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Friday, August 22, 2014

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Non-profit music school earns kudos, but needs cash

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Svetlana Klempner

MONTREAL — The non-profit Fortissimo Music Academy has no paid office staff, and its founding administrator has more than once dipped into her own pocket to help pay for the pianos.

Yet this small music school (www.academyfortissimo.com), which occupies about 2,700 square feet on two floors of a Cote St. Luc strip-mall office building, has never rejected a student based on ability to pay. Music, not money, is its central ethos, with artistic ambition trumping its perennially small bank account

“If it was about money, I could not be here,” is the matter-of-fact statement made by of Svetlana Klempner, a 58-year-old native of Ukraine who founded Fortissimo a decade ago and has been running it ever since.

Klempner is a pianist who, like some of the other members of Fortissimo’s faculty, studied music in the former Soviet Union, which produced generations of superbly trained teachers of a whole other calibre in terms of global and comprehensive approach.

Some of Fortissimo’s students have competed and won prizes at city music school festivals and gone keyboard-to-keyboard and bow-to-bow against students from music schools that, unlike Fortissimo, are provincially funded, including the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal.

Fortissimo’s track record seems to be one of the reasons the academy now has 220 students – mostly children, but also some adults.

Close to one-third of Fortissimo students have real musical potential, but all those students, while expanding the school’s musical limits, also strain its finances, Klempner said.

“It is not easy,” she added.

In the past, Fortissimo has received a few occasional ad-hoc dollars from the City of Cote St. Luc, Klempner said, but there has been no Jewish community or government funding, despite continual searches and appeals. The fees attached to its programs and music lessons are its main source of revenue, which it needs to cover rent, pay faculty and cover all costs related to running a music school, from instruments to soundproofing the walls to co-ordinating music festivals.

That’s why the school has been looking forward to a major “Professors in Concert” event showcasing its own faculty, to be held June 12 at 7 p.m. at École de Musique Vincent-D’Indy.

The evening is meant not only to raise much-needed money, but also attract potential new moral and financial supporters and to make the appreciation of classical music a real possibility for current and future generations.

“It should not be just grey hair in half-filled halls,” said Klempner.

It is also about “public education,” added Luciné Chaglassian-Balikian, an accomplished violinist whose students at Fortissimo include Lea Glubochansky, who performed at a recital last January in Carnegie Hall.

Existing programs at Fortissimo include instruction in violin, piano, solfège (sight singing), voice, guitar, and wind instruments, music theory as well as “Eurythmics” classes. There is also “Suzuki method” instruction available, and various musical group lessons and art classes for different age groups, as well as a “My Jewish Club” artwork class for the kindergarten set and even theatre-oriented activities.

Plans for the future include group piano lessons for seniors, more elaborate theory training, a choir class and more ensemble and group classes.

Fortissimo’s concert-sized grand piano in the third floor recital hall seemed stark and imposing until Klempner sat down at the keyboard and began to play some Rachmoninoff and Chopin, lyrically and with great feeling.

“We really need people to support us,” she said, rising from the bench with purpose.

More details on the June 12 event are available at 514-836-6872, 514-576-6728, or by emailing info@fortissimo.ca.

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