article by Jen Holstein

COREY HAMM IS AN ODDBALL . At least insofar as what you might come to expect from a classical pianist. He is an internationally renowned musician, a professor at University of British Columbia (where his student approval rating is incredibly high according to and where he has been described as “uber cool”), and a champion of contemporary music. He has commissioned and performed over 300 works and also lends his spare time to a passion project called PEP – the Piano and Erhu Project for which over 70 composers have written works for piano and the “Chinese violin”.

Corey brings his eclectic and virtuosic style to Nanaimo where he will be playing Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the Vancouver Island Symphony as part of their season opener “ A Fiery Opening” on Saturday, October 21st . Corey is excited to perform this “quirky, fun, richly lyrical” piece with the orchestra, and he wants symphony-goers to know that it has one of the most exciting and thrilling endings of any piano concerto ever written (“it’s like a carnival theme, with lots of crazy piano pyrotechnics”).

Many classical musicians come from musical homes, but Corey is an exception. Certainly there was always music in his home growing up – his father had an enviable record collection that catered to every possible musical taste from jazz and big band to world music, rock and classical. But Corey was the first in his family to pursue a musical career, and he wasn’t exactly inspired by the great masters. “It was Supertramp that brought me to the piano,” he recalls, laughing. “My older sisters would play their records – I heard a lot of it, and it really made me want to play music.” For Christmas one year, his sisters presented him with sheet music for Supertramp’s songs. “I had no idea how to read it or how to play it, so I begged my parents for piano lessons.”

It is perhaps this unique path to classical piano, that has made Corey such an incredible champion of modern classical composers. As a pianist, he of course has a special place in his heart for Bach and Beethoven. But as a teacher at UBC and at the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice in Boston, and as a founding member of the Nu:BC Collective (along with VI Symphony’s Principal Flutist, Paolo Bortolussi), he is a passionate supporter of new music. He balks at the suggestion that classical music – and the audience for it – could be stagnating. “It’s like any other art form – literature, painting, theatre – these artists are going to continue to create new works; they are driven by a desire to express themselves through art. And there are great geniuses writing music today, but we haven’t yet had the benefit of history to filter them out and help us recognize their work.”

His teaching roles keep him connected to youth and to new and emerging artists, as well as musical styles and technological advances. “As a teacher, I try to expose students to what I think are the most amazing new things along with all the classic masterpieces from the past. YouTube and the internet in general allow us to experience new music from all over the world”.

His performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no.3 is going to be an event to experience!

Prokofiev is also one of Pierre Simard’s favourite composers. The Concerto will be performed as part a stellar Russian composer lineup that includes works by Shostakovich and Stravinsky - A Fiery Opening marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian.

Stravinsky and Shostakovich were contemporaries who had very different experiences during the period of the revolution – Shostakovich chose to stay in Russia while Stravinsky left the country and eventually ended up in the US.Perhaps their decisions ultimately influenced their musical styles. Says Pierre: “Shostakovich is known as the utmost Soviet composer. He wrote very Russian music, and mainly very gloomy music.” While his Ballet Suite No. 1 (most of which is taken from his 1935 ballet The Limpid Brook) is uncharacteristically light, and colourful, Pierre insists it has all the elements of what the French call a “rire jaune” – or hollow laughter.

The Firebird Suite by Stravinsky is in contrast, “splashy and virtuosic”. The composition, written for the ballet of the same name and first performed in Paris in 1910, essentially cemented Stravinsky’s international acclaim, and popular fame. Ever the music historian, Pierre clarifies that the version being played by VI Symphony is one that was slightly tweaked by Stravinsky in 1945 in order for him to retain the music copyright in the United States. “He was a keen businessman”, laughs Pierre.

Come out and celebrate the opening of the Vancouver Island Symphony’s 23rd season. Plan to be moved by a trio of Russian powerhouse composers, including the Shostakovich’s humorous Ballet Suite, Prokofiev’s critically acclaimed, Piano Concerto no. 3 and of course, the luminous orchestration of Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite.

a Fiery Opening

Saturday, October 21 | 7:30pm | Port Theatre