Lubka Kolessa

Lubka Kolessa. Pianist, teacher, b Lvov, Galicia (now Ukraine), 19 May 1902, naturalized Canadian, d Toronto 15 Aug 1997. Her family included composers, an ethnomusicologist, and a cellist. Her grandmother, who had studied with a pupil of Chopin, was her first teacher.

Kolessa, Lubka

Lubka Kolessa. Pianist, teacher, b Lvov, Galicia (now Ukraine), 19 May 1902, naturalized Canadian, d Toronto 15 Aug 1997. Her family included composers, an ethnomusicologist, and a cellist. Her grandmother, who had studied with a pupil of Chopin, was her first teacher. When Kolessa was four, her family moved to Vienna where she studied with Louis Thern and Emil Sauer, a Liszt pupil, receiving the State Master Diploma and Prize from the Vienna State Academy in 1920. In the summers ca 1929-30 she worked in Tyrol with Eugen d'Albert, also a Liszt pupil, who strongly influenced her concept of tone and sense of style. During the years between the two world wars she regularly appeared in Europe (and in 1938 in South America) with major orchestras and conductors such as Böhm, Furtwängler, von Karajan, Kleiber, Mengelberg, Walter, and Weingartner, and won acknowledgement as a front-rank pianist. Furtwängler in particular took a keen interest in her career. In her last pre-war concert season, she played 178 engagements.

Kolessa moved to England in 1937, married diplomat Tracy Philipps, and went to Ottawa in 1940. Their son Igor was born in 1939. Kolessa gave her first Canadian recital 21 Dec 1940 at the Hambourg Conservatory in Toronto and first appeared with the Promenade Symphony Concerts in 1941, playing Weber's Konzertstück, returning in later years to play concertos by Schumann and Chopin. In 1942 Kolessa joined the staff of the TCM (RCMT) where she was placed in charge of piano teaching at the new Senior School in 1946. She taught there until 1949, then privately for several years in Toronto. During this period she performed frequently on CBC radio, including a Bach series of 10 broadcasts, a Mozart series of 14 programs, among them 6 concertos, a Beethoven series of 20 sonatas and the 5 concertos (1943), a series of 10 Schubert sonatas and 5 Chopin recitals, and many other recitals. She also gave solo recitals, eg, her Carnegie Hall recital debut in January 1948 and an all-Chopin program at Eaton Auditorium in Toronto 23 Oct 1948, and built a reputation as one of the foremost pianists in Canada. With the TSO she performed Liszt's Concerto in E-flat Major 14 Dec 1943. Kolessa played the Chopin Concerto in E Minor with the New York Philharmonic 26 Feb 1949 and returned to Carnegie Hall 3 Apr 1950 for the second of her three recitals there. Bruno Walter considered her 'certainly one of the most superb pianists of our time' and Harold Taubman judged her 'an artist with a mind and heart of her own,' adding, 'The accent was on expression, not on technical fireworks. For she was making music, which should be the aim of an evening in Carnegie Hall' (New York Times, 28 Jan 1948). A critic for Musical America (April 1950) wrote, 'Her principal assets were a conspicuously fluent technique, exceptional skill in the subtle tinting of tone and an unusual resourcefulness in the use of the pedal.' Her Canadian repertoire included pieces by François Brassard, Clermont Pépin, and Arnold Walter. Her public appearances in North America continued until 1954, after which she devoted herself to teaching.

Kolessa taught 1952-73 at the CMM, 1955-66 at the École Vincent-d'Indy, and for 12 years at McGill University, and 1959-60 at New York's Ukrainian Music Institute. Her pupils included André Asselin, Mario Bernardi, Tova Boroditsky, Howard Brown, Carol (Wright Pack) Birtch, Paul Crawford, Patricia Grant Lewis Elliott, Richard Gresko, Yvonne Guiguet-Johnston, John Hawkins, Millicent McRae Kavanagh, Gordon Kushner, Edward Laufer, Marion MacLennan, John McKay, Louis-Philippe Pelletier, Clermont Pépin, Eugene Plawutsky, Karen Quinton, Pierrette Froment Savoie, and Ireneus Zuk. Kolessa handed down the Liszt tradition to her many Canadian students.

Kolessa retreated from public life in her later years. In 1999 Doremi Records re-released her 1936-1949 recordings, including private and unissued recordings, in a three-CD set (The Art of Lubka Kolessa, 7743-5). She can also be heard on the LPs Böhm in Dresden (EMI lC 137-53 500/04) and Variations and fugue on a theme by Handel, Opus 24.

Discography

78s
Beethoven Concerto No. 3 - Hummel Rondo in E Flat. Saxon State O, Böhm conductor. Ca 1938. HMV-G-DB-5506-10

Chopin Waltz No. 1 - Mozart Romance in A Flat. Ca 1938. HMV-G-DB-4654

Mozart Variations in G K455. Ca 1938. HMV-G-DB-4621

Scarlatti Sonata in C; Sonata in B Flat. HMV-G-DA-4454

LPs

Brahms Variations, Opus 24; Intermezzi. Ca 1952. Concert Hall CHS-1108

Schumann Symphonic Etudes; Toccata. Ca. 1952. Concert Hall CHS-1111

Kolessa also recorded piano rolls


Further Reading

  • Silver, Jack. 'Restoring Lubka Kolessa,' Fanfare, Nov 1999

    Kehler, George, ed. The Piano in Concert. London, 1982