STU professor overseas with string quartet

Martin Kutnowski's career has seen him perform, study and teach others across the globe. (Submitted by Martin Kutnowski)

Composer, pianist and St. Thomas University professor Martin Kutnowski will travel from the classroom to South America, including his native country Argentina, this fall on a tour with the Saint John String Quartet from Aug. 31 to Sept. 21.

According to him, he uses the same set of skills in both situations.

“What I have done on the stage is not unlike the classroom. The minute that you think you’ve got it, that’s when you’re in trouble,” said Kutnowski.

During the 22-day tour, last year’s ECMA nominee Kutnowski will play piano alongside the award-winning SJSQ in 16 concerts across Argentina, Chile and Peru. They will teach and perform with nine youth orchestras along the way.

Kutnowski feels music education is important and wants it to be accessible for everyone.

“I think the arts have a particular way to unlock our souls,” he said.

Kutnowski has worked at STU for the past 15 years.

“As an arts educator you have the responsibility to not leave anybody out of the experience,” he said.

“Just like math or in music or in any subject, the teacher really needs to pay attention and not leave anybody out of the experience. Because we all learn at different paces.”

Kutnowski was born in Argentina and lived there until his late 20s. He studied music at the Conservatorio Manuel de Falla in Buenos Aires before moving to New York to attend Queens College.

Kutnowski’s piano studies started when he was a child in Argentina. There, his teacher would come to his family home and teach him and his siblings piano one after another.

“I found myself practicing more, and more, and more, and by the time I finished high school, I thought ‘Wait a minute, I want to make this my career’,” said Kutnowski. 

Kutnowski’s tours and teachings have taken him across four continents and to landmark venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, Wigmore Hall in London and Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

He’s been touring on and off for the past 15 years, going on both long and short tours. But he said no matter where or when he’s playing, he’s always excited to be on stage.

“It’s a high stakes situation, and it doesn’t matter how small the stage may be, how many people you may have there, you cannot really predict what’s going to happen, so it’s really exciting. It’s the moment of truth.”

This is the second long-haul tour Kutnowski and the SJSQ have done together through Latin America. They will be performing a Mozart concerto for piano, but one that’s been arranged for a string quartet.

“The string quartet is like a pocket orchestra, so the same concerto, the exact same music, can be done with piano and string quartet.”

The SJSQ has earned a Juno nomination for Classical Composition of the Year, a Music New Brunswick award for Best Album of the Year and an East Coast Music Award for Best Classical Album of the Year.

Kutnowski himself was nominated for an ECMA in 2018.

“Touring with a stable, well-known ensemble such as the Saint John String Quartet is sort of the dream for a composer,” said Kutnowski.

“It’s a dream come true.”

When the tour concludes on Sept. 21, he’ll return to his position as a music professor and director of fine arts at STU, continuing his love and practice of music.

“It’s a lifestyle, it is something that is with you all the time. It’s not just a profession, it’s not just a job, it is something that is a part of who you are.”

With files from Johnny James