Forest Hill pianist to present world premiere

Nearly two years ago when the blackout hit Toronto, leaving most of us dreading what we would do without electricity, Christina Petrowska-Quilico didn’t mind it one bit.

She lit a candle, sat at her piano and played.

“It is wonderful to have the gift to play the piano,” she says.

And the Oriole Parkway resident is no stranger to it. As a world-renowned pianist, she has been playing the piano since her debut at the Royal Conservatory of Music at age 10.

On May 3, she will be performing the world premiere of Canadian composer Ann Southam’s piece Rivers at the Music Gallery at St. George the Martyr Church on John St.

While Southam’s Rivers is contemporary, Petrowska-Quilico is equally skilled at playing classical concertos — and she loves them all.

She adapts to any piece, whether it’s Chopin or Debussy or any latest contemporary piece.

“I try to focus on what I’m preparing for at the time,” she says. “I always have lived for the moment and never look back on past performances — otherwise I would become obsessed.”

Petrowska-Quilico’s gift at the piano began at an early age. Born in Ottawa, after her introduction at the conservatory, she received a scholarship from the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City.

Then at 14, she performed at Carnegie Hall.

“My family never used the word ‘prodigy.’ Which I think was very helpful because it kept me grounded and not become too full of myself. Instead, my brothers, who were into baseball and hockey, thought I was a geek.”

Since then Petrowska-Quilico hasn’t looked back.

She’s studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, performed with everyone from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, and performed all over the world from Europe to the Middle East.

Her mentors include Rosina Lhevinne and Jeaneane Dowis, both from Julliard. She credits them for teaching her not just how to perfect her piano playing skills but about life.

“I remember Rosina telling me that I was first a woman, then a wife and mother, and then a pianist. She would say that if I wasn’t a good woman or good wife and mother I wouldn’t be a good pianist. And I really believe that — above anything else, my family is the most important.”

She has two daughters from her first husband, the late Quebec composer, Michel-Georges Brégent who died in 1993.

In 1993, Petrowska-Quilico married the famed Metropolitan Opera baritone singer Louis Quilico.

The minute they met she knew she would marry him, she says.

“We were so happy together. It was a once in a lifetime love affair,” she says. Together they produced four CDs and wrote his biography, Mr. Rigoletto: In Conversation with Louis Quilico.

Since his death in 2000, Petrowska-Quilico has kept her house full of her beloved pugs and cats.

Not only is she an accomplished pianist, with 20 CDs to her credit, but she’s also a published author, artist, and piano and musicology professor.

Since 1987, Petrowska-Quilico has taught at York University and previously taught at both the Royal Conservatory and at Carleton University.

“I always tell my students that no matter what profession they go into, they will always have the chance to entertain themselves.”

Along with teaching Canada’s future musicians, in 2001, Petrowska-Quilico set up the “The Christina and Louis Quilico Fund” at the Ontario Arts Council Foundation. The scholarship aids aspiring voice majors from the Glenn Gould School of Music, where Louis used to teach.

“Going into the arts, whether it’s theatre, music or art, is very difficult. No matter how good you are you have to be in the right place at the right time.” Petrowska-Quilico says.

“And since you are not guaranteed anything you have to believe in what you are doing.”

With that belief, she feels that it is essential to have funding for the arts.

“It is sad to see music programs cut out of schools. It is as if you are cutting the soul out of a student. It’s so important to have students who are well rounded. Just as sports are important, so too are the arts.”

To purchase tickets for Petrowska-Quilico’s upcoming performance call the Music Gallery at 416-204-1080