How to Do the Honens Festival

The Calgary-founded international piano competition and festival kicks off this week. Here’s what you need to know.

Every three years, Calgary becomes the centre of the concert-piano universe with the Honens Piano Competition and Festival, which runs this year from September 3 to 12. The name honours the late philanthropist Esther Honens, who put up $5 million to create an international music event in her home city (of which she is said to have been fiercely proud). The Honens Piano Competition was staged for the first time in 1992. Honens, who was then 89-years-old, passed away five days later.

$100,000 Honens


The signature piano competition is the heart of the Honens festival, awarding a cash prize of $100,000 along with a career development program that is valued at cool half million dollars. Quarterfinals were held this past spring in Berlin, London and New York to select the 10 semi-finalists who will compete in Calgary. The 2015 semi-finalists range in age from 22 to 30 and hail from Italy, South Korea, Russia, U.K., Ukraine and U.S.A. The semi-finalists each perform a 65-minute solo recital and a 65-minute collaborative recital with a clarinetist, violinist and soprano vocalist. Three pianists advance to the finals on Sept. 10 and 11 to perform with the CPO. The 2015 Honens Prize Laureate (a.k.a. the grand champion) will be announced following the performances on Sept. 11. All semi-final recitals and final performances are ticketed events. They are also being streamed live online.

Honens on the Cheap


If you’re under 40 years old you qualify for the A440 initiative – a membership program for those 18 to 39 that provides admission to Honens events for $18 (A440 is the standard tuning pitch of a piano). If you’re under 18 tickets are only $10 and the fest also offers discounted rates for seniors.

Free Honens


The Encore Concerts are free noon-hour performances by competition semifinalists in a variety of venues around the city, such as the Jack Singer Concert Hall Lobby and the artBOX on 17E space on International Avenue. Two free, open-air concerts are also planned for the afternoon of Saturday, September 12 in Central Memorial Park. The first, starting at 12:30 p.m. is a family event that includes a narrated performance of “Paddington Bear’s First Concert.” Kids are encouraged to bring along their favourite bear and take part in a teddy-bear parade through the park. Starting at 2 p.m., the second concert features 2012 Honens laureate Pavel Kolesnikov performing works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn with a chamber ensemble (rain venue is First Baptist Church, across the street from the park). The Honens Masterclasses on September 5 and 6, in which Honens jurors impart their knowledge and experience to music students, are also free and open to the public.

Honens After Dark

The Bison Noir nightclub jam for Honens performers, jurors and other musical guests returns this year. Inspired by the vibe at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge club, the event showcases a more edgy side of classical music than you’re going to see in a conventional soft-seat concert hall. Bison Noir 2015 starts at 10 p.m. on Thursday, September 10 at downtown’s R.C. Legion No. 1, a quirky room that is one of the staple venues of the Sled Island music festival. Tickets are $25 or $18 for A440 program members.

Honens takes place from September 3 to 12. For more information, visit

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