Alumni spotlight: award-winning pianist Corey Hamm

Kalina Broda - 6 April 2023

Pianist Corey Hamm’s musical influence has been celebrated by thousands of listeners across the world. The University of Alberta Faculty of Arts alumnus, '91 BMus, has performed as both a soloist and chamber musician in North America and Asia, collecting a glimmering list of accolades, including his critically acclaimed CD of Frederic Rzewski’s piano hour-long solo epic The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Redshift Records). 

The recorded and touring rendition has garnered a series of world-renowned bests — Spotify’s Best Classical Recording 2014 and the 2014 Western Canadian Music Awards’ Best Classical Recording — as well as recognition from the great American pianist Frederic Rzewski himself: “Excellent! Bravo! This may be the best recording.”

Hamm has premiered over 400 concerto, solo and chamber works and is now a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Music and says he credits the shaping of his musical career to a list of instrumental teachers. 

While the list is long, he attributes most of his foundational influence to Dr. Ernesto B. Lejano (1933-2000), whom he studied under while completing his Bachelor of Music at the U of A. 

“Most of what I am as a musician — my aesthetics and outlook on music — fundamentally comes from the late, great, Dr. Lejano,” he says. 

Lejano joined the U of A faculty in 1967, after becoming the first Filipino-born academic to earn a doctorate as a Fullbright scholar at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. In 1987, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Alberta government and from the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. To this day, his students go on to win international, national and provincial recognition. 

“He was all about communicating music — finding ways to maximize dramatic content and squeeze every last drop of expression out of everything,” says Hamm. “I hope that’s something I’m able to transmit to my own students.”

Hamm also gives special mention to teachers Thelma Johannes O’Neill,  Lydia Artymiw, Stéphane Lemelin and Marek Jablonski (Lemelin and Jablonski both taught at the Univesity of Alberta). 

Back to the classroom 

Translating the lessons from his teachers and own experiences performing and recording across the world, Hamm now opens the floor to a different audience: his university students. “I’ve always loved teaching. Even when I was a teenager, I taught the two kids next door,” he says. “Now it’s fun to work at such a high level on great works of art with these young talents — it’s artistically satisfying for me.”

As a Professor of Piano, Chamber Music and Piano Literature, some of Hamm’s proudest achievements are earned through the success of his students.

His students have won top prizes at the Hilton Head International Piano Competition, Canadian National Music Competition, Eckhardt-Gramatté Contemporary Piano Competition, Stepping Stones Competition and Canadian Music Competition, among many others.  

Hamm shares his advice to those pursuing a career in music: the inevitable — hard work (over and above talent) — and the most crucial — finding the right teacher. 

“Do your research and don’t over-glamourize the school’s name,” he says. “After all, it’s the teacher you’ll be working with.”

Life-long learning 

No pause in sight, Hamm plans to record three great twentieth-century piano sonatas (Prokofiev Piano Sonata 8, Op. 84, Dutilleux Piano Sonate, and Kapustin Piano Sonata 2, Op. 52), which will be released in 2024. In the same way his rendition of Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! culminated his early life’s work, he feels this next recording will serve as an important new chapter. 

“I’ve dreamed of performing and recording these works since I was young,” he says, having studied with Henri Dutilleux himself in Paris years ago. “This recording is my chance to show what I learned from him.”

In the 2023-24 season, Hamm will be also playing three concertos with orchestra in Vancouver. He will play Ligeti’s Piano Concerto with Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble and conductor Fabian Panisello on January 13 and 14. Then later in the year, he will play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto 3, Op. 26 with the Vancouver Philharmonic and conductor Jin Zhang on June 1, and  Dorothy Chang’s double concerto Gateways (which was written for his duo Piano and Erhu Project) with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra  and conductor Otto Tausk on June 7 and 8.

Hamm will also continue to applaud his students’ work — and take a few notes: 

“I know it’s cliché to say teachers learn from their students, but I definitely feel like I do.”