Not long after Marina Geringas immigrated to Canada in 1975, the Russian-born classically trained pianist was asked to accompany a vocal duo performing in Ottawa.
She enlisted a Russian friend to drive her there from the train station. They had just made it to their destination when his clunker got a flat tire and needed to be towed away.
Ms. Geringas was unaware of the significance of the grand address at which she had arrived – 24 Sussex Drive. Its occupants, then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his wife, Margaret, were hosting a state event.
“Maggie was smoking a cigar, which my mother found shocking,” recalled Ms. Geringas’s son, Eric, a documentary filmmaker.
Ms. Geringas, who lived through the Second World War as a child in the Soviet Union, went on to distinguish herself as a leading teacher of Canada’s elite young piano students, both at the Royal Conservatory of Music and at the University of Toronto.
She died at her home in Toronto on June 20, at the age of 77. Her son said she had been in failing health.
Among the many successful students to emerge from her studio was Andrew Burashko, founding artistic director of the Art of Time Ensemble, who was under Ms. Geringas’s tutelage when he made his debut with the Toronto Symphony at the age of 17.
Her student Naida Cole received her Associate of The Royal Conservatory (ARCT) diploma at the age of 13 and later recorded for the Decca label and toured before opting for a career in medicine.
Ms. Geringas also taught Vadim Serebryany, who later studied at the Juilliard School and Yale University.
“She was a very successful teacher of younger students in particular,” said William Aide, the former head of piano performance at the U of T’s Faculty of Music. “She gave them an exceptionally good grounding.”
Mr. Aide described Ms. Geringas’ approach to piano teaching as “cosmopolitan,” although it was informed by the attention to technique characteristic of Russian schooling.
Born Marina Balter, in Moscow on May 12, 1939, she never knew her father, Pavel, an architect who was imprisoned and executed during the Stalinist purges despite being a dedicated communist. “Everything was counterrevolutionary activity,” Eric Geringas said of this period in the Soviet Union.
Ms. Geringas passed the war years in the smaller Russian city of Penza with her mother, Hedi, who was a music teacher. In 1946 the family moved to Riga to join relatives. Ms. Geringas studied piano at the Riga Conservatory and pursued graduate studies at the Moscow Conservatory, where she showed an affinity for chamber music. In 1960, she met the Lithuanian violinist Yaakov Geringas at a music competition. They married two years later.
Like many Soviet Jews faced with repressive conditions, the Geringas family emigrated to Israel, where they lived briefly before moving on to Canada. Mr. Geringas (whose brother is the acclaimed Lithuanian cellist David Geringas) auditioned successfully in 1978 for a position in the Toronto Symphony. “There was no shortage of Russian musicians in Israel at that time,” Eric Geringas explained, referring to the overabundance that led to a diaspora of musicians from Israel in the 1970s and eighties.
Ms. Geringas joined the faculty of the Royal Conservatory in the following year, at the invitation of its then-principal Ezra Schabas. She quickly developed a reputation as a successful teacher of young pianists and became known for pedagogical workshops in which several of her young students gathered while senior students and budding teachers looked on.
“Her method was quite strict, and she got terrific results,” said Mr. Aide, who invited Ms. Geringas to become a sessional instructor at U of T. “It’s interesting that she was so strict, because as a person she was gentle, and modest to a fault.”
Mr. Serebryany, her former student who now teaches at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., admired how Ms. Geringas fostered discipline while allowing each student to develop an individual style. “As carefully and thoroughly worked-out as her method was, it was made truly effective because of her uncanny patience, meticulousness and uncompromising commitment to very high standards,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“She simply would not give up on something she wanted to hear or see until the student got it.”
That level of integrity and devotion could be too much for some students. But for those who persevered, “it became a way of life, musical and otherwise,” he said.
Dr. Cole added: “She taught her students to listen, and she opened our ears to realms of sound we couldn’t otherwise conceive. She then showed us how to develop and refine our technique to produce these imaginings.”
In 2000, the Royal Conservatory awarded Ms. Geringas an honorary diploma for teaching excellence.
Ms. Geringas decided to retire from concertizing and concentrate on teaching in the early 1980s, in part because of her worsening arthritis. Her last concert, with David Geringas, took place on Dec. 9, 1982, in Christ Church Deer Park, and was presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. The review in The Globe and Mail took note of her assertive and colourful piano accompaniment.
Although Ms. Geringas ceased her formal activities at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 2009 and at the University of Toronto in 2013, she was teaching private students as recently as the week before her death, and was able to play for her five-year-old granddaughter in early June.
Ms. Geringas leaves her son, Eric; daughter-in-law, Angela Marinos; and granddaughter, Melina. Her husband, Yaakov, died in 1990. She enjoyed a special friendship with her son’s Greek-speaking mother-in-law, despite a formidable language barrier. Plans for a memorial event will be announced later.Report Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: