Concert pianist Louise Bessette will receive the classical music award for 2019 from the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Foundation.
John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
Montreal concert pianist Louise Bessette has been named a laureate of the 2019 Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards, the country’s highest honour for artists.Announced Thursday by the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Foundation, the awards recognize artists “who have made an indelible contribution to cultural life in Canada and around the world.”Bessette, 59, is recognized not only as one of Canada’s best pianists and performers, but also for her interpretation of 20th- and 21st-century music. She has had an enormous influence on the contemporary world of classical piano and introduced audiences worldwide to the work of Canadian such composers as Serge Arcuri, Simon Bertrand, Lorraine Desmarais, François Dompierre, José Evangelista, Anthony Rozankovic and Raoul Sosa.She has toured extensively, participated in juries of international competitions, given master classes around the world and won many prizes and awards. She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2001 and the Order of Quebec in 2005.The Montreal native trained at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, where she has been a professor of piano since 1996. She was drawn to the contemporary repertoire, particularly the work of French composer Olivier Messiaen, and moved to Paris in 1982 at 23 to study with his wife, Yvonne Loriod, a teacher and composer.A sojourn Bessette thought would be only a couple of years lasted until 1996. “I started to meet a lot of French composers and some wrote especially for me,” she recalled. “I started to give more and more concerts in Europe and I really enjoyed the musical life,” she said in an interview Thursday.While performing in Quebec, she met the man she would marry. After two years of a long-distance relationship, Bessette returned to Quebec, married in 1996 and, in 1990, she and her husband welcomed their son in 1999.Former Montreal Gazette classical music critic Arthur Kaptainis once called Bessette adventurous for the way she mixed “outré 19th-century pieces … with the 20th-century repertoire for which she is known: Debussy, Messiaen, Scelsi, Louie and many others,” he wrote.“I think it is adventurous to perform a lot of 20th- and 21st-century music because it is the kind of repertoire that the audience doesn’t know very much and the organizers and producers can sometimes be a little scared about programming too much contemporary music.” Bessette said.“I don’t want to play just what people know. It’s not like when you play a piece by Chopin or Mozart that everybody knows: When I perform contemporary music, my goal is for the audience to like what I am playing. … I really want to convince my audience and, usually, it works.“All these years have passed and now I am more and more conscious that I have helped the composers as well, because I am there also to perform their music worldwide and I am happy about that,” she said. “I don’t work only for my career. I work for the careers of all the composers whose work I perform. … It’s a wonderful honour every time a composer writes a piece for me. We work together and the world première is always a very big event.”Bessette describes herself as a curious person. “I like to go to a country I have never been to before. If I start to read a new book and I have never read the author before, I will look for other work by them. When I am travelling, I go to a restaurant and see a dish that is foreign or strange to me, I say, ‘Wonderful, let’s try it,’ ” she said. “In Australia, that means trying a soup with pieces of kangaroo tails in it. It was really good. In China, I ate turtle. It was really good.”Other Montrealers honoured with Governor General’s awards announced Thursday are Lorraine Pintal, longtime artistic director and general manager of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, and E. Noël Spinelli, a business leader and philanthropist who has long supported the performing arts, particularly music. Among other initiatives Spinelli, who is honoured with the 2019 Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts, co-founded Concerts Lachine and Concerts Spinelli.Actors Colm Feore and Sandra Oh, comedian, television personality, political satirist and author Rick Mercer, and Mavis Staines, artistic director of the National Ballet School, were also named email@example.com