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Jonathan Mak - Cliburn Series, Episode 3.

Jonathan Mak


Jonathan Mak joins Fortitude, The Cliburn Series, Episode 3. At the age of 3, Jonathan wasn’t like other kids. His orchestral debut the following year launching a life at the piano. A Toronto native, Mak, an avid chamber musician, has studied at CIM and Yale under some of their legendary teachers. He is headed to Rice University to begin his doctoral studies. Mak’s talent has won him multiple gold medals on the international stage, soloed with several notable orchestras, and given recitals across the world. Mak details his time at the 2022 Cliburn International Piano Competition, his experience in Fort Worth, and music in general. We also look into his first round performance at  the Cliburn. Enjoy this incredible talent!


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Episode Transcription: 

[Music] roxo media house [Music]
oh the early Applause welcome back to 42 Britain uh the Clyburn series we’re
doing right now young man to my left Jonathan Mack he’s a 25 year old Canadian he is in town for the van
Cleburn piano competition well welcome to welcome to the show Jonathan thank you thanks for being here Jonathan and
cap tax Bank sponsored Captain tax bank is your sponsor which you’ve probably never heard of but when you move to Fort
Worth one day maybe you’ll you’ll get to know them a little bit they’re not all Bitcoin around here yeah that’s right that’s right contrary so Jonathan we
know some stuff about you but basically we like to talk about your story in about 15 minutes but you being begin
playing piano H3 is that correct how in the world does he three-year-old start playing piano well the story is I have
an older sister she’s around six years older and so my mom always brought me to her piano lessons and so on my third
birthday our piano teacher was like for your birthday present let’s give you a trial lesson you know see if you Got
What It Takes and so that’s how I started at the age of three and my teacher sort of took me under her Wing
ever since when did you know you were decent or gifted at the piano when did that
come to you well I think because ever since I was born like I was always like
heard music from my sister playing and practicing so I was always surrounded by classical music and we sort of my
parents are both not musicians but they made sure to you know give us a good
musical education and make sure that you know I learned piano and I also did violin so we sort of dabbled in
different areas as well what your parents what were your parents profession uh my dad works as a nurse for the
elderly okay yeah and my mom does self-employment floral arrangements oh yeah excellent so kind of create it well
at least on your mom’s side creative but she’s definitely more the visual artists oh yeah yeah we’re in we’re in Canada do
you you hail from uh I come from Toronto Toronto where do you live currently I am
currently in between places I just graduated from Yale so I was in New Haven for the past three years and I’m
moving to Houston in the fall actually oh beautiful Houston so you’d like the humidity
well I like the school yes for sure for sure it says here you made your
orchestral debut at the age of four can you please tell us how that how that works yes so my piano teacher’s husband
um teaches Violet and Viola and he’s also a conductor of a local Orchestra up in Canada so at the age of four I
debuted uh Mozart concerto with um and it was quite an experience because
the only thing that I can remember from that is that because I was really short
I had to use one of those like pedal extenders in order to reach the pedals
yeah and my family always told me the one thing they remember is I would always be
checking out my reflection in the shiny piano and they were always worried that I would never come in at the right time
because I was too distracted but then somehow I always managed to to jump back to what are they uh like uh
just boxes they put on the pedals or the extenders it was like an actual pedal extender so
like there were two pedals that sort of this it was quite heavy actually my mom had to carry it around all the time um
oh yeah yeah yeah when I was four I was learning how to walk still you’re performing at an orchestral debut that’s
amazing so yeah so what is it it’s so different than that and kind of the collaboration what is it about is there
something about competition that you like is you competing with the other people or is it competing with yourself and actually just like coming through
with that performance that you’ve practiced so much and so hard for what is it with you that that kind of drives
you to continue uh down this path so I I’m quite new with all this competition
stuff um but what I my goal is coming here is I always like to say that these
competitions we’re competing against ourselves you know we’re just trying to become a better artist and we’re not
competing against other people in fact we’re coming here to be inspired by the other competitors and seeing what they
can bring to the table and what you can learn from them and so I think just by being here and listening to a lot of my
friends play the rounds it’s like you learn so much because some of some of
these are peers they’ve been doing this for quite a while and they’re quite experienced and so it’s like you know
for me being a new person I want to learn from them and hear their experiences and just you know anything
that I can use to grow and become a better artist and then do you sometimes take that like you you hear them play a
certain way and you go oh I see with they did there I’m going to try to incorporate that a little bit in my yeah
sort of like you know hearing different perspectives creative interpretations and you know you take
what you like and sort of build your own identity with it yeah and so because everyone has their own personality and
they’re playing and so it’s like it’s never good even if people play the same piece five times it’s going to be different all those five times and so
you take what you learn and because sometimes you have your own way of thinking of a piece your own
interpretation so you might be biased towards you know how you play it and then you hear someone play it a
different interpretation you’re like oh I never thought of it that way and it’s interesting because it’s like you get a
third perspective yeah before we talk about the collabor and you studied in a gentleman named borislettsky can you
tell us about this guy because he’s he’s a known a known professor in this world at Yale uh what is Professor slutsky
like uh Professor slutsky is he’s a wonderful teacher um he’s very caring and dedicated to his students I actually
auditioned for him before my undergrad at Peabody when he was
teaching at Peabody and I chose to go to Cleveland instead but then four years later I ended up in his
Studio at Yale and so it was sort of nice to come full circle and get to work with him that’s nice yeah and he’s very
he’s very honest in his teaching um and I I like that he’s very practical
to always finds a solution very quickly and he’s very quick with his words and
thinking yeah so there’s this this recurring theme of like Cleveland Yale
is there kind of a a circuit for you guys like or or just kind of these meccas of of locations the climber and
obviously like that you that that’s part of the tour that you hope to do you know
is does it is it kind of broken out that way or it’s just kind of randomly that these are coincidental that these places
exist well I think with Cleveland and yeah also both of these house
um great music schools in Cleveland I did my undergrad at cim um that’s where I’m at arseni and right
this right close to the school is the Cleveland Orchestra and we were able to have free tickets to every concert so
part of the experience of going to school there is that you get to hear from one of the world’s greatest orchestras for free and you can go every
week yeah so that’s sort of how I grew as an artist too it’s I was able to go hear so much different repertoire from
the orchestra and then Yale itself is wonderful because it’s the school of music is a
graduate only um department and so it’s a very small group of students but it’s a fully
funded full tuition and so everyone who’s there is a little bit older you know they’ve
gone through the undergrad phase and so I think it’s a very uh welcoming and healthy environment because it’s such a
small group you become very close with all of your peers and the facilities there is amazing and also just the
architecture of Yale campus itself I think you’re very well spoken by the way this is incredible to hear from a young
guy I mean you speak to it so well when you mentioned Houston Brinton he failed to mention he’s getting his doctor
doctor degree in from Rice University so the all these guys in music yes in music
okay and any kind of emphasis there or is it just no piano yes okay okay so
he’s won several competitions throughout his his young life but he’s obviously made it here to the Clyburn explain the
collabor and what how it what meant to you and what your experience was with the collaborin if you don’t mind so
growing up as a young pianist you always hear about the Clyburn and you know I’ve always tuned in to the previous
competitions and to be part of the experience this time I think it’s just
wonderful um as you know even aside from the playing portion the Clyburn has so much to offer it’s an
experience like yesterday we had competitor workshops we got a talk with heads from other competitions some
artist managers music presenters and I think their emphasis is to try to offer
us such a wide experience to not only be better at your own craft but to how to
break into the music industry yeah and how to expand yourself as a musician and
sort of start your career because and what I really like about the Clyburn is that they focus a lot on musical
education and trying to make it very audience accessible and so they have all
of these Outreach concerts they always invite people back to play for the local community
um I came a little bit early to Fort Worth before the competition started and I
played on one of the first adopted competitor concerts out we had it outside in front of the library and I
think it was just a great way to connect with the audience that’s awesome has the living with the families and and kind of
the cultural experience been really good for you as well yes I think that’s one of the best parts about this competition actually um my teacher did the Clyburn
back in 1989 and he said the best thing that happened to him was you know getting in touch with his host
family and he says till this day he still is in contact with his house family so he’s like you like your I
heard your host family made you sleep in the garage is that correct no no only when he doesn’t win competitions who are
your hosts for the competition uh Jeffrey seider and Kenneth Jones nice guys indeed yes very good they didn’t no
garage living no I have a wonderful living situation yeah I’ll change the face there’s like a host family where
you live but then kind of like a party family right that takes you out and about like that yeah we have social hosts too yeah has that been good too
yes yeah where have you visited and what have you have you had some good food while you’re here yes lots of Tex-Mex
and barbecue okay and then last weekend we actually went down to the Stockyards uh we went to go see the rodeo okay oh
nice did you like that it was quite an experience actually I would say so yes Canada’s got some cowboys though too low
Cowboy yeah more so in the west yeah yeah any other languages you speak French uh I’ve sort of I grew up
learning a little bit Canadian French but I’ve sort of dropped that from German okay um German yeah and I speak a
little bit Cantonese um because my family’s from Hong Kong very nice so I shook your hand when you came up I would
notice uh I didn’t even think about it like do you ever get fearful of shaking people’s hair or like just your hands
are everything right I mean this is that’s the probably most taken care of
thing in this you’re not boxing in yeah did you ever get worried about hand care
of any kind you know or getting in situations where you could damage your hands yeah I mean it’s very easy to
sustain an injury even just not from piano but like you know maybe you close the door in your hand yes uh I used to
play basketball when I was a kid and I’ve probably sprained about eight out of the ten fingers I have so my parents
are they’re like you’re never playing basketball again yeah yeah we’re uh we’re actually he’s moving this weekend do you mind help lending a hand yes I
only have about four or five really sticky doors that you could get your fingers no we were kidding we’re kidding
Jonathan you’re an avid chamber musician uh we didn’t talk about that much what why chamber music what is it what does
that interest you the way it does sometimes solo piano can be a little lonely on stage and I really feed off
the energy of other people too so I enjoy playing chamber music because when you’re making music with friends
and to something about the energy on stage when you’re performing with others it’s just such a collaborative and
warming feeling yeah to be able to share and you know play music with other
people who are also really good and I’m actually doing a chamber Festival
next month um going back to my home in Toronto oh nice nice so you have a bright future
ahead there’s no doubt you’ve made friends while you’re here you’ve made host friends you’ve made friends with other competitors I see you guys at the
several events several of them are here in the studio but you’ve made some lasting friendships I believe which in
the world you’re in will sustain you for a long time I hope you feel that way about this experience yes I think being
musicians connecting with more musicians and just expanding your network is very important
yeah and you know you’ll see a lot of these competitors again and other competitions or concerts because music
is such a small world right and it’s it’s always just so humbling to meet
other competitors who can play music so well um and you just hope to learn from everyone I I imagine being from Toronto
you’re used to this oppressive Texas heat it’s it’s just the best isn’t it I imagine you’re loving it I’m getting
used to it yeah yes well don’t try as you will you never will I promise it it’ll give you enough just to about kill
you than when you’re had enough it’ll it’ll back off a little bit so we’ve enjoyed visiting with you thank you for
being here from Clyburn we hope you come back to Fourth Sunday soon you won’t be too far down in Houston for a few hours
yeah do you want to ask him his best day ever we didn’t yeah we forgot that one do you have a do you have a best day of
your whole life Jonathan besides you don’t have any kids or wife yet I don’t think no is there a Best Day of your
whole life it’s hard to choose from I’d say like you hope to live every day is your best
day and like you know hopefully the best day has not come yet so no one’s
answered that way that’s a great answer that is a good answer yeah yeah all right thank you Jonathan thank you cap text Bank Jonathan Mack how do we find
you on social media real quick uh on Facebook and Instagram beautiful Jonathan Mack m-a-k thank you Jonathan
thank you [Applause]
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