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HONENS: The Esther Honens International Piano Competition Foundation

We discover, nurture and present Complete Pianists—21st century artists for 21st century audiences. It “has become one of the two cultural events that has put Calgary on the map (the other one is the annual rodeo).” —BBC Music Magazine.

Our Story

Why We Exist

Honens was founded by philanthropist Esther Honens—a music-lover, amateur pianist and proud Calgarian. She envisioned an international musical festival in her beloved city that would be meaningful for the world’s finest emerging pianists and a source of pride for Calgarians and all Canadians. In 1991, Mrs. Honens made a gift of $5 million to endow The Esther Honens International Piano Competition Foundation. The inaugural Honens Competition took place in 1992. Esther Honens passed away at age 89—five days after seeing her dream come true. Her vision, shared by a number of subsequent Legacy Partners, has created a Canadian cultural gem that is recognized globally for artistic excellence, innovation and integrity.

“The Competition is a jewel in Calgary’s civic crown—an event that draws a large audience of committed fans. One can only hope for a continuation of the Honens tradition, a tradition that has served and continues to serve the Calgary community so well.”—Calgary Herald

Our Impact

What We Do

The triennial Honens Piano Competition’s ’Search for the Complete Pianist’ awards the world’s largest prize of its kind—$100,000 and an artistic and career development program valued at a half million dollars. Honens is committed to nurturing lifelong artistic and professional development of its Laureates, Competition pianists and homegrown Canadian musicians.

Honens Competition Laureates have gone on to play on the stages of the world’s most prestigious concert halls.  By enlisting an international roster of exceptional musicians and prominent arts professionals, Honens mentors and guides future generations of Complete Pianists too. Masterclasses, in-school programs and community residencies inspire young people to strive for excellence.

Honens also presents an international festival of piano every September in Calgary.

“In the crowded world of piano competitions, no winner can ever be guaranteed a career. That’s why other competitions have so much to learn from the way Honens treats its winning artists. Perhaps there are too many piano competitions, but there are too few like Honens.”—Maclean’s

Honens discovers, nurtures and presents Complete Pianists—21st century artists for 21st century audiences.

The Honens Competition discovers a unique, imaginative and informed artist—an emerging Complete Pianist whose distinctive voice, versatility and ease as communicator demonstrate that he/she is ready to professionalize a career.

A world-class artistic and career development program

Every three years, a new Honens Prize Laureate is awarded Honens’ half-million dollar (CAN) Artist Development Program. The program provides artistic and career guidance and support, including worldwide representation for three years, debut recitals in major career-building markets, production of a professional recording at The Banff Centre and released globally on the Honens label, as well as valuable coaching and mentorship opportunities.

Laureates give back to Calgary

Throughout the three year program, the Laureate returns to Calgary for a variety of performances including Festival recitals, free outdoor concerts, salon performances for donors and in-school programs.

Our Programs

How We Do It

Honens Piano Competition

Every three years, Honens embarks on the search for the next Complete Pianist.

The Competition is open to pianists aged 20 to 30 from around the world. 50 pianists advance to the Quarterfinals in Berlin and New York to perform a 40-minute solo recital. The First Jury, made up of four music professionals, selects ten pianists to advance to the Semifinals in Calgary. Each Semifinalist performs a 65-minute solo recital and a 65-minute collaborative recital. The seven-member Second Jury chooses three Finalists. Each Finalist performs with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and one of the world’s top conductors. One pianist is chosen as Honens Prize Laureate and wins $100,000 and a three year artistic and career development program valued at a half million dollars.

Honens Festival

Every September, Honens presents Calgary’s only summer classical music festival.

The event features four days of extraordinary music making, with free and ticketed events. There is something for everyone. The Festival includes innovative and engaging programming from performances by some of the world’s top pianists, an Open Air concert in Central Memorial Park, late night programming, Storytellers for children and learning opportunities for Alberta’s emerging talent.

Every third year, the Festival expands to ten days to include the Competition.

Honens in the Community

Open Air | Open Air takes place during the Festival. Honens takes the music out of the concert hall and into the community. Families are invited to bring a picnic, spread out a blanket and enjoy the sounds of chamber music under the warmth of the sun at Central Memorial Park. The concert features Honens Laureates with international guest festival artists and favourite local classical musicians.

Masterclasses | Honens is committed to discovering future generations of Complete Pianists. Through masterclasses led by Honens Laureates and Competition jurors, music students receive helpful instruction on topics ranging from technical and performance skills to musical style and artistic interpretation. Masterclasses are open to the public at no charge.

Music as a Second Language | Honens’ Music as a Second Language (MSL) performance-lectures are music appreciation courses taught by the experts. Honens Laureates and guest artists give MSL chats prior to select concerts and Competition sessions.

Encore Concerts | During the Competition, Honens presents Competition Semifinalists in free encore concerts at seniors’ centres, community halls and other locations throughout the community.

Storytellers | Storytellers introduces children and family audiences to the fun of classical music through narrated stories set to music for piano.

Storytellers at School | Helping children build an appreciation of music and art is important to Honens. For this reason, Honens has been going into Calgary schools (and moving in a grand piano!) since 1995. Children are inspired to strive for excellence through these enriching experiences.

“I thought it was pretty cool to see a famous pianist come to our school. I learned new things about music and its meaning. When she played it was beautiful. I loved listening to Katherine Chi.”—Brittany B, Grade 6

Our Requests

What You Can Do

“When I came to Calgary for the first time in 2012, I had no idea what an important place it was destined to become for me. There are no words to express my gratitude to all the listeners, fans and great friends that I made here. The Honens team worked very hard to jam pack the three years with a myriad of concerts, important debuts and exciting projects, all while continuously supporting me and advising me. I am convinced that in art there is no best—there is only unique. There is a very deep understanding of that at Honens, and that sets it apart as a unique competition.”   —Pavel Kolesnikov, 2012 Honens Prize Laureate

For over two decades, individuals, corporations, government and foundations have been enthusiastic caretakers of Esther Honens’ dream.  More than 70% of Honens’ $6 million cycle revenue now comes from these generous investors and partners.

Donate | By supporting Honens you provide the resources to discover, nurture and present Complete Pianists.

All gifts, in any amount, are welcomed and appreciated.

Donations of $20 or more are acknowledged with a charitable tax receipt for the maximum amount allowed under Canada Revenue guidelines.

Volunteer | As a Honens Volunteer, you share a wonderful spirit of cooperation and camaraderie by offering your valuable time and talent while developing new skills. There are many opportunities to be involved, from volunteering as a Host Home for pianists to selling Honens merchandise at performances.  Click here to learn more about volunteering.

Your support is music to our ears.

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Janet Bwititi

HONENS: The Esther Honens International Piano Competition Foundation


Charitable Number: 130238975RR0001

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