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Young Campbell River pianist’s career reaches a crescendo

Carter Johnson performed at the Julia Crane International Piano Competition in New York in September. - Photo submitted
Carter Johnson performed at the Julia Crane International Piano Competition in New York in September.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Campbell River’s Carter Johnson was recently chosen as one of the world’s top three young pianists.

Johnson placed second in the Julia Crane International Piano Competition this fall at the Crane School of Music in New York.

On Sept. 22, Johnson travelled to New York for the competition, which brought together 12 competitors from as far away as China. Johnson was one of four Canadians in the competition.

Pianists from around the world sent in their best recordings, but only 12 were chosen to travel to New York. One of them was Johnson.

Johnson practiced all summer — even on the neighbour’s piano while his family vacationed on Gabriola Island — so by the time of the New York competition, he was confident in the repertoire of pieces he had selected.

Shortly after arriving, Johnson met his competitors.

Many of them had already studied at prestigious institutions such as the Juilliard school, one of them for six years.

“It was a very warm atmosphere,” he says. “That was encouraging. It’s nice that I was able to meet and befriend lots of my future colleagues.”

It was nothing like a reality TV show competition, he laughs.

“Everyone here had competed enough that they were comfortable with the competition process,” he says.

The competition spanned three days, and included several seminars. On the first day of competition, all 12 pianists performed for the international jury. Six were supposed to be selected to continue on; however, the jurors were so impressed by the group’s skill that they allowed seven pianists to compete again on the second day.

Round two was the most stressful, Johnson says, because the standard of playing was even higher than the first round. However, he played with confidence and was thrilled when he was selected as one of the three finalists.

“My technique is to play as many different styles as possible,” he says, explaining how he had a wide variety of shorter pieces in his repertoire instead of concentrating on a small number of longer pieces.

During the final round, each of the competitors performed a concerto with the Orchestra of Northern New York, with maestro Kenneth Andrews at the baton, and Johnson was chosen as the second place winner.

He says it was thrilling to make it to the final round, where all three competitors were so polished that dividing them into first, second and third was mostly a technical exercise.

Johnson took home a $2,000 cash prize for his win, and also made some new friends. He still talks with some of the competitors and considers them his future colleagues in music.

Johnson is currently preparing for conservatory auditions for the September 2014 year. The schools on his list have high standards, but so does he.

He’s been playing piano since he was a child, studying for years with local teacher Shelley Roberts, and has several major competitions and performances already listed on his résumé.

This summer, Johnson was chosen to perform as a soloist with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra for the Victoria Symphony Splash.He performed Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with the orchestra, on a barge for an audience of over 40,000 that filled the harbour and surrounding area.

“I have played for crowds that I thought were big, but nothing compares to that,” he says. “It was quite an honour, because I was the first soloist that was not a Victorian — the first person from the North Island — and it was great to represent Campbell River on the barge.”

He is spending the winter season practicing and preparing, and looking for more competitions to keep his talent sharp. He’s not sure yet where he will end up, but one thing is certain: Johnson’s talent and drive has put Campbell River on the musical map.

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