About the Ontario Arts Foundation


Interview with 

Christina Petrowska Quilico,

Christina and Louis Quilico Awards

The Christina and Louis Quilico Awards were established by Christina Petrowska Quilico in 2000 to honour her late husband, renowned baritone Louis Quilico, and to recognize outstanding young singers, pianists and composers for voice. During his 45 years on the stage, Louis Quilico shared performing credits with Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Joan Sutherland and Renata Tebaldi. He was instrumental in furthering the careers of many young singers through his teaching and master classes.

Since 2000, the awards have paid out almost $20,000 to young singers, and this year’s total prize is $11,000.   


What role did awards play in your own career as one of Canada’s best known classical pianists?

I started piano lessons as a child at the Royal Conservatory, and was accepted into a program at Juilliard at age 14. During my career, I’ve received Canada Council grants and doctoral fellowships. Awards and scholarships provided financial resources that really helped me, that allowed me to live and study in New York. As a young artist, you simply don’t have the financial resources to support lessons, coaching sessions or auditions – even with help from family, awards and scholarships are so important. It is also a good thing to be able to add to your resume/CV that your hard work and effort were rewarded with either an award or scholarship.


The Christina and Louis Quilico Awards this year will take the form of a vocal competition, featuring the members of the COC Ensemble Studio. What is the role of competitions?

I think participating in competitions is as important as winning the award at the event. Competitions teach students ‘survival’ in the music business. You learn how to perform, and how to accept winning, or not winning with grace and humility. While I was at Juilliard, I wanted to be the best, but I recognized that I had the great fortune to be studying there. In a competition, you learn that sometimes you play really well, and yet don’t win, while at other times you may play not as well as you are capable of, and yet you win. The learning experience from performing before judges or an audience is a critical part of the journey to becoming a successful musical artist. It also is an opportunity for directors and presenters to hear talent who may not receive an award but who might be perfect for a future project. 


Are awards important for young artists today?

It is the same as it was when I was a student. For example, in piano there are so many competitions in the world, and the criteria for participating have become more difficult. You need to demonstrate you have experience – in other competitions and in playing with a full orchestra - before you will be accepted as a candidate in certain major competitions. Awards add to your credibility, and – if you win – secure scarce financial resources that help fund the costs of applying, travel and performing. I tell my students it is critical to build experience outside of a studio. You cannot duplicate the experience of being on stage, of playing with a full orchestra, where you can’t hear yourself amid all other instruments. Louis once took me onto the stage at the Metropolitan Opera. A singer who sees the scale, will think, “I have to shout, practically scream my notes to be heard”. Louis showed me how you learn to project – the stage is very different from a studio. This is part of the reason that awards and competitions are so important for the development of musical artists. A great voice is not enough; young people have to develop a stage presence.


How did you decide on this award?

Louis had wanted to establish this before he died - it was really his vision to help young opera singers. He had originally hoped to create a foundation. We learned that a foundation required a great deal of work to create and run, not to mention money. It is a bit of a myth that successful opera singers have great financial resources. It became clear that we needed to scale back our ambitions. Launching an award was something that we could do to leave a legacy in memory of Louis’ success as a singer and as a support to future generations. I was so fortunate that Louis knew Janet Stubbs, and that we became aware of the Ontario Arts Foundation. The Foundation was able to help Louis and me achieve his goal without being burdened with the responsibility of running it. Louis was delighted to know that an award would go to young opera singers and that this could happen in Toronto. His career was international, but he loved this city.


Has the award me your objectives?

It is really rewarding to see the fund and award grow over the years. Most importantly, to be able to see the progress and success the award winners have achieved in their own careers. All the finalists from the 2011 award are doing well. It is satisfying to see singers of such high quality participate in the competitions and to see them establish themselves in Toronto, Canada and beyond. Through the Foundation and the award, we help the singers gain publicity, which is helpful in a highly competitive environment.


What challenges do young singers face today, particularly in opera?

For voice singers, I feel it is difficult and they have more expenses to bear than most other performing artists. In addition to voice lessons and coaching, they need to build skills in acting, dance and the stage. Auditions and travel costs all have to be funded somehow, and for women – wardrobe and gowns are costly. I feel a singer has to be more mobile to obtain roles – travelling to auditions or to compete. How can they do this and hold a full time job, and fund their career? It comes back to the important role an award can play.


What advice would you offer to a person considering an award or scholarship?

If this is what you want to do more than anything else in the world – and feel you NEED to do – and if you are prepared to put in the work, I say go for it!

I was once speaking at an event about a particular frustration I was facing, when a man turned to me and said, “I work in a factory, and to be involved in artistic beauty in any way is a dream I and most of us will never see.” His comment was humbling and put my woes in perspective. The reward for an individual creating an award is to see a young artist bring something special to the world – be it through an instrument, voice or any artistic skill, and to know you have helped them achieve that.

I knew a doctor in New York who played flute as a hobby, had a Steinway in his living room, set up music scholarships and housed students in his home. I was there when he was hosting graduate doctors at home. As you might expect, they were on top of the world and slightly full of themselves. He said to them, “You will help save lives in your work, but remember, artists make life worth saving.” I’ve never forgotten that.

For mor information on Louis Quilico and Christina Petrowska Quilico, follow the attached links:





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