A Classical Music Okanagan Celebrity Turns 80
Submitted by Denise Griswold, Chairperson CMK 40th Anniversary Committee 

For Chamber Music Kelowna (CMK), whose stellar 40th anniversary season performances were cut short, there is still something to celebrate.  One of the most frequent and beloved performers in their series, classical pianist, Arnold Draper, is turning eighty on Saturday, April 18, 2020. Mr. Draper’s milestone birthday is especially significant as it coincides with what would have been the final concert of the 40th Anniversary season.

The opening of CMK’s  40th Anniversary season in October 2019  showcased Draper on piano, at his finest, performing with the outstanding Borealis String Quartet to a sold out audience.  Unfortunately for music lovers, the final concert of the series featuring the internationally acclaimed Montrose Trio will not take place (originally scheduled for this Saturday).

With performances currently suspended, however, it is an ideal time to pause and reflect upon the accomplishments of this cherished local celebrity and on the vital role he continues to play in the Central Okanagan’s classical music scene.

The music series struck gold when the accomplished pianist moved to the Okanagan from Britain.  According to Eileen Powell, one of the founding members of CMK,  Arnold Draper was the catalyst that elevated the quality of the music scene in the valley to a new level. 

The well-loved pianist is a former professor of music and professional accompanist at the University of Cardiff, Wales.  It was his colleague there, cellist Sharon McKinley from Oliver, BC., who introduced him to her sister Arlene in Kelowna. Romance ensued and Arlene was the love interest that enticed him to the Okanagan permanently in 1989.  

Draper’s  first performance for Chamber Music Kelowna, then known as the “Concert Series”, came in 1990 with his former duo partner, cellist Sharon McKinley.  Since then he became the most frequent performer in the Chamber Music Kelowna series with 10 main concerts and numerous fundraisers to his credit. 

Other musical organizations have benefitted too. Draper has been a pillar of support throughout the musical community and the sheer number of his performances with various BC artists throughout the Okanagan is worth celebrating.

According to Okanagan Symphony conductor Rosemary Thomson, “Draper’s musical influence in the valley has been profound and generous.” Draper first performed the virtuosic Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1986 as a guest artist with the orchestra and  went on to perform eight other piano concertos throughout the Okanagan valley.

After several concerts with the Kelowna Mozart Festival, he was asked to partake in another local summer event in 1994, the International Festival of the Arts which was organized by Gloria Saarinen and Lister Sinclair.  This event inspired a series of recordings of the Complete Piano Duets of Franz Schubert with Draper and Saarinen  at the keyboard.

When local soprano, Alexandra Babbel, first started Opera Kelowna, Mr. Draper, often worked by her side as principal accompanist and confidant. With Babbel’s ensemble, Candesca, they often collaborated in recitals and fundraisers for Chamber Music Kelowna and Ballet Kelowna.  Draper also composed an original work entitled In Arden Woods for Candesca which was choreographed by David LaHay for Ballet Kelowna.  Another of Draper’s accomplishments is the recording he completed in Kelowna of the Piano Music of Gabriel Faure, one of his favorite composers.

During the recent 60th anniversary season of the OSO, the second piano concerto of composer Ernst Schneider, from Summerland, BC, was premiered.  This recent work was dedicated to conductor Rosemary Thomson, and pianist, Draper, who had the honour of performing Schneider’s first piano concerto several years ago.

It is no surprise that Draper comes from musical lineage.  His great uncle Charles Draper was a famous clarinetist who played for royalty.  To his father, who was also a musician, his son’s talent and perfect pitch became obvious at an early age.  Since then, he has never stopped playing piano.

Now at the age of eighty, Arnold Draper still maintains a rigorous routine of daily practice and a busy performance schedule. Though his upcoming engagements with chamber music performers from around BC have currently been put on hold due to the pandemic, he continues to prepare new chamber music for a local string quartet group he plays with regularly.   He remains very much in demand by other musicians across the province for recitals anfundraising causes. 

Draper particularly enjoys collaborating with the world renowned Borealis String Quartet and Trio Accord from Vancouver.  He and various members of these groups have for the past fifteen years conducted training workshops for amateur chamber music players on Gabriola Island, BC.

Of particular interest to Mr. Draper is his important role as a professional accompanist for young emerging artists.  According to Eeva-Maria  Kopp, voice teacher and current Artistic Director of Chamber Music Kelowna and Kelowna Community Music School, “Expert piano accompaniment is crucial for the development of advanced students of voice, string instruments and woodwinds. It also helps prepare them for examinations, auditions, and competitions.” 

Naturally, Draper became well known among all voice and violin teachers in the Okanagan Valley and indeed throughout all of BC for his superb accompanying skills required for the most advanced of their students.   With his tasteful musical interpretation and talent for sight reading new music flawlessly, he has earned the respect and gratitude of many emerging Okanagan classical musicians who continue post-secondary music studies at prestigious universities.

One of the highlights for Draper has been his association with the promising singer, Olivia Smith, who is now on her way to a career as a soprano.  She is currently receiving vocal coaching in New York and is on scholarship at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

The talented sister violinists from Armstrong, Colleen and Alicia Venables also benefited from Arnold Draper’s mastery of the keyboard required for their virtuosic repertoire.   A pre-competition recital was held in Kelowna  for Colleen Venables  in 2012 who was chosen to compete as Canada’s top under 16 violinist  in the Yehudi Menuhin competition in Beijing, China. 

Draper realizes that there is often financial hardship associated with expensive lessons for young emerging artists. To this end he has been extremely supportive and generous of his time.   It is in recognition of his service to emerging artists and toward the enrichment of the culture of classical music throughout the Okanagan that Chamber Music Kelowna will establish an award in his honor for the purpose of assisting young musicians who may wish to pursue a career in music. More information about the award will be made public after the announcement of the upcoming 2020/21 concert schedule.

In the meantime, Happy Birthday, Arnold, and may the music continue!