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A Honens Story

A Honens Story

Written by : Honens and Stephen Hunt // @honens

I am an artist, a musician, a husband, and a father. I enjoy nothing more than watching my children practicing and performing on their instruments. Music is a big part of our lives; it is a part of our identity. Without it I feel that something important is missing.”
— Dmitry Nesterov, Honens Laureate

Russian-born Dmitry Nesterov was destined for a life in music. A gifted artist, his skill on the piano was identified at a young age.“ When I was a child, we always had a piano at home because my mom was an amateur pianist, and I grew up listening to her play. But then, my parents realized whatever songs I heard on the radio, I could play them on the piano. They encouraged me to purse an education in piano, and after I graduated from the Central Music School in Moscow, I enrolled at the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory.”

On 19 August 1991, Dmitry was living and studying piano at University, when he and his fellow students heard explosions. That was the same day a coup (staged by Communist Party hardliners) was underway in Lenin Square, only a few blocks from the University. It was also the day that produced the famous New York Times photographs [right] of Russian Premier Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank, asking everyone to give the government (run by Mikhail Gorbachev) one more chance.

Life in the Eastern Bloc in those days was unraveling. “The whole system was broken, piece by piece. Many people lost their savings, including myself. It was really tough times,” says Dmitry.

Dmitry was scheduled to go to a competition in Spain which got cancelled. He was very upset and searched for another option. “A guidance counselor kindly went through her book and said, ‘Oh, here’s a new Competition. It’s in Calgary, Canada; would you like to go there?’ And I said, of course!”

Shortly thereafter, Dmitry applied for the inaugural Honens International Piano Competition. From the 110 pianists from around the world who auditioned, Dmitry was one of 46 pianists invited to Calgary to compete. He arrived in Calgary in November of 1992 filled with excitement and anticipation.

His reflection on that first trip to Calgary often leads to the host family with whom he stayed—a family who would come to play an important role in his life.

The houses where competitors are billeted during the Honens Competition are not simply places for pianists to lay their heads, but rather become a home for the pianist. A touch of family, a touch of warmth where they build lasting relationships with Calgarians. Each home is transformed during the competition into a mini concert hall, radiating beautiful, melodious, and striking music performed by these pianists, as they practice each day.

Allan Markin and Jackie Flanagan, Dmitry’s host ‘parents’ remember the inaugural year of the competition like it was yesterday. “It seemed as if the whole city was alive with music. There happened to be three pianists billeted on Riverdale Avenue in 1992. People would be out for a walk and they would hear beautiful music coming out of many homes while walking down the street! It was a phenomenon,” Jackie reminisces.

Dmitry formed a warm bond with his host family, as so many others have also done. “Jackie was the first person in Canada who I felt really close to. She was nearby for anything I needed during the whole Competition. Not only did she drive me anywhere I needed to go and make home cooked meals for me, but she was always a positive influence—always making sure I was in good spirits. She could anticipate exactly what I needed, even before I asked. She’s a person with a really big heart.”

Jackie was more than thrilled to have Dmitry in her home. “When he would be practicing, and I would be doing something in the kitchen, and I would hear him play, it would make me weep. Because it was so beautiful, so amazing, to have someone so gifted in your home playing such beautiful music.” To this day, Jackie is moved by the memories of Dmitry’s playing.

On 28 November 1992, Dmitry was awarded the title, Honens Laureate, now one of the world’s most coveted titles in the piano community. However, receiving a title that hundreds of pianists have since strived for was not the only life-changing aspect of Dmitry’s trip to Calgary.

During his stay with Allan and Jackie, Dmitry would often comment on life back in Russia. When he expressed concern about returning there during a period of political upheaval, Jackie and Allan helped set into motion the steps that allowed Dmitry and his wife, Olga Kotova, now a violinist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, to immigrate to the city.

“I felt like this country [Canada] right away had more freedom. People were more open. Of course Russia is my home and I love my country, but it seemed like the possibilities there were quite limited and moving to Canada would provide more possibilities.”

Dmitry completed his Master’s degree in music at the University of Calgary, and both he and Olga were hired to teach at the Mount Royal University Conservatory. Today, they continue to live, teach, raise their three children, and share their passion for music with new generations of young artists in their home city of Calgary.

It was twenty-five years ago when Dmitry walked out onto the Jack Singer Concert Hall stage for the first time. “It was Honens’ inaugural Piano Competition, that changed my life.”

You can hear Dmitry, and other artists like him, perform at the 2017 Honens Festival this September. Visit honens.com/honens2017 for details.

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