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Andrew Dawes wins GG award for lifetime achievement
Is it a coincidence that the press release announcing that Andrew Dawes is the recipient of a Governor General Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award quotes Beethoven?
The emotionally tortured composer wrote his 9th Symphony after he had lost his hearing. Dawes, a violinist known for his ability to convey the full magnificence of Beethoven’s vision, especially during his years with the Orford String Quartet, can no longer play violin because his fingers have, quite literally, seized up.
But in talking to Dawes, who is now 73, there’s no sense of regret or anguish. His equanimity clearly transmits itself over the telephone line.
“I had 66 years of my hands doing a great job so they don’t owe me a thing,” he says from his Vancouver home a few days before his most recent accolade was announced. It’s not that he didn’t try everything and anything after he was diagnosed with focal dystonia, more commonly known as writer’s cramp. It’s just that after all of those attempts to fix the problem failed, he accepted that his years of playing were over. And oh, what wonderful years they were, traveling the world and being able to play the most beautiful music in the most beautiful places.
But music is still very much a part of his life. After moving here from Toronto, he taught at UBC and in 2011, was appointed director of the Vancouver Academy of Music’s Chamber Music Institute. He’s also very much involved with the St. James Music Academy, which provides free instruments and lessons to about 135 children in the Downtown East Side.
“When the kids perform and the audience erupts in applause, it’s pretty amazing,” he says of what it’s like to see young people experience the thrill of performing on stage. At St. James, there’s also a social transformation as children make friends through music.
When Dawes got the news he was being honoured by the Governor General awards, he thought perhaps they were thinking of someone else. “It’s always pretty amazing,” he says of his reaction to being chosen for one of Canada’s most coveted accolades. “At first you think you’re an imposter.”
Dawes will receive his award in Ottawa on June 1.
Oh, and the quote from Beethoven? “He who divines the secret of my music is delivered from the misery that haunts the world.”
Andrew Dawes’ accolades and achievements
• Order of Canada (1991)
• Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize (1976)
• Chalmers National Music Award (1994)
• UBC’s Dorothy Somerset Award for Excellence in Performance and
• 26 years (1965-1991) with Orford String Quartet, including more than 60 recordings
• Three Junos
• In 2000, the CBC named Orford String Quartet one of the “Ten Great Performers of the 20th Century”
• Professor at the University of Toronto, McGill University and University of British Columbia
• Distinguished Visiting Scolar, Catherine Thornhill Steel Chair in Music (2006)