The Sunday Magazine

Canada's piano superstar on her main man — J. S. Bach

Ottawa’s Angela Hewitt on becoming the first woman to win the Bach Medal and the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Angela Hewitt became the first woman to win the City of Leipzig Bach Medal. (K. Saunders)

Ottawa's Angela Hewitt followed in the footsteps of another great Canadian musician, Glenn Gould, as one of the world's foremost performers of Johann Sebastian Bach's music for the piano. She has been touring the world on her Bach Odyssey since 2016.

Hewitt just became the first woman to win the City of Leipzig Bach Medal. She sat down with Michael for a chat about the award and the genius of Bach.

Angela Hewitt's comments have been edited and condensed. To hear the full interview, click 'listen' above.

On hearing she had won the 2020 City of Leipzig Bach Medal, the first woman ever to do so:

Nobody was more surprised than myself when I got an email a few months ago from the Bach archive in Leipzig, with an official letter from the Mayor — all in German. So I brushed up on the German I studied in high school and university. "Good heavens," I thought. "Look at this!"

I must say I was so moved, because it was unexpected. I've spent my life with Bach. It's true, there's no person, no man in the world, I've spent more time with than J.S. Bach. So I really was very grateful and very honoured. And it's perhaps the honour that I had in my life that has meant the most to me.

Angela Hewitt will be presented with the Bach Medal by Leipzig mayor Burkhard Jung at an award ceremony and concert on June 20, 2020. (Richard Termine)

On when she first started playing Bach's music:

Well, I started probably playing it at four, if not before. We do have tape of me playing some very easy Bach pieces, aged four, which is rather funny to listen to.

But of course, I heard it from the time I was born since my father was the organist at the cathedral in Ottawa's Christ Church Cathedral. He really was a wonderful Bach interpreter.

So Bach was a friend at home. I listened to records about the life of Bach, the Bach clan and I danced to Bach in my bedroom listening to the Brandenburg Concertos. I also played him on the recorder and the violin and sang Bach. So it wasn't just playing him on the piano.

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.


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