5 Questions with Pianist Madeline Hildebrand

Madeline Hildebrand’s piano career has taken her across Canada and the U.S.A, to Italy, and to Romania upon invitation of the European Cultural Arts Festival. Recent concert highlights include a solo performance of Philip Glass’s music alongside Glass himself in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s celebrated New Music Festival 2018. She has appeared numerous times in the WSO Soundbytes Series, plays regularly with Manitoba’s foremost classical musicians in established series, and is one-third of Winnipeg’s fast-rising ensemble, Trio Exchange, set to premiere pieces by David Braid and Michael Matthews for Groundswell’s 2021 concert season. She is a vigorous advocate for bringing classical music to rural communities as evidenced by her solo tours with Home Routes, Living Room Live, and extensive tours in collaboration with eminent Manitoba musicians. Full bio and upcoming engagements can be found on her website calendar: http://www.madelinehildebrand.com/calendar

1. I love the picture on your website, of you playing two pianos at once, back-to-back. There’s a strong element of playfulness in that image, alongside extraordinary ability. Can you tell us the story or performance behind that picture?

Ha! Yes! To paint that picture a little more clearly for the readers, I am also in a costume, complete with black and white striped leggings, a superhero cape, and red spanky shorts. This is a mid-action shot of my performance of the piano concerto The Adventures of PianoWoman!™, an incredibly playful, humorous, athletic, and beautiful piece by Canadian composer Randolph Peters. The piece is about a superhero’s battle between classical and rock n’ roll music! The audience interaction and Jerry Lee Lewis style cadenza make it a riot to perform, but the real cherry on top is learning how to swivel between two pianos and ultimately playing them both at once. Randolph arranged this piece for piano and percussion and this photo is from a performance with percussionist Ben Reimer. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of performing the concerto version with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. I wore the same costume. My mom made it! Peters’ nod to his Mennonite roots come out in the title of the second movement: “It could lead to dancing.”

2. So often we automatically think of classical music in terms of past composers and musicians, where classical music has been in the past… but where would you say your generation is taking classical music moving forward? 

First off, classical music needs a new title, since “classical” actually only represents a small era of the mid 18th to early 19th century of music composition. The massive umbrella of “classical music” extends from baroque music to contemporary composers writing for acoustic instruments and electronics and beyond. For example, my friend who is a classically trained percussionist just performed a piece for piano, electronics and a teapot. It was breath-taking! Currently I’m a doctoral student at Stony Brook University in New York. I’m continuously inspired by how my colleagues and peers are incorporating global conversations surrounding race, equality, and representation into programming. Incorporating these conversations into a “classical” concert doesn’t mean Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms and the huge canon of white European male composers are not going to be programmed anymore, rather, it means musicians are thinking about performing other lesser-known voices from these eras (Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Marianna Martinez, Hildegard von Bingen!) and the music of composers from our generation alongside the pillars of the canon. Speaking of new music, I’ve always thought it’s funny how “classical music” is largely represented by music of the past, but if I’d go to an art gallery that only had 19th century artwork I’d feel cheated! Or if my local library only had 18th century literature I’d maybe never read again. Classical music is a wide and colourful umbrella. There’s so much under the title. For the readers here, look for the concert series that are starting to recognize this too 🙂

3. You’ve been called brilliant, energetic, instinctive, extraordinary — and I certainly feel that, in listening to your recordings, but I feel like ‘energetic’ is too weak a word. Anyway, I’m curious, how would you describe your playing style? 

Hmmmmm… well I’d like to think I try my very best to pay justice to the music and the composer’s intentions, so I’d like to hope I’m a bit of a chameleon depending on the necessary sound world needed to convey the piece. When I’m playing Francois Couperin’s L’Art de toucher le clavecin I hope I sound like an introspective and improvisatory harpsichordist from 1716, when I’m playing the minimalist music of Ann Southam I hope to sound like a monk stuck in a sonorous trance, and when I’m playing Rachmaninoff like a 600 pound human full of fire and passion! I try to inhabit the music to the best of my ability.

4. Some ethnic Mennonites suggest their background prevented them from pursuing anything musical. But like most things there’s an opposite truth as well, that music plays a hugely important role in the lives of many other ethnic Mennonites. I get the impression you fall into the latter category, where the pursuit of music was encouraged? 

Definitely the latter! I consider my Mennonite background hugely important to the career I’ve carved for myself. 4-part hymn singing was a huge part of my childhood, and later choral singing in community choirs and vocal jazz ensembles, and eventually I started playing for choirs. Both of my parents taught music in the public school system, and my mom taught voice lessons as well. My sister and I would sing along to Schubert lieder (song) in the basement as my mom taught upstairs. Both of my parents are still pillars of the choral community in Manitoba. Live music was always present at parties and gatherings whether it was difficult 8 part arrangements of Christmas carols at the annual Carol Sing, or country gospel at extended family gatherings. The only music that wasn’t “celebrated” was the top 40 hits from my teen years… but what parent doesn’t roll their eyes at that! Ha!

So, as both of my parents are professional musicians, yes, this career path was encouraged and supported although never expected. I understand this is not the story of every Mennonite child hoping to pursue a career in music. My parents are huge cheerleaders for me and I’m grateful for their support.

5. Do you have any upcoming performances that we could take in?   

Yes! On March 30th the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg is releasing a pre-recorded concert. Check out their website to stay informed! I will be playing a varied program of music by Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Kaprálová, Southam, Glass, and Couperin. https://wmcwpg.ca/event/madeline-hildebrand-solo-recital
There are also some great videos on my YouTube! Check out an installation I curated with 6 other pianists and an illumination artist, part of Winnipeg’s Nuit Blanche 2020 celebration.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQSL7odcN6k&t=68s