We first became aware of composer Lubomyr Melnyk last year after a friend from Latvia mentioned that a Canadian piano virtuoso was performing several sold-out shows at the popular Zemlika Music Festival in Durbe, a small town on the western edge of the country near the Baltic Sea. Not having previously heard of him, and curious as to how a Canadian came to be invited to play at an indie music festival in such a little known town far off the beaten path, we delved a little bit deeper into this performer, who, as it turns out, invented a musical style all his own, and is finally gaining some long overdue recognition, including from some of Europe’s best known publications.
Born in Germany to Ukrainian parents, Melnyk moved to Canada as a two year old, where he spent most of his early years in Winnipeg, graduating from St. Paul’s College and continuing his studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It was however while living abroad in Paris in the early 70’s that he developed his particular style of playing while serving as the accompanist for modern dancer Carolyn Carlson. Mr. Melnyk, thought by many to be one of the fastest pianists in the world, has the unique ability to play the piano at 19.5 notes per second, and can sustain a speed averaging 14 notes per second for over an hour at a time. This has lead him to develop a style he’s christened “continuous music”, which features each hand playing incongruent patterns for extended periods of time and liberal use of the instrument’s sustain pedal to meld the different parts into a musical journey.
Upon returning to Canada in 1975, Lubomyr made the rounds introducing Canadians to his nontraditional compositions at art galleries and alternative music venues throughout the country, while being largely shunned by the classical music establishment, despite having more in common with traditional greats like Chopin and Beethoven than ‘avant-garde’ modern composers. While he has recorded 17 live and studio albums to date, the vast majority of them have flown under the radar, especially back here in Canada, where he spent his formative years. It is only in recent years, after signing with London based indie label Erased Tapes Records, that his two most recent recordings have gained a wider, more appreciative audience and critical acclaim, which has earned him an audience among the music loving hipsters of the indie and electronic music worlds. That new-found fame is what has lead him from relative obscurity to touring small halls and churches all over Europe, including performances in Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, and yes – Durbe, Latvia.
Lubomyr Melnyk’s most recent album “Rivers and Streams” was released on November 27th.