Paul Helmer | UNB

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College of Extended Learning

Paul Helmer

Years of residency: 1962-1964

Portrait of Paul Helmer


First resident musician ever at UNB!

Paul Helmer started his musical studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1948, and made his debut with Toronto Symphony Orchestra the same year, when he was 15. Winning the Eaton Graduating Scholarship from the University of Toronto and the Ravel Medal from the French government in 1958, he took advanced piano studies 1958-61 in Stuttgart, Berlin, and Vienna. After returning to Canada, Paul Helmer was appointed Resident Musician at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton (1962-64) and then undertook academic studies at the University of Toronto and Columbia University in New York, graduating in 1975 with a Ph. D. in historical musicology. He then taught at McGill University 1972-2002.

Paul has appeared as soloist with symphony orchestras under the direction of Sir Ernest Macmillan, Walter Susskind, Heinz Unger, and Seiji Ozawa. As accompanist he has, among others, appeared with Steven Staryk, Julius Baker, Jeanne Baxtresser, the Orford Quartet, Bernard Turgeon, Victor Braun, and Kathy Berberian. He has premiered John Weinzweig's Piano Concerto in 1966 (listen), and performed in the Canadian premiere of Olivier Messian's Turangalila Symphony in 1964, as well as many quarter- and sixth-of-tone compositions by twentieth-century composers. Helmer has made numerous recordings for the CBC both as soloist and accompanist. He has performed in public the complete piano works of Maurice. In December 1995, he completed a seven-recital series of the solo piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven at Montreal's Redpath Hall.

As a musicologist, Paul Helmer was a respected authority on Western liturgical chant but also pursued interests in the piano music of Ravel and 19th-century salon music. He mounted dramatic and musical productions to display the results of his academic work, including a performance of The Mass of St James of Compostela as a liturgical service, presented with incense, costumes, and slides. The production was broadcast by the CBC on Palm Sunday, 1987. His edition of the work was published in 1988, and issued on CD in 1992 as Missa Sancti Iacobi. His additional research topics and publications included the emigration of European musicians to Canada 1937-55, and a 1997 edition of Le Premier et Le Secont Livre de Fauvel.

Residency at UNB:

"... Particularly interesting was Colin Mackay's real interest in the Resident Artist idea, even after I left UNB, there is a letter referring to some Hindermith he heard on the radio. He told me when I first came to UNB that UNB was known as the engineering university and that he wanted some more culture to 'compete' with Mount A. He was really supportive of my work." - Paul Helmer, March 2018, in a letter to Richard Hornsby, the current director of Centre For Musical Arts.
Here is the letter Paul mentioned: click to view

It worth mention that Paul is the first resident musician ever at UNB, thanks to the support from the then president, Dr. Colin B. Mackay and a grant from Canada Council. He has provided well-received recitals and talks to audience from UNB and surrounding communities, such as New Brunswick Museum, Moncton High School. He has invited other musicians including his own brother - violinist Terry Helmer - to play at UNB. Even after his residency at UNB has ended, he came back a few time (1966, 1987) and gave spectacular concerts to remind Fredericton concert-goers the good time during his residency.

Programme: first concert of the first UNB resident musician, 29 November 1962
Newspaper clip: Paul Helmer recital at UNB Founders' Day, 15 February 1963
Newspaper clip: Paul Helmer speaks to UNB audience, 13 April 1963
Newspaper clip: Paul Helmer on Walter Ball's "Kaleidscope" program, on CHSJ-TV, 30 April 1963
Newspaper clip: Paul Helmer back to UNB for a summer recital in 1966

Listen to Paul:

John Weinzweig - Piano Concerto

Read More:

The Canadian Encyclopedia - Paul Helmer
McGill University, Schulich School of Music - Paul Helmer
Growing with Canada: The Émigré Tradition in Canadian Music - Book by Paul Helmer

Information presented here are mainly from the newspaper clips, concert programmes, and letters Paul himself provided, as well as the above links. Top photo courtesy of UNB Archives, UA PC 23 No.6(2).
Last updated: June 19, 2018 by Yiyang Shi