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Meet Teo Gheorghiu, Montreal International Musical Competition's sole Canadian quarter-finalist

Robert Rowat

The Montreal International Musical Competition has announced the 24 pianists who will compete in its quarter-final round, starting May 2. They were selected from a record-breaking field of more than 300 applicants.

It's a truly international field with 15 countries represented. The sole Canadian among them is 24-year-old, Swiss-born Teo Gheorghiu. "My background is rather confusing but when it comes to the question of citizenship, I only have one: Canadian," he told us via email. "Although I was born in Switzerland, my parents lived in Toronto for a number of years after leaving Romania."

Gheorghiu will come to compete in Montreal with extensive experience under his belt owing to his past as a child prodigy. (He made his concert debut at the Zurich Tonhalle at the age of 12.) And during his student years — Purcell School, Curtis Institute and Royal Academy of Music — he won a number of competitions, including the San Marino International Piano Competition (2004) and the Franz Liszt International Piano Competition (2005.)

"I recall vividly the terrifying excitement before the announcements were made," he recalled of those competition experiences. "I can't say it's only a positive feeling but it's certainly an overwhelmingly intense one! When I compete, I actually try to block out the competition factor and try to focus solely on what I want to express musically and enjoying my time onstage."

Gheorghiu has also recorded Dvorak, Schubert and Liszt for Sony Classical and Schumann and Beethoven for Deutsche Grammophon.

For the quarter-final round at the Montreal International Musical Competition, Gheorghiu will play solo piano repertoire influenced by dance — music by Haydn, Chopin, Ravel and Balakirev. "If I happen to progress to the semifinal round, I will be playing works by Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky depicting the many facets of Russian nature and life," he said. He's hoping to play Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 if he's one of the six competitors chosen for the final round.

"I am looking forward to exploring Montreal with a friend of mine who is also competing, enjoying the terrific cafés and restaurants and hopefully making some new friends along the way," he added. "[This] will be the first competition I will be participating in as an adult, also the first since I finished my formal education, so I am very excited to be adjudicated entirely on my very own musical interpretations. Whatever happens, this will be a great memory."

The 2017 edition of the Montreal International Musical Competition runs May 2 to 12. The $125,000 prize purse will be awarded by a jury comprising Idil Biret (Turkey), Dang Thai Son (Vietnam), Alain Lefèvre (Canada), Hélène Mercier (Canada), Pedja Muzijevic (Bosnia), David Owen Norris (United Kingdom), Cristina Ortiz (Brazil), R. Douglas Sheldon (United States) and Gabriel Tacchino (France). For full information on this year's competition, head over to its website.

Watch this recent video of Gheorghiu playing Balakirev's Islamey:

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