The 2019 Honens Festival offers a spectacular balance of piano classics — both near and far

Though you many only think of it as a world-famous piano competition, look a little further and you will find that the Honens International Piano Competition and Festival is so much more. From Sept. 5 to 8, the 2019 Honens Festival will take over some of Calgary’s finest venues with a wonderful showcase of world-class piano repertoire by world-class artists. The annual event is one of Canada’s premier classical music gatherings, highlighting piano and chamber music by performers from around the world, and even some from right here in Calgary.

In 2018, Nicolas Namoradze stunned the jury with his performance at the Honens International Piano Competition, earning him the title of the 2018 Honens Prize Laureate. He’ll return to kick off the festival on Thursday evening at the historic Knox United Church, with recital of works by Bowen and Scriabin, as well as some of his own compositions. Then, on Friday night, Bosnian-born and New York-based pianist, Pedja Mužijević, graces the church with a unique dialogue of works by Bach paired with modern works by Fulmer and Joslin.

On Saturday afternoon, Honens will celebrate the iconic Canadian composer Alexina Louie on her 70 birthday year, and her impressive career of compositions for pianists of all skill levels. Laureates Katherine Chi and Namoradze will join Honens artistic director Jon Kimura Parker and a number of Calgary pianists for a celebratory recital inside the stunning Bella Concert Hall. Later that evening, former winners of the Banff International String Quartet, Miró Quartet, will perform a recital celebrating what would have been Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday, along with music by Robert Schumann and the monumental Brahms Piano Quintet.

There are also a number of free and family-friendly events taking place as part of the Honens Festival. Wander down the Stephen Avenue Walk on Thursday and Friday afternoon for some free outdoor performances. On Thursday, check out Duo 19:21, an accordion and piano duo visiting from Poland. Accordionist Iwo Jedynecki and pianist Aleksander Kryżanowski will share a stunning program of romantic works, including Saint-Saëns’ Six Duos for piano and harmonium Op. 8. Then on Friday, witness 176 Keys in action — with four pianists on two pianos for some fun performances of Bach, Brahms and Rachmaninov.

The Honens Festival has some annual traditions, which just so happen to be the highlights of the festival if you ask me. Bison Noir is a late-night cabaret in Calgary’s Royal Canadian Legion No. #1, that fuses performances of classical and post-classical music in a more casual environment. This year, Honens is bringing in award-winning composer, pianist, and singer Gabriel Kahane to perform his Book of Travellers album, as well as a performance from Duo 19:21. On Sunday, sit back and relax in Central Memorial Park for Open Air — a warm and sunny program of chamber music, with delicious snacks from Sidewalk Citizen Bakery.

And if the fantastic music programming isn’t enough to hook you, Honens has added two exciting new features to the festival experience this year. The Honens App has launched in the iTunes and Google mobile app stores, bringing you all sorts of concert details, as well as dining suggestions for nearby spots! Plus, experience Miró Quartet and Open Air in a whole new light with LiveNote, built into the Honens App. With LiveNote, you can follow along with the music while reading about the pieces, stories about the composers, and notes from the performers sent directly to your phone every few bars.

So, as you can see, if you look a little deeper, Honens is much more than just a piano competition. The 2019 Honens Festival is already shaping up to be their best yet, with a wonderful balance of local, national, and international performers; the best in classical and post-classical piano music; and some wonderful experiences for audiences young and old. You won’t want to miss any of the shows on this years festival, so don’t miss out!

The 2019 Honens Festival runs Thursday, Sept. 5 to 8 at various venues across Calgary. For more information about the festival and to buy tickets, visit

Simon MacLeod never wears hats. But, he is active in the Calgary arts community, as a sound and movement performance artist, and arts manager for a number of local nonprofit arts groups.