At first glance Louis Lortie looks like a lot of other young men who grew up in the well-heeled Outremont district of Montreal and studied at Pierre Trudeau’s alma mater Brébeuf College. But the casual well-being indicated by the well-cut clothes and the pretty Gallic features are belied by something unusual in the expression of the pianist who at the tender age of 18 will be guest soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra during its unprecedented tour (with Maureen Forrester) through China in late January and February. Behind the thick lashes are the eyes of a romantic, almost a child of another era, fascinated by the classics since the age of seven, seeking solitude and “taking out my anguishes on the piano” while his peers caroused in chic recreation rooms around the northeast side of the Mountain.
“It’s very important to be alone for my work,” says the young pianist who, since he first sat on a piano stool some 11 years ago, has accumulated an impressive number of laurels including third place at the Concertino Praga in 1973 and first place in the 1975 CBC National Music Competition. In fact, Lortie’s relationship with his music is so intense that his delight at making the tour with the TSO is coupled with a certain concern he may end up too soon with a concert “career.” “I hope something isn’t happening to me at 18 that might better happen at 25,” he says. “It takes such a long time to get to the bottom of music, just as it does to discover the real meaning of life, especially now when the world is so complicated.”
Nothing in Lortie’s background precluded a musical career. His education was laced with a good general culture, but nobody in his family was particularly musical. He suspects his parents, who remain “very supportive,” secretly nurtured a desire that he “choose a stabler life, like law,” says Lortie, who received his musical training from priests before studying in Vienna with Deiter Weber and at Indiana University under Menahem Pressler.
Lortie’s fear of being erected into a youthful virtuoso, racing the concert circuit with a technically perfect, emotionally empty repertoire was first felt at Indiana. The Americans are the “racehorses,” of the musical world, he says,young musicians, career hungry, who work hard at building their surface-briliiant musical repertoire without getting into the depths of the matter.
He admits being a Quebecker has given him the distance to be criticial of the
American approach and has slanted his sympathies in the direction of Europe— where he will return to study—or even Russia. “The Russian Sviatoslav Richter had his first American tour at 45. Of course he was good. The Russians gave him the time to develop. I’d rather play just for my friends until I’m 45 if I’m not ready for concerts. I am not playing my music to build a career. If it comes, it comes.”
In the meantime everything Lortie does seems aimed at getting closer to the secret layers of meaning in the music he plays. Even his German studies at the University of Montreal have that as a raison d’être. “You can’t be an artist without knowing the German culture. Beethoven couldn’t have done what he did without reading Goethe.” His life is not encumbered with useless frills. He does half an hour of exercise a day, eschews sports, is bored with popular music and has mostly musicians for friends. Marriage is something he would “obviously” want, but he acknowledges it would be a difficult life for his partner. “I’m ambitious in the sense that I want to work as much as possible,” says the young Lortie, “but there are not enough hours to play everything.” GAIL SCOTT
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