Calgary's Stampeding cultural scene is often accused of lasting only ten days of the year and being a thinly veiled excuse for public intoxication. But Calgary philanthropist and piano enthusiast Esther Honens wanted to put Calgary on the map for something other than cowboys and oil. In 1991 she began her goal of building one of the world's most prestigious piano competitions.
Fifteen years later, the Honens International Piano Competition brings together pianists from around the world and awards hundreds of thousands in prize money.
Honens also helps to manage the careers of its competitors and find them work in the notoriously competitive world of professional music.
According to Honens executive director Stephen McHolm, the goal of the competition is to find and develop talented musicians.
"Our goal is to identify some of the world's top concert pianists and help them develop their careers," said McHolm. "There are countless great pianists out there. It's the job of Honens to identify those who will become complete musicians, those whom are equally at home as a soloist or in collaborations with other musicians."
One of the complete musicians contending at Honens is Canadian Angela Park. Originally from Ontario and currently living in Montreal, she is the only Canadian out of 12 international competitors to make it to the semi-finals.
Park gave up a promising career in science to pursue her dream of becoming a professional musician.
"I made the choice pretty recently," said Park. "I'm convinced this is what I want to do."
Park said the satisfaction she receives playing music at a high level is what convinced her to make the career choice.
"You have to put everything into it if you want to be a musician," she said. "You would not get the same satisfaction if you didn't give it everything."
In preparation for the competition Park has been practicing eight hours daily for more than three months.
"At first it was just getting through the repertoire, and then working on interpretation," said Park. "I just had to be conscious to pace myself."
The Honens semi-finals were held at the University of Calgary Rozsa Centre Oct. 27-29. The finals take place Nov. 2-3 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.