Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Toronto Star on Rashaan Allwood: 'Young pianist soars with a perfect 100'

[At 18, Rashaan Allwood, pictured in his parents' living room in Mississauga, is already a piano phenom. The first-year U of T music student recently added a National Gold Medal from the Royal Conservatory for scoring 100 points on piano performance in January, the tops in Canada. He also won 3 categories at the Kiwanis music competition last week.   (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)]

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Even for a rare piano talent who has won medals at every level since 2002, this performance at the highest level of the Royal Conservatory was astonishing. Rashaan Allwood, 18, played through a one-hour piano exam of baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist and 20th century music with such panache and precision that enthralled adjudicators gave him a perfect score.

Allwood’s “perfect 100” set the music fraternity abuzz in January, when he received the national gold medal as Canada’s top student sitting an exam for the world-renowned Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto (ARCT) diploma.
The first-year University of Toronto piano performance student even surprised himself with what a conservatory spokesman calls a “very, very, very rare” achievement.

“When I saw the score I didn’t believe it, so I called them to confirm it,” Allwood told the Star. “It seemed unfathomable.”  The conservatory, which holds 100,000 exams a year, confirmed his brilliance. “It felt really, really amazing,” said the Mississauga resident. “I think they were saying, ‘You have the potential to be really, really good. This is our way of giving you a boost.’ It’s something to encourage me to work even harder than before; not to be cocky.”

Pulling away from the daily dose of Rob Ford nonsense, I attended Rashaan’s performance at the 70th annual Toronto Kiwanis Music Festival last week. He entered three categories: Chopin, Bach and Beethoven. He won them all. “One step above everyone,” was just one of many accolades delivered by adjudicator, acclaimed pianist Jean Desmarais. Rashaan’s performance of Chopin’s Fantasy in F Minor broke new ground, Desmarais said. He had never envisioned the composition could be played that way but, not only did Rashaan do it, he “convinced me.”
Teacher Anna Fomina has taught hundreds of students in Moscow and the Mississauga School of Music over 40 years. “Rashaan is the most talented,” she says.  He lives the music, embodies it and makes it his own. And he’s not afraid to capture the emotion of a composition and deliver it to the heart of the listener.
“Most students have talent, but they understand the music with their head so they play like a computer, a machine; Rashaan feels with his heart, so he touches people’s hearts,” says Fomina.
His gold medal performance demanded he play five works of contrasting styles. For an hour he played Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and Prokofiev, plus Russian composer Moszkowski. The two adjudicators thanked him for his “uninterrupted excitement” and “virtuosic fluency.”
Rashaan’s dad didn’t leave it to the teacher — not with a musical discipline that is more demanding than regular homework from school, she says. He surrounded him with all kinds of music, including European classical recordings — a fact that helped him develop an appreciation for all kinds of music and a love of Bach.
With a strong sense of his identity, Rashaan says he is not deterred by the lack of African-Canadians in his music circle.

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