Born on September 5, 1961, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; married Jody Karin Applebaum. Studied with Yvonne Huber at Vincent d'Indy School of Music; bachelor's and master's degrees in music, Temple University. Addresses: Record company--Hyperion Records Ltd., P.O. Box 25, London, England, SE9 1AX, phone: (0)20 8294 1161, fax: (0)20 8294 1166. Agent--Georgina Ivor Associates, 28 Old Devonshire Road, London SW12 9RB, phone: (0)181 675 8058, fax: (0)181 673 7179, e-mail:

An unusually talented prize-winning pianist, Marc-André Hamelin achieved legendary renown during the 1990s with his penchant for churning out a catalog of astonishingly difficult piano recordings at a breakneck pace. Repertoire notwithstanding, it is the demon speed of his finger work that has ultimately distinguished this internationally acclaimed virtuoso as his career has unfolded. During the 1980s, Hamelin won both the Pretoria International and Carnegie Hall American International music competitions. He spent long hours during the 1990s recording an expansive collection of piano selections with unprecedented fury. His 1996 collection of the complete sonatas of Alexander Scriabin earned the Canadian Juno Award for Best Classical Album, as did his earlier interpretations of the works of composer Charles-Valentin Alkan. In all, Hamelin released more than 50 recordings during the 1990s and more than a dozen additional albums by early 2001.

Hamelin was born on September 5, 1961, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His appreciation of piano music took root early in his youth. His father, a pharmacist, was also an accomplished pianist who nurtured Hamelin's interest in the piano. Hamelin began lessons at age five and later attended the elite l'École Vincent-d'Indy de Montréal where he studied under Yvonne Hubert. Interestingly, his school counselors urged him to study science and mathematics instead of music in order to develop backup skills should he fail in his quest to become a professional pianist. At home, Hamelin was keenly intrigued by the complexity of the piano music that his father enjoyed, including recordings of music by Alkan, Nikolai Medtner, and Leopold Godowsky. By the time Hamelin reached his teens, he had developed an appreciation for the power and versatility of the piano as a musical instrument and began at an early age to seek out lengthy and complicated pieces to play. He was only 15 years old when he purchased a copy of the Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji composition Opus Clavicembalisticum, an obscure and extraordinarily difficult book-length score that was pulled from publication soon afterward.

Hamelin earned both his bachelor's and master's of music degrees at Philadelphia's Temple University under the guidance of Harvey Wedeen and Russell Sherman. By the early 1980s, Hamelin had established a name for himself in international competition by winning South Africa's Pretoria International Music Competition in 1982, followed by the Carnegie Hall American International Music Competition in 1984. He then spent the summer of 1987 as a featured soloist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra during a European tour. In 1987 and 1989, the Canada Council honored Hamelin with the Sylva-Gelber Foundation Prize and the Virginia P. Moore Prize, respectively.

Virtuosity Unleashed

Hamelin released a lengthy discography during the 1990s, beginning on the Music and Arts label with a Schönberg album and two cabaret collections by William Bolcom and Benjamin Britten, respectively. He entered into collaborations with fellow pianist Louise Bessette for a series of two-piano recordings for Doberman-Yppan in 1992, releasing selected works by Hétu, Matton, and Prévost. On a subsequent series of albums released on the Analekta label, Hamelin was accompanied by Sophie Rolland on cello, with violin accompaniment by Angèle Dubeau on featured selections. These recordings included works by Thuille, Strauss, and Martinú.

Under contract with Hyperion beginning in 1993, Hamelin embarked on an extended period of recording that involved a battery of the most difficult selections ever written by various classical and modern composers. By mid-decade, reviewers and critics were paying due homage to Hamelin's rare talent, which bordered on the courageous in terms of his willingness to present--even in live public performances--an uninterrupted sequence of highly difficult musical scores. Dallas Morning News critic Olin Chism said of Hamelin's impromptu program of Bach and Godowsky, presented at the Texas Conservatory for Young Artists in 1996, that the "brilliant passage work, blazing chords, extremes of dynamics were all there." On another occasion, the newspaper's Scott Cantrell commented on Hamelin's penchant for "fist-busting" performances. The Toronto Star's Peter Goddard commented on Hamelin's "extraordinary ability to play a million notes," while praising the speed that he turned out new work.

Piano Benchmarks

In 1993 Hamelin, through Hyperion, released the first in an ongoing series of recordings of the works of a little-known nineteenth-century Parisian composer. Commonly known as Alkan, he is also known as Charles-Valentin Morhange. Alkan was a mysterious and sometimes reclusive musician whose identity and works were obscured by those of his better-known cohorts and contemporaries such as Chopin and Liszt. Hamelin successfully brought Alkan's music to prominence by means of his several recordings. Among these, Hamelin's Grande Sonate/Sonatine/Le Festin d'Esope of 1995 won the Juno Award for Best Classical Album in 1996.

Hamelin subsequently rescued from obscurity the complex works of a misunderstood composer named Alexander Scriabin. When Hamelin released Scriabin: The Complete Piano Sonatas in 1997 on Hyperion, Billboard columnist Bradley Bambarger called the release a "latter-day benchmark." The Scriabin collection helped Hamelin earn a second Juno Award as the Best Classical Album of 1997. Bambarger praised Hamelin further for "[His] pioneering set [1996, 1997, and 1998] of the 14 sonatas by ... Nikolai Medtner [that] might never be bettered." Likewise, Billboard's Paul Verna called Hamelin a "mega-virtuoso" and the "ideal soloist" in reference to the Marx Romantisches Klavierkonzert and the left-handed Erich Wolfgang Korngold concerto, each performed by Hamelin in 1997.

By the end of the 1990s, Hamelin's total number of recorded releases had climbed to more than 50 albums, including many obscure selections that were rarely heard in performance because of sheer difficulty. Among his assorted recordings, Hamelin included some of his own writings on a 1998 Hyperion release entitled The Composer-Pianists, although he discounted his efforts as a composer as negligible and avered that, unlike many pianists, he does not conduct orchestras. His acclaimed performances and recordings have earned him a collection of distinctive international awards including the Australian Soundscapes Award and two Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik awards. In 2000 he received the Gramophone Instrumental Award.

When Hyperion released Hamelin's Godowsky: Studies on Chopin's Etudes in 2000, American Record Guide's Harold Schonberg noted that the etudes in their original state were uncommonly difficult, and in Godowsky's hands the arrangements were made more difficult still. Thus Schonberg reserved nothing but praise for Hamelin and applauded the final product. "More difficult piano music has never been written...." reported Schonberg. "Hamelin plays this music--really plays it. All piano philes have been impressed by many of his recordings, but here he rises to amazing heights." The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences nominated the recording for a Grammy Award as the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra) in 2000. Also that year, Hamelin's Busoni: Concerto, op. 39 with Mark Elder and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was nominated in the Best Instrumental Soloist (with Orchestra) category.

Illustrious Orchestral Performances

Hamelin has performed with the finest orchestras from North America and Europe, including Europe's Royal Concertgebouw, the BBC Philharmonic, the Minneapolis and Houston Symphonies, and with such eminent conductors as Charles Dutoit, Dmitri Sitkovetsky, and David Zinman. Hamelin's recital venues have extended worldwide to Istanbul, Turkey; Frankfurt and Munich, Germany; Vienna, Austria; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Japan; Paris, France; Milan, Italy; and elsewhere. Likewise he has graced festivals around the world with his singular mastery of the piano, having performed at Blackheath Halls Pianoworks, La Grange de Meslay en Touraine; Manchester Glories of the Keyboard Festival, Ruhr Piano Festival, Singapore International Piano Festival, Britain's the Proms, and the Valldemosa Chopin Festival. He performed recitals at Wigmore Hall in June of 1994 at the Virtuoso Romantics series and later returned to the Wigmore Hall Masterconcert Series and the Exploration & Celebration Series at Wigmore in 1999.

In addition to his outstanding career in performance, Hamelin taught for a time at the University of Alberta. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife Jody Karin Applebaum, who is a teacher and a talented performer in her own right. Applebaum sings to her husband's accompaniment in intimate cabaret shows on select occasions.

by Gloria Cooksey

Marc-André Hamelin's Career

Soloist, European tour with Montréal Symphony Orchestra, 1987; professor, University of Alberta, Canada; worldwide tours, including Australia and Japan, 2000; has recorded extensively with Music and Arts, 1990; Doberman-Yppan, 1992; Hyperion, 1993-.

Marc-André Hamelin's Awards

Winner, Pretoria International Music Competition, 1982; Winner, Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition, 1985; Sylva-Gelber Foundation Prize, Canada Council, 1987; Virginia P. Moore Prize, Canada Council, 1989; Juno Award (Canada), Best Classical Album for Alkan: Grande Sonate/Sonatine/Le Festin d'Esope, 1996; Juno Award, Best Classical Album for Scriabin: The Complete Piano Sonatas, 1997; Soundscapes Award (Australia), 1997; Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, 1997-98; Gramophone Instrumental Award, 2000.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…