Photo credits: Derek Mortensen
Every few years I get a chance to return home to Saskatoon to perform with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. It’s something I look forward to and is always a highlight in my life, because the people that helped me along the way musically remain in the city and their energy still invigorates me every time I play no matter where I play. I often say in interviews that whenever I go home to perform that’s when I am the most nervous. I want to show everybody that I’ve been doing well in my life and coming home makes me want to put my best foot forward.
This season the SSO decided to showcase local artists who have gone abroad onto successful musical careers. I was one of the lucky ones asked by the director, Mark Turner, who is long been an advocate for local culture in the city of Saskatoon. He asked me if I would be willing to partake in a classical series featuring The works of Mozart and Haydn. There would be a guest conductor, and that name had yet to be decided. I had suggested that Mark look into one of my best friends, Adam Johnson (from Hinton AB), who is Calgary’s darling resident conductor with the CPO. He emphatically said yes.
Adam and I have known each other for many years dating back to music programs in Orford and Banff. We pretty much done everything together as friends would, like snowboarding, playing video games, driving fast cars, playing hackysac, and climbed the tallest peaks in the Rocky Mountains together. We even studied with the same piano teacher (Marc Durand). I knew Adam when he was just beginning to discover his love for playing piano, and now I see him in the spotlight on the stages of Jack Singer Hall in Calgary commanding sellout audiences and standing ovations. One thing Adam and I had never done before was perform together. This would be our first opportunity to share the stage and what better way to do that in front of all our local friends.
Mozart and I have not really been that close over the years. I’ve always associated him with children’s music and with the elderly, so being somewhere in between, I never really felt like I was a part of his style. It was an unfortunate assumption, because as I started working on this Mozart concerto number 21, I realized how similar Mozart is to my style of playing. My goal in playing is always to create beautiful waves of sound, and the lines that Mozart wrote were exactly that, so I quickly fell in love with this concerto.
Rehearsals went fantastic. I was able to find support through Manuel Bernaschek, the owner of Showcase Pianos in Vancouver. He is also the Fazioli representative for Western Canada. With the help of Michael Lipnicki Fine Pianos in Calgary, they were able to ship a 9-foot Fazioli concert grand piano from Calgary to Saskatoon for the concert. It was the first time a Fazioli piano had ever graced the stage at TCU place in Saskatoon. I was so honoured to be part of this historic occasion. Manuel brought his family and his beautiful baby girl, Aria.
The performance went very well, especially with my best friend on the podium by my side. He kept the orchestra together, and for the first time in a long time I felt connected to everyone on stage. The Fazioli sounded amazing on stage, and I heard from people that it was crystal clear everywhere in the hall. We were blessed with a standing ovation at which point we decided to play a duet and surprise the audience. We played Brahms Hungarian Rhapsody 2. I laughed because the crowd gasped when we both sat in front of the piano. I don’t think they’ve ever seen a conductor master a piano right after conducting beforehand.
I hope again someday to be able to play with the wonderful orchestra in Saskatoon, and I really do hope that Adam and I will spend more time in front of the piano and less time in front of the television! Expect amazing things from the future of Maestro Adam Johnson.
Anyone who dares to play Beethoven's last Piano Sonata Opus 111 must be fearless and confident in his skills. In the case of Thomas Yu, both are true...[He] plays the piece with elegance and depth...and his interpretation was the highlight of the festival day.Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's largest newspaper, translated.