Rising star breaks the ice

September 2017

April 27, 2017 will live on in Thunder Bay history as the day of the infamous ice storm. It will also live on in the memory of music lovers in the city as the day Gregory Lewis stepped up and crushed it.

“That was the most thrilling (and stressful) moment in my career thus far,” says Lewis.

International violin soloist Jennifer Koh was scheduled to perform with the TBSO but flights were grounded and, as they say in theatre, the show must go on. Fortunately, the Thunder Bay native was in town and the TBSO did not hesitate to ask. Gregory had performed the Brahms Violin Concerto countless times but with little more than 24 hours notice, it would be a remarkable feat if he was able to pull it off without a hitch. Needless to say, he did.

“I’ve met numerous people since who knew exactly who I was because of the ice storm incident,” says Lewis with a grin. “I’m looking forward to many more adventures like this in my future, it’s good to shake things up and take a challenge when one arises!”

Recently selected as one of CBC’s ‘Top 30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30’, the 20 year-old Lewis was born and raised in Thunder Bay, and is one of a family of eight.

He credits his parents for his multi-faceted education and for encouraging his career goals in concrete ways.

“My parents took me to classical music concerts from a very young age,” he says. “When I was three years old, I went to a Consortium Aurora Borealis concert that featured a violin soloist. I apparently stood up in the back row and played the air violin until the end of the performance. From that night on, I have always been completely obsessed with violin. After two years of begging for lessons, my parents let me begin shortly before my sixth birthday.”

Home-schooled from kindergarten to Grade Twelve, Lewis’ mother is an accomplished piano teacher and he admits this had a huge influence on his progress as a child.

“She taught me how to practice well, focus properly in lessons, and set myself up for a successful future,” says Lewis. “Home-schooling allowed me to practice a full, focused session every morning without worrying about getting to class on time, and it allowed me to take lessons several days a week during the day. Once I had fulfilled my lengthy practice and lesson routines, I could then do my academic work later in the day. Many people were concerned that I wasn’t fulfilling my academic obligations due to the amount of time I was dedicating to music, but I’m able to attend Yale University on fellowship this fall attests to the quality of education my parents provided me with.”

Lewis’ young career has led him from the TBSO Youth Orchestra to Winnipeg where he studied at the University of Manitoba’s Desautels Faculty of Music and held the position of concert master of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. He’s also studied at the Julliard School in New York in May-June 2017, and after winning first place in the 2015 American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition, he was invited to perform at the famous Carnegie Hall not once, but twice! But it all started here in Thunder Bay, and that, for Lewis, had its pros and cons.

“Growing up in Thunder Bay can be pretty difficult on artists hoping to thrive at the international level,” says Lewis. “Simply because small, remote cities lack the resources and experiences found in larger cities. I was incredibly blessed to have studied with Olga Medvedeva who is in a league of her own as a teacher. I also began forming connections with members of the TBSO as I reached high school, and joined the youth orchestra when they began their partnership in 2012. Since then, a number of amazing educational projects and competitions have begun popping up in Thunder Bay, and I am very confident that the music scene future for young musicians is increasingly bright.”

While continuing his studies at Yale University, Connecticut may be his immediate future. There are many exciting opportunities for this young Thunder Bay musician on the horizon. He is performing with the National Academy Orchestra of Canada this summer and will be traveling back and forth to the 2017-2018 season with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. Sept-Oct will take him on an orchestra tour of British Columbia and a recital tour of British Columbia in May 2018. He’s also booked numerous solo recital engagements in various Canadian cities, all in addition to his performance obligations at Yale.

With a schedule like that, it seems there’s little chance we’ll see him back in Thunder Bay anytime soon. But you never know. With the crazy weather we’ve been having, there’s always a chance of another ice storm coming our way. With Gregory Lewis in the forecast, we can always hope!

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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