into the metamorphic power of art to convert loss into renewal.”
Honens will be reaching out to orchestras across Canada and around the world to perform the new work.