earworms: Joshua Peters and Katherine Dowling, 2015 E-Gré Winner’s Tour

here’s another instalment of earworms.
from time to time, i’ll share my thoughts and reflections
on outstanding performances i’ve witnessed.

The Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition holds a special place in my heart – through my involvement as a two-time participant and longtime fan and volunteer, I’ve become part of a thriving network of young, connected and vibrant Canadian musicians making a real difference on the national scene. I was delighted to attend the 2015 Winner’s Tour concert in Brandon on Nov. 23, featuring violinist Joshua Peters and pianist Katherine Dowling.

Starting right from the just-audible, crystalline first notes of Vivian Fung’s “Birdsong”, Joshua and Katherine played with incredible confidence, drama and integrity – the kind of dedicated conviction that can only be earned through multiple repetitions of the same program and sincere understanding of the repertoire and of each other’s playing.

Alfred Schnittke’s “Violin Sonata No. 2” was a particular highlight. The piano and violin rarely play simultaneously in this piece; rather, the two musicians forge a texture of gestures caught and received, sounds thrown back and forth, gentle dialogues and violent interruptions. In the ferocious second movement, Katherine seemed to transform into some human-machine hybrid, repeatedly grinding thick G Minor chords from the piano. She played with raw mechanical power and a heavy-hearted, weary determination that maintained a brooding sense of fatalism and inevitability.

Joshua was a consummate storyteller: his introductions to the pieces were rich with personal connections. Through his words, composers became instantly relatable, fascinating characters. Ideas and images were described in vivid detail and with a gentle sense of humour. In Weinberg’s “Violin Sonata No. 5”, the folk-like character of melodic passages was twisted into darker and darker strands, accumulating heavy tragic weight. Joshua’s incredible range of sounds and colours shone throughout this wonderfully varied program, from a warm, embracing tone in John Estacio’s “Shades of a Romance” through curious flights, gritty pangs and exhausted croaks.

It was clear that beyond the experience of playing together, Joshua and Katherine simply enjoy listening to one another. Each gracefully retreated to the background – not just in sound, but also in physical presence – when they felt it was time for the other to be heard. This was a true collaboration, a joyous celebration of Canadian repertoire, a triumphant return to the scene of their success in May, and a warm invitation to open ears, hearts, and minds. (And I swear, those G minor chords are still reverberating somewhere in my soul). Thank you both for an unforgettable evening.