Ukrainian-Canadian Pianist Lubka Kolessa

Ukrainian-Canadian pianist Lubka Kolessa

Lubka Kolessa was born in Lvov, Ukraine, May 19, 1902. Her family was a musical one and she began her piano studies with her grandmother, who had studied with Karl Mikuli, a Chopin pupil. Her thirteen-year younger sister Christia became an accomplished cellist and other members of her family were musicologists, composers and conductors.

Vienna and Emil von Sauer

While still a child, Lubka’s father moved the family to Vienna, where she received the highest possible training at the Royal and Imperial Academy of Music, where her teachers were Louis Thern and Emil von Sauer, a former Liszt pupil. Later she became Sauer’s assistant. She began her performing career at the age of thirteen, and was well on her way to international acclaim a few years later.

Eugen d’Albert

After proving herself on the concert stage, Kolessa went for further study with the virtuoso pianist Eugen d’Albert and studied Beethoven Sonatas and Concerti with Wilhelm Furtwangler. Kolessa made her symphonic debt with Furtwangler conducting in Leipsig, January 18, 1923, playing the F Minor Concerto by Frederic Chopin. She played a great deal of Chopin throughout her career and was most successful as she had a beautiful touch and a thorough understanding of his music.

Famous Symphonic Conductors

Kolessa played with the best conductors in Europe, including Richard Strauss, Felix Weingartner, Sir Henry Wood, Hans Kindler, Leo Blech, Willem Mengelberg, Karl Bohm, Herbert von Karajan, Eugen Jochum, Walter Hendl and Hermann Scherchen, a veritable who’s who of conductors.

Newspaper Reviews from New York, Washington and Canada

Her first appearance in Canada was arranged for her by the Princess Alice, sister to King George VI. From that time on she was sought after as soloist and recitalist. Concert reviews were enthusiastic and went from “creating music of matchless beauty,” which was written by Doc Savage, Toronto, to “a master of the keyboard,” in the Washington Post, to “her innate musicality and delicacy of style”by the New York Times’ Harold Taubman, to “breadth of style and impassioned sweep,” by Jerome Bohm of the New York Herald Tribune.

Lubka Kolessa as a Teacher

From 1950 on Kolessa was considered the master teacher at the now Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. She taught many who went on to professional careers, including Mario Bernardi, Clermont Pepin, Howard Brown and others. She married a British diplomat, Tracy Phillips and had a son Igor. The marriage broke up after several years.

Unfortunately, Kolessa became a recluse in her later years, perhaps preferring to be remembered as a beautiful young artist and not as a woman in her eighties or nineties. After an alleged love affair with a faculty member at the Conservatory, Kolessa was dismissed ( the man stayed on) and from then on travelled between Toronto and Montreal teaching. She died in Toronto at the age of ninety-five in August of 1997.