JEAN HAMILTON TEWS: 1929-1993
Born in Windsor, Ontario in 1929, Jean Hamilton grew up in St. Thomas, Canada. At a very young age, Jean developed a deep love for the piano. Her mother, Jane Cameron Crombie Hamilton, played piano all her life, and Jean’s journey began as a baby, sitting on her mother’s lap and watching the keys as her mother played. From an early age she knew that it was what she wanted - that she was meant to play, and that it was part of her purpose.
Jean’s family grew up during the depression in St. Thomas, Ontario, on a limited income. When her piano teacher realized Jean’s talent required far more advanced training, she was referred to Dr. Harvey Robb, London, the principal of the Western Conservatory of Music (an affiliate of the UWO Music School) at the age of 12. Robb, too, recognized her talent and arranged for Jean to audition at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory). Jean was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the TCM. Because of the family’s limited resources, such a path would have been impossible without the scholarship. Jean continued to win scholarships, culminating in a 3-year major scholarship for the Artists Class.
As her studies progressed, she took lessons from different teachers in her hometown and from the University of Western Ontario in London. Her winning piano performances at the Stratford Kiwanis Music Festivals caught the attention of the Toronto Conservatory of Music (later renamed the Royal Conservatory of Music).
Admitted to the Conservatory on an advanced scholarship, Jean entered the Artists’ Class at what is now known as the Glenn Gould School, studying alongside musicians including Glenn Gould and Mario Bernardi. Tutored by world-renowned pianist Lubka Kolessa, Jean received a further scholarship for performing the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier from memory: a rarely accomplished feat. Additionally, Jean won conservatory scholarships for which Glen Gould was also competing.
During her time in the Conservatory’s Artists’ Class, Jean performed at Toronto’s famed Massey Hall. Considered the Conservatory’s best scholarship student, she was honored by having her name engraved upon one of the Toronto Conservatory building’s stone walls.
Marriage to an abusive husband led to a hiatus in Jean’s performance career. She returned to intensive pianistic development after meeting and marrying the love of her life; Lothar Tews, a young German who would become an executive at Germany’s Eaton Automotive.
The couple divided their time between their home countries of Canada and Germany. Assisted by Lothar, who recorded her performances on a Swiss Studer ReVox reel-to-reel recorder, Jean spent many happy years as a semi-recluse, perfecting her repertoire and diving into the history of the world’s greatest piano works.
Jean had been excellent at drawing when young, and took up oil painting after she married Lothar. She produced a series of canvases depicting the nature she loved and visited during camping trips in Algonquin Park, her time visiting and living in Germany, and from over 30 vacation trips to Switzerland, where her painting equipment was permanently stored for many years. A selection of her oil paintings are available in the photo gallery.
Inspired by the abundance of music and concerts in Germany, Jean accelerated the development of her musical talent. Diagnosed with breast cancer, she went through the required surgical and radiation treatments before returning to Canada in 1989 after several years in Germany, settling in London, Ontario.
During a visit to Stephenson’s Pianohaus, London’s only Kawai dealer, Jean’s talent left a strong impression on owner Don Stephenson. He took them to the Kawai head office in Mississauga where they purchased an exclusive Kawai EX Concert Grand piano. Handmade by Master Piano Artisans at the Kawai Piano Research Laboratory, the model was used by institutions and concert halls across Europe. Jean’s purchase of the same instrument was considered particularly noteworthy and a photograph of her at the piano subsequently featured in Kawai’s marketing material.
Jean then installed a professional recording studio in her London home and set about recording a number of the world’s greatest piano pieces. Throughout her artistic, technical, and academic studies, Jean attempted to uncover the original intentions of each composer, using this information to create what she considered the truest interpretation of their music. Through her recordings, she sought to communicate with pianists the intricacies of technique and the deeper meaning behind each composition.
From 1989-1992, using the exotic Calrec Mark IV Soundfield microphone feeding one of Sony’s first professional high-end DAT decks, the PCM-2500, Jean Tews recorded 112 tracks by master composers including Mozart, Brahms, and Chopin. One of her most notable works was Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a piece she had memorized as a teenager and been performing for more than forty years.
On the completion of the London recordings, Jean returned to Germany with her Kawai piano and embarked on a concert tour aimed at heightening her public recognition. Additional tracks were recorded there as well. Tragically, Jean’s cancer returned in the early stages of the tour, resulting in her death in Germany in 1993.
Following her death, a scholarship was dedicated to Jean at the Glen Gould School of Music in Toronto.
In 2018, Jean’s recordings were resurrected by her brother, Dr. Gavin Hamilton. Determined that his sister’s legacy would live on through her music, Gavin sent Jean’s recordings to Armoury Studios in Vancouver, where they benefitted from a state-of-the-art Class A analog mix.
During her lifetime, Jean Tews stated that her mission was to contribute to the body of interpretation of the classical masterworks. She viewed music as a vital component of existence; one that elevates, transports and transforms. Jean’s passion and mastery can be heard in these recordings, now available to the public for the first time.