Precocious pianist helping SSO to close its season

Carter Johnson’s fingers fly over the keys.

CARTER JOHNSON’s piano-playing talent and knowledge of musical history bely his years, as he will demonstrate May 27 and 28 during the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season in St. George’s United Church at Fitzgerald and Sixth in Courtenay

CARTER JOHNSON’s piano-playing talent and knowledge of musical history bely his years, as he will demonstrate May 27 and 28 during the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season in St. George’s United Church at Fitzgerald and Sixth in Courtenay

Carter Johnson’s fingers fly over the keys.

Heartfelt sounds stream from the grand piano. His concentration is intense; his delight in the music — and sharing the music — is palpable.

The Strathcona Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season, Mozart Piano Concerto, features this young pianist, winner of their concerto competition sponsored by Balfe Somers Wealth Management of RBC Dominion Securities.

Maestro Pippa Williams is enthusiastic.

“We are so excited to work with this fine young musician. In his audition, his joie de vivre really came out … his personality shone in his outstanding performance. Clearly he showed us not only musical mastery, but that he loved what he was doing.

“We’re very fortunate, as an orchestra, to have his perspectives as a soloist, his professionalism, and his positive attitude. Carter is a pleasure to work with … and then of course, there’s his age. At 14 he is a definite inspiration to all our players.”

Don Somers, whose company sponsored the concerto competition prize, noted that, “Carter really fits our idea of the high calibre of music and musicians we have in British Columbia. He is fabulous.

“I first saw him about a year ago in Campbell River at an annual benefit dinner. Carter was not only playing, but he introduced each piece. He was quite the storyteller — quite knowledgeable. I felt that we were hearing an excellent talk by a university professor, quite forgetting his age. His dry sense of humour really kept us fascinated. And then, there was his piano playing…”

Don Somers knows music. Balfe Somers sponsored not only the Concerto Competition, but also is a major sponsor of the SSO, the Live at the Met opera performances at the Rialto, and the Symphony Orchestra of the Pacific (SOAP).

“We believe our community is stronger for having this level of excellence in music — something which benefits the whole community, not just individuals,” he says.

Maestro Williams has designed a concert to flow from the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 to 1791), one of the most prolific and influential composers of the classical era with over 600 works to his credit. Among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, Mozart began his composing career at age five and at age 17 was a court musician in Salzburg.

Later in life, Mozart began a famous operatic collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Their operas, The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787), are among Mozart’s most notable works and mainstays of the operatic repertoire to this day.

The SSO will open with the Overture to Don Giovanni, which, remarkably, was composed by Mozart in a single evening the day before it was to be premiered in Prague. Some accounts claim the overture’s last-minute completion occurred on the very day of the performance.

Fortunately, and unlike the 1781 Prague orchestra who had to learn and play the Overture within mere hours, the SSO has been preparing the piece since last summer.

After the Overture, Carter Johnson will perform the Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major that Mozart wrote at the end of 1784 to be performed by himself. Described as “sunny with an exhilarating finale”, the concerto is sometimes referred to as the “second coronation concerto” because Mozart played it for the coronation of Leopold II in Frankfurt in October 1790.

“I first played this Mozart concerto three years ago with a string quartet,” says Carter. “It is a wonderful piece to play; it’s graceful and elegant. For three years now it’s been sort of marinating in my head.

“Each time I play it, I feel its depths, feel more seasoned as I approach it. I can play what Mozart wrote — play with more interpretation. It feels so good.”

Seasoned indeed. This young Campbell River musician has enjoyed huge success over the years. Beginning piano lessons at age five, and ever championed by his Gabriola Island grandmother, Lorna Davison, Carter represented the North Island at the provincial competition for six consecutive years.

He won first place at the 2009 provincial competition, and then went on to win the prestigious Virginia Graczak Competition and prize in 2010. After winning the SSO’s Concerto Competition, he will represent British Columbia at the National Piano Competition in Regina this July.

The SSO concert will begin the second half with Carnival Overture (1945) by Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz, one of Canada’s leading composers of contemporary music. Vigorous, rhythmic, and charming, the music reflects Morawetz’s Czechoslovakian heritage.

It was premiered in Montréal by Sir Ernest MacMillan who gave the piece its title. Next, the orchestra will perform music that Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) wrote for Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt. It includes one of Grieg’s most popular compositions In the Hall of the Mountain King.

The SSO will close with Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (1890) by Antonin Leopold Dvorák (1841–1904) whose compositions were directly inspired by Czech traditional music and reflect his love for his native land. Warm and optimistic in tone, the Eighth is often considered the best of Dvorák’s symphonies.

“It’s very tuneful and beautiful,” says Maestro Williams. “It really features all our players — a fitting finale to our season.”

The SSO will conclude its season in St. Georges United Church. “We are so excited to play in this wonderful venue and to work with its beautiful piano. The church has excellent acoustics and they have gone out of their way to welcome us. We are very grateful,” commented Williams.

The SSO’s Mozart Piano Concerto concerts are May 27 and 28 at 7 p.m. and a matinee on May 29 at 2 p.m. The venue is St. George’s United Church, located at Fitzgerald and Sixth in Courtenay.

Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at Blue Heron Books in Comox, Long and McQuade (formerly Sound Advice) in Courtenay, and The Music Plant in Campbell River. Phone reservations available from Michele at 250-331-015.

— Strathcona Symphony Orchestra


Comox Valley Record