Meet the young musicians burning up Canada’s classical music scene.
Article by Robert Rowat · CBC Music · Posted: Aug 02, 2022 5:00 AM ET
“It’s a beloved summer tradition at CBC Music, marking its 10th edition this year: our classical “30 under 30” list, celebrating the achievements of Canada’s emerging classical musicians.
They’re winning big competitions and prizes, making exciting debuts, releasing new albums and graduating from top music schools — and we think they’re amazing.
Scroll down to get acquainted with this year’s inductees into our classical “30 under 30” community, from oldest to youngest. And if there’s a rising classical music star you’d like us to know about, hit us up on Twitter via @CBCclassical using the hashtag #CBC30under30.
India Gailey, cellist and composer
In May, India Gailey released to you through, featuring contemporary works for solo cello. It’s her second album, soon to be followed by Breathe in, Breathe Out, on which she performs with pianist Edward Enman, and then Nicole Lizée’s Bookburners, which Gailey recorded in New York with DJ P-Love (a.k.a. Paolo Kapunan). “Nicole is great, Paolo is great, the piece is great,” she enthuses. “I am looking forward to finally sharing the recording in the coming year.”
Upon completing her master’s degree at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, Gailey returned to Halifax, where she plays in New Hermitage, an improvisational ensemble that recently released its fifth album, Unearth, and did a concert tour in June. “That band has brought some of the most joyful moments of my life,” she says.
Gailey was busy during this spring’s Scotia Festival of Music, playing alongside some of her favourite musicians, attending concerts and “generally revelling in classical community.” A current preoccupation is a big project, funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. “I’m commissioning seven Canadian composers to write solo pieces for me that involve electronics and/or voice,” she explains. “The collaborative process is feeling pretty radical at times.”
Gailey says she envies percussionists, who “get to hit flower pots, wine glasses, marimbas and stuff — what a dream.” Do yourself a favour and watch Waiting on Arrival, a charming stop-motion film about anthropomorphic toads, for which Gailey wrote and performed some of the soundtrack.
Marlène Ngalissamy, bassoonist
“It was really amazing to play in the Royal Albert Hall,” recalls Marlène Ngalissamy, who took its stage at the 2021 BBC Proms as guest principal bassoonist with Chineke! Orchestra, which was established to provide career opportunities for BIPOC classical musicians in the U.K. and Europe. It was a dream come true for this member of Montreal’s Ensemble Obiora, which is modelled after the Chineke! Orchestra. More recently, and closer to home, Ngalissamy won the principal bassoonist position with l’Orchestre symphonique de Québec. “It’s a job that I really wanted in a great environment with amazing people,” she reflects, “and I can’t wait to start playing there in September.”
Ngalissamy completed a post-baccalaureate diploma at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and will return to that city in November to give a recital with pianist Ryan McCollough and soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon. “I’ve never played chamber music with a singer before, so I’m really excited,” she says. In June, she was the soloist in Vivaldi’s “dramatic and a bit scandalous” Bassoon Concerto in E Minor with the Ontario Pops Orchestra (watch here) and she’s currently in Vermont, playing chamber music at the Marlboro Music Festival.
Years ago, Ngalissamy heard Sergio Azzolini’s recording of C.P.E Bach’s Cello concertos, arranged for bassoon, and her fate was sealed. “I couldn’t believe it,” she remembers. “I really understood that there could be little to no difference between playing the bassoon and singing or talking; that you could make people understand stories through music.” If she ever runs out of stories to tell on her bassoon, she says she’ll pick up the duduk. “It’s a traditional Armenian double-reed instrument and it has the most soulful, magical sound.”
Steve Bergeron, harpsichordist
From: Victoriaville, Que.
Having first studied jazz piano, Steve Bergeron was a relative latecomer to the harpsichord. “It was one of Luc Beauséjour’s concerts that sparked this flame in me,” he recalls. “It was my first time hearing a harpsichord. He played the Goldberg Variations and I was instantly captivated.” Bergeron would eventually study with Beauséjour at the University of Montreal, completing a master’s degree and an artist’s diploma.
Last August, Bergeron entered the Jurow International Harpsichord Competition in St. Paul, Minn. — his first competition — and won third prize. “I remember having a smile on my face for the duration of my concerto,” he says. “It was truly a magical and formative event that I will remember for the rest of my life.” He immediately rushed to prepare his audition for the Conservatoire à rayonnement régional de Paris. “I’ll admit it was exhausting,” he says. “I practised for days from 9 a.m. to midnight, like a maniac.” He now studies there with Béatrice Martin.
While his favourite composer is J.S. Bach, Bergeron says he’s obsessed with French baroque music “because it touches human feelings with simplicity and great tenderness.” And his interest in antiquity extends beyond music to historically informed cuisine: “If a recipe has survived for centuries, it’s a safe bet in terms of taste.” Colour-blind, Bergeron was recently gifted with glasses that enable him to see colours. “I put them on, laughing,” he says. “But when I saw that the grass was green for the first time in my life and the sky was a very deep blue, it was a big shock.”
Carole-Anne Roussel, soprano
From: Rimouski, Que.
Winner of the 2021 Prix d’Europe, Carole-Anne Roussel is entering her fourth year as an artist in residence at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Belgium, where she says “the beer is fantastic, the fries are wonderful and the people are the nicest.” But even when she’s there, her heart belongs in her native Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec. She recently returned there, she says, “to focus on my voice and craft and to feel nurtured by my environment.”
Recent performances include a tour of Quebec and New Brunswick in her “dream role,” Leïla in Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles. In Belgium, she was the soprano soloist in Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. In June, she gave a Lieder recital at the Festival de musique de chambre de Québec; at the end of July, she sang three roles in Jean-François Mailloux’s chamber opera Trois contes d’Anderson, a presentation of the Festival d’Opéra de Québec.
A true Virgo, Roussel has strong organizational skills and “an inclination toward administrative work” — an asset for any performing artist. And like us, she was blown away by the originality and authenticity of Emily d’Angelo’s album enargeia. “It made me realize that as artists, we have the power to influence our field,” she says. Roussel has also put a lot of thought into her own responsibilities as a classical musician: “It’s important to have an informed perspective on what made the world the way it is today,” she reflects. “We ought to recognize what was taken away from some communities, what needs to be given back, and what we can do to help.”
Sarah Dufresne, soprano
From: Niagara Falls, Ont.
“I’m absolutely overjoyed.” That’s how Sarah Dufresne reacted to winning the $15,000 second prize at the Montreal International Music Competition in June, where she sang arias by Mozart, Gounod and Verdi with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Jacques Lacombe in the final round. It’s extra wind in her sails as she crosses the Atlantic this summer to begin a two-year tenure with the Jette Parker Artists Program at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where she’s slated to make her debut as Papagena in The Magic Flute.
Last December, Dufresne was the soloist with Chorus Niagara for Handel’s Messiah — a poignant homecoming for her, having sung with that choir as a teenager. Other highlights of the 2021-22 season include making her debut at Opéra de Montréal and signing with Dean Artists Management. Dufresne names Lisette Oropesa as an inspiration (“It would be my absolute dream to understudy her one day”) and when prompted to reveal her dream project, she doesn’t hold back: “To design a new production of [Ambroise Thomas’] Hamlet and star in it as Ophelia, of course!”
Figuring out how to “use hard times as motivation rather than discouragement” has been a key to Dufresne’s recent success. Another source of motivation has been Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia.” This album came into my life during the pandemic and I listened to it every single day,” she says. “It added a lot of positive energy to my life when I needed it.”
Gabriel Azzie, bassoonist
Ottawa’s Gabriel Azzie is living the good life in Halifax, where he enjoys taking scenic walks along the waterfront and working as principal bassoonist of Symphony Nova Scotia (SNS). But his road to get there was rocky: Azzie was afflicted with Bell’s palsy just as he was beginning the second year of his master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati, making it impossible to play the bassoon. He recovered just in time to audition for the job at SNS. “I felt like I was down and out with such little time to prepare,” he recalls, but he persevered. “It’s one of the proudest moments of my life, and I can’t wait to see what I can do to top that.”
In addition to his orchestra job, Azzie teaches at Acadia University, where he’s determined to build a robust bassoon community. “This past semester, I taught 16 students how to play the bassoon up to a level where they could teach in a classroom environment,” he enthuses, evidently happy to follow in the footsteps of his own teacher at Ottawa U, Christopher Millard. “I would not be where I am today without him,” he reflects. “I use his pedagogical and musical techniques daily.”
An avid fitness and sports enthusiast — he once had designs on a career as a sportscaster — and, more recently, a gamer (Mario Kart, Mario Party, and the Jackbox Party packs), Azzie also has a weakness for classical guitar. “I’ll pull up guitar concerti on YouTube for casual listening and I can feel the creativity and calm flow through me.”
Trevor Wilson, conductor and composer
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Gustavo Gimeno, recently announced the appointment of Trevor Wilson as the TSO’s next RBC resident conductor. In that role, he’ll work closely with Gimeno and the TSO’s guest conductors, direct educational concerts, and lead the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra in rehearsals and a concert next spring. While all that’s happening, Wilson will make regular trips to the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he has enrolled in a professional studies diploma starting in September.
Last season, Wilson was accepted into the Orchestre Métropolitain’s inaugural orchestral conducting academy under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin (“a wonderful experience”), and will assist in select OM concerts in the coming season. Wilson was also one of four conductors admitted to the NAC Orchestra’s mentorship program, which led to an exciting gig: on July 8 and 9, he conducted the NAC Orchestra and soloist Hillary Simms in Ferdinand David’s Trombone Concertino.
It was Leonard Bernstein’s second cycle of Mahler symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon that hooked Wilson early on. “I listened to those recordings obsessively as a teenager — it was through them that I discovered and fell in love with Mahler’s music.” He’s impressed by the emotional extremes in Mahler’s symphonies — “from the depths of anguish, ultimately, to transcendence” — and dreams of conducting a complete cycle himself one day. Of all animals, Wilson sides with red-tailed hawks “for their intelligence and relatively long life spans — plus, being near the top of the food chain would, I hope, make day-to-day life less stressful.”
Elisabeth Saint-Gelais, soprano
From: Chicoutimi, Que.
For Elisabeth Saint-Gelais, Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been a role model. “To see a French–Canadian having this success internationally is very inspiring,” she says, “and I aspire to do this as an Indigenous [musician] from Canada.” She’s well on her way toward that goal. In March, she won the $25,000 Wirth Vocal Prize at McGill’s Schulich School of Music — “an incredible feeling” — and in June, she won the grand prize in the 19-to-30-year-old category at the Canadian Music Competition. Saint-Gelais has been spending the summer in Germany, taking part in the Berlin Opera Academy, where she’s singing the role of Rosalinde in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. Where will it all lead? “Singing at the Metropolitan Opera would be my absolute dream,” she muses.
Offstage, she loves cooking (“a passion for me, especially when we do family reunions”), adores dogs (notably a certain black pug called Kiwi) and can’t stop shopping. “Clothes, shoes, décor — I just love good finds,” she enthuses, adding that she’s lately become a devotee of second-hand stores. “Better for the planet and the wallet.”
During her time in CEGEP, Saint-Gelais discovered Michael Brecker’s Two Blocks from the Edge and has been under jazz’s spell ever since. “It nourishes my musicality,” she says. “I love the sound of the saxophone.” In fact, she’s taken up the instrument. “I always wanted to play tenor saxophone, but now a friend of mine has lent me an alto saxophone and I’m having a lot of fun with it.”
Joanne Yesol Choi, cellist
Joanne Yesol Choi is a founding member of the Dior Quartet, one of 10 string quartets taking part in the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), coming up at the end of August. “For me, Banff has been the pinnacle of string quartet prestige,” she says, “and we honestly all cried when we got the phone call that we had been selected to participate this year.” For BISQC’s ad-lib round, in which the quartets are free to choose their repertoire, the Dior Quartet will play pieces drawn from its four members’ nationalities — Israeli, American, Saint Lucian and Korean–Canadian. “We really wanted to showcase how beautiful multiculturalism is, and that we can embrace our backgrounds through classical music.” They’ll be representing the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM), where the Dior Quartet has been an ensemble in residence during the past year.
Returning to Toronto as a Rebanks Fellow at the RCM after seven years studying at Indiana University has been a happy homecoming for Choi, who was in the RCM’s Taylor Academy during her high school years. “It was hard living apart from my family for so long,” she confides. When she puts her cello down, Choi grabs a ukulele and accompanies herself singing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, poetry and short stories. “I acquired a working typewriter a few months ago, and it’s been a real joy,” she exclaims. She’s also a semi-pro gamer and streamer, with 1,200 followers on Twitch.
In July, Choi and her Dior Quartet colleagues wowed us with music by Haydn at Humbercrest United Church.
Dior Quartet perform Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1 | 30 Under 30
24 days ago
Duration6:31Dior Quartet performs Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1 (first movement).
Victoria Wong, pianist
From: Richmond Hill, Ont.
Last October, Victoria Wong was one of 87 pianists who advanced to the main stage of the 18th International Chopin Piano Competition, part of a dominant Canadian contingent. “Playing in the National Philharmonic in Warsaw was a stunning experience,” she recalls. “The hall is absolutely gorgeous and huge, and I was performing not only for the hundreds sitting in the audience, but also for the thousands tuning in online. Playing Chopin’s music in the capital of his home country was very special.” Fun fact: the competition’s practice rooms were located in one of the tallest buildings in Warsaw. “I saw the entire city as I practised on one of the highest floors, at different times of the day — the sunset view was magical,” she says.
Wong is currently working toward a master’s degree at the Juilliard School in New York, where her peers are a constant source of inspiration: “Their artistic personalities, how they approach problems or ideas, what they aspire to, and their unique backgrounds.” She gave a solo recital at the school’s Morse Hall in April and performed chamber music there in May. This summer, she’s in Santa Barbara, Calif., as one of six piano fellows at Music Academy of the West.
Wong reflects fondly on her high-school years, commuting from Richmond Hill to downtown Toronto to attend classes and lessons at the RCM’s Taylor Academy. “I would often listen to Sviatoslav Richter’s recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 during long car rides. It’s so powerful and emotional — like seeing a dramatic story unfold.” When she’s not pouring her creativity into piano music, Wong picks up a paint brush (“I really like playing with colours”) and tries her hand at composition.
Jonathan Mak, pianist
From: Thornhill, Ont.
In recent months, life has been a whirlwind for Jonathan Mak. In May, he was in Ireland to take part in the Dublin International Piano Competition, where he reached the semifinal. In June, he was one of 30 pianists selected for the 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. In July, he was an academy fellow at the Toronto Summer Music Festival, and this fall, he’s heading to Houston to begin doctoral studies at Rice University with Jon Kimura Parker. And yet, Mak does appreciate sitting still: “Last summer, I went to Blue Hill, Maine, to participate in the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival,” he says. “In the midst of the pandemic, it was a special moment to have those seven weeks closed off from the rest of the world, like a safe haven.”
He heaps praise on his teachers: Yale University’s Boris Slutsky (“so inspiring and quick with his ideas”), the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Daniel Shapiro (“always patient and nurturing”) and his first piano teacher, Aster Lai. “On my third birthday, she gave me a trial lesson — and took me under her wing,” he remembers. “Mrs. Lai is like a second mother to me, she watched me grow up and was always there for me.”
A Toronto Raptors fan, Mak went to Philadelphia in March to watch them take on (and defeat) the 76ers. Drake’s mixtape So far Gone had a big impact on him, and Mak has never shaken a secret desire to play the French horn. “I think they have some of the best parts in the larger romantic orchestral repertoire,” he says. “I love it when the composer asks for the entire horn section to put their bells up.”
William Desbiens, baritone
From: Quebec City
William Desbiens compares himself to a chameleon. “I always adapt to where I am, no matter what,” he says. In recent years, he has become accustomed to life in New York, where he got his bachelor of music, studying with Arthur Levy at the Mannes School of Music, and more recently Italy, where he has been part of the Mascarade Opera Studio, an international development program based at Teatro La Fenice in Venice. A highlight of his tenure there was singing the role of Smirnov in William Walton’s The Bear.
Desbiens’ first voice teacher gave him Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s 2007 album Heroes and Villains, and it made a big impression. “It was the first recording of a baritone that I ever had,” he says. “I learned a lot about repertoire and style because of it.” He also singles out the warm tone of legendary baritone Ettore Bastianini’s voice, which led to Desbiens’ appreciation for the music of Giuseppe Verdi. “I love how true the characters are — very close to their emotions and relatable even if they’re also larger than life.”
In January, Desbiens was a finalist in the Paris Opera Competition, where he sang at the Palais Garnier with l’Orchestre Prométhée conducted by Pierre-Michel Durand. Always striving for improvement, he says, “I’m currently working hard on making the transition between my medium and lower registers smoother.” Fun fact about Desbiens: he has pet rats. “They’re incredibly intelligent and social animals.”
Katharine Petkovski, composer, pianist and producer
“When I was in high school, I would listen to [Mychael Danna’s] score for Life of Pi during French class, which made my grades suffer but my heart soar,” says Katharine Petkovski. “It’s what made me want to score music for film.” With a master’s degree in composition from U of T under her belt, and $25,000 in her pocket thanks to the Tecumseh Sherman Rogers Graduating Award, she’s busy pursuing those ambitions.
She wrote the music for Coin Slot, a short film by Scott Jones that premiered in March at the BFI Flare Festival in the U.K. and in April at the Phoenix Film Festival in Arizona. “Deadlight,” a piece from Petkovski’s 2021 EP Fragments, was selected by the Canadian Olympic Committee for a video about ice dancers Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen that ran during the lead-up to the 2022 Beijing Games. In March, she attended the premiere of her Piano Trio No. 1 by the Bedford Trio, a performance enhanced by synaesthesia artwork by Yang Sui — “an interactive and invigorating experience.”
Petkovski sings in the alto section of the Exultate Chamber Singers, which performed her composition “Les Ormes” at the 2022 Podium Choral Conference and Festival in May. If you’re wondering how she organizes her time to accomplish all these things, the following admission provides a clue: “I love to collect, sort and label. I love folders, lists and itineraries. Tupperware is my love language.”
Brayden Krueger, percussionist
From: Mississauga, Ont.
Last September, while still working on his master’s degree at U of T, Brayden Krueger was appointed principal percussionist of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. “This was something that I had been working very hard to achieve for the last few years and it was rewarding to see my hard work pay off,” he reflects. “Performing with them has been an absolute pleasure.” In June, he was the percussionist for a run of Bizet’s Carmen with Saskatoon Opera; in August, he’ll play Brian Current’s Gould’s Wall at the 21C Festival in Toronto. The SSO’s 2022-23 season holds a special enticement for Krueger: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. “This piece has a monster snare drum part and I absolutely cannot wait to play it,” he says.
It all began with his grandparents, who gave Krueger his first drum set and numerous percussion instruments along the way. Outside classical music, Krueger plays drums with Orpin (singer-songwriter Taryn Jacobs) and City Stranger (the project of singer-songwriter Anthony Jordan), enjoys “absolutely belting the 1975 in the car” and admires Tyler, the Creator. “He puts out music that is authentically him and as an artist I think being authentic is paramount.” Krueger is also an avid photographer and likes mixing (and drinking) cocktails.
If he hadn’t made music his profession, Krueger says he’d be working as a cook. “I enjoy being on my feet, providing services to others and combining art with technique — it checks all the same boxes as music.”
Stephen Eckert, pianist
From: Stephenville, N.L.
When Stephen Eckert begins doctoral studies in contemporary music performance at Bowling Green State University in Ohio this fall, they’ll be carrying a bit of Newfoundland in their heart. “There’s nothing like standing atop a rolling, ancient mountain, staring into the wind blowing from the horizon on the Atlantic,” Eckert muses, adding, “a dream project for me would be to start a new music summer festival, involving an orchestra, guest artists, composers, sound artists and local performers in my home province.”
Eckert got their start at Memorial University, studying with Kristina Szutor. “I was a naïve, slightly sheltered teenager when I came to the ‘big city’ of St. John’s,” they recall. “Kristina didn’t just teach nuances to those who had already figured it all out. She taught with an admirable reverence for the individual’s ability, technical skill level, and always had constructive feedback.”
From there, Eckert went to Ottawa U, where David Jalbert was one of their professors. “At first, I struggled to adjust from Kristina’s gentle approach to David’s whetstoned jabs of feedback, which over time I’ve come to appreciate,” they say. “The dry, satirical side to David’s personality made learning equal parts hilarity, joy, and wake-up call. If I was ever unprepared I could count on him roasting me like a turkey at grandma’s.”
Outside music, Eckert enjoys cooking (“I couldn’t disagree more with the saying ‘Eat to live, don’t live to eat’), second-hand fashions, makeup, meditation and RuPaul’s Drag Race — “and yes, I mean every country’s spinoff.”
Leland Ko, cellist
Leland Ko doesn’t hesitate before naming Roger Federer as his role model. “He has turned something that is difficult to master into an art,” Ko explains. “He’s classy, he’s elegant, what else can I say?” Emulating the tennis GOAT, Ko travelled to Belgium in May to compete in the Queen Elisabeth Competition. He was “pretty terrified but also excited to have a chance to be heard” at his first in-person international competition — and likely not his last. In July, he returned to Yellow Barn, an international chamber music centre in Putney, Vt. “It’s my second time going and I ate good local food and just made music in the free way that Yellow Barn encourages.” The region’s natural beauty also appeals to Ko, who compares himself to a deer: “I run a lot, I prefer small herds, people are surprised by how much I like salt, and I’m startled easily.”
Ko, who holds an undergraduate degree in German literature from Princeton and a master’s in cello performance from Juilliard, demurs when probed about his favourite composer: “Please don’t make me choose. If I’m playing Beethoven tomorrow and I don’t choose him, he’ll be mad at me.” He’s heading to Boston at the end of the summer to begin an artist’s diploma at the New England Conservatory. There, he’ll get further acquainted with his new cello, the Ex-Peled, Ex-Greenhouse Thomas Dodd from 1790. “It’s a beautiful chocolate colour with full arching and curves,” he gushes. “The sound is quite moody, dark, with some texture, and I had an ‘I have to have this’ moment [when I first saw it.]”
Tim Chan, sheng player and composer
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me that rehearsing online is terrible, and so is audio compression for streaming,” grumbles Tim Chan, echoing a frustration shared by many. “It’s so difficult to be musically productive together over the internet.” So, imagine his delight on May 30, when he performed — in person — at A New Beginning, the first major concert held by the B.C. Chinese Music Association since the pandemic began.
Chan is a member of the British Columbia Chinese Music Ensemble, the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra and the fusion instrumental band Fusica. He says he’s currently refining his reverse flutter-tongue technique (i.e. flutter-tonguing while inhaling.) “Combining that with regular flutter-tonguing allows you to flutter entire passages without fainting from air loss,” he points out. Staying conscious also enables him to work on his knife and razor-sharpening technique. “I sharpen to achieve a sharper and better tool, but I enjoy the process, which is why I keep doing it,” he says of his hobby.
And yet, doing nothing is Chan’s preferred mode. “My ideal day off starts with me sleeping until I wake up, most likely in the afternoon, then promptly heading back to sleep.” He dreams of one day composing a large-scale sheng concerto — “something that becomes standard sheng repertoire” — and singles out Charlie Lui as his biggest inspiration. “He is, in my opinion, North America’s foremost dizi player, someone whom I have the privilege of calling mentor, friend, and brother.”
Arin Sarkissian, flutist
Readers in Victoria, get ready to welcome Arin Sarkissian to your fair city. He’s the new principal flutist of the Victoria Symphony, arriving fresh from graduate studies at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and an undergraduate degree at Rice University in Houston. “I’m delighted,” he beams.
In June, Sarkissian was in Ottawa, taking part in the NAC Orchestra’s mentorship program, where he got to play Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Once that wrapped up, he headed to Muncie, Ind., as one of this year’s 13 Yamaha Young Performing Artists. Sarkissian is no stranger to accolades: On July 25, he was awarded the $15,000 Michael Measures second prize from the Canada Council for the Arts; as first-prize winner at the 2020 OSM Competition, he’ll perform chamber music with Branford Marsalis on Aug. 12, part of the OSM’s Classical Spree.
Sarkissian is in awe of pianists: “Reading two clefs and multiple notes at once, countless keys, dealing with pedals, and bringing lyricism to what is, in essence, a percussion instrument — it’s unbelievable to me!” He’s got a weakness for Häagen-Dazs matcha green tea ice cream (“don’t put that stuff near me”) and is a big fan of Icelandic–Chinese musician Laufey, whose music is “a fascinating cornucopia of jazz elements, lush classical textures, a soothing singer-songwriter vibe, and a sprinkle of pop,” he says. But most importantly, Sarkissian wants to raise awareness of the Armenian genocide. “I see my musical output as an active force against these attempts at cultural erasure, as a celebration of Armenian resilience in protecting our precious roots and existence.”
Wilhelm Magner, violist
From: Drummondville, Que.
For the first time in its 111-year existence, the Prix d’Europe was awarded to a violist in 2022. “This was quite an accomplishment for me,” says Wilhelm Magner, whose prize comes with $50,000. “It would not have been possible without the support of my teacher at McGill, André Roy, during the past three years.” Magner is heading to Yale University this fall, to begin his master’s in Ettore Causa’s viola studio.
Like many violists, Magner began playing violin. “As a child, I first wanted to play the flute, but after watching Fiddler on the Roof, I decided I had to play the violin,” he recalls. He immediately fell under the spell of Jascha Haifetz’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. “This was my first great musical love and I must have listened to it at least 100 times in the first month — until I got tired of it and had to go listen to other concertos!” He only transitioned to viola during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I did the majority of my viola lessons online for almost two years,” he says. “Being locked up at home really allowed me to work a lot.”
In July, Magner travelled to Switzerland to take part in the Gstaad Menuhin Festival. Next March, he’ll return to Montreal to play William Walton’s Viola Concerto with the Orchestre des Jeunes de Montréal. Parallel to his life as a musician, Magner is a chess enthusiast — he even had designs on a career as a professional chess player before the violin and viola won him over. Check out his chess-themed YouTube channel.
Vivian Kukiel, violinist
Vivian Kukiel first appeared on our radar in 2018 when she won the Ilona Fehér International Violin Competition in Budapest, Hungary. Her comet re-entered our skies in June when she won the Canadian Music Competition’s Stepping Stone final — “one of the most exciting but also nerve-racking experiences of my musical journey so far,” she says. “When [executive and artistic director] Marc David announced that I had won the whole competition, I was so overjoyed I think I went into a state of shock.”
One month earlier, Kukiel and the other three members of the Holt Quartet recorded Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 during what sounds like a scene from Big Brother: “The four of us stayed at our pianist’s house for two weeks, cooking food for each other, watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and enjoying our nightly ritual of playing [the board game] Catan. And yes, we also rehearsed now and then, too.”
Kukiel is spending the summer in Blue Hill, Ma., where she was accepted into the Kneisel Hill young artist chamber music program. Performances so far have included Tania León’s Ethos for string quartet and piano and Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat. This fall, she’ll return to the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where she studies with Martin Beaver, and continue to work on up-bow staccato (“my arch-nemesis,” she grumbles.) One thing is certain: her future will include animals. “I have always wanted to work or help out at an animal shelter and I hope to be able to do that in the next couple of years.”
Cédric Thériault, guitarist
From: Grand Falls, N.B.
“The guitar is an imperfect instrument, which makes mastery difficult,” muses Cédric Thériault. “Just playing a single note can be a struggle sometimes.” While that may be, Thériault has evidently risen to the challenge. He won first prize in guitar at the 2021 FCMF National Music Festival and a silver medal at the 2022 Grand Metropolitan International Music Competition. In May, he travelled with his teacher, Michel Cardin, to Athens, Greece, to take part in the Palaio Faliro Guitar Festival (“an amazing learning experience”), and in June, he gave a recital in Caraquet, N.B., presented by Musique sur mer en Acadie. “It’s been a big year for me,” he concedes.
Metallica’s Ride the Lightning was an important discovery for Thériault. “That band made me pick up the guitar and develop a passion for music,” he recalls. “I wouldn’t be the same musician without that album.” In addition to the time he devotes to classical guitar, Thériault is a member of Uptown Sinners, a rock/blues band based in Moncton.
Apart from watching the occasional episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Thériault doesn’t let anything distract him from music. “I used to play soccer and ultimate frisbee,” he admits, “but I need to protect my hands and nails [laughs].” With that kind of work ethic, he’s got a legitimate shot at fulfilling his dream, “to play at Carnegie Hall some day.”
William Leathers, trumpeter
From: Mississauga, Ont.
Things couldn’t be going better for William Leathers. In February, while completing his undergrad degree at Juilliard, he auditioned for the principal trumpet position at the Nashville Symphony and won the job. He also got called to join the 2022 National Brass Ensemble (“a huge honour”), which convened in San Francisco in June for 10 days of performances and recordings. Last December, he was invited to play in the New York Philharmonic’s holiday brass concert, where he shared the stage with his teacher, Chris Martin, principal trumpeter of the NY Phil, and Phil Smith, retired principal trumpeter of the NY Phil. “Something I’ll never forget,” Leathers says.
His success is especially gratifying considering the first two years of his Juilliard tuition and expenses were largely covered through crowdfunding. “None of this would be possible without the generosity of the people who donated to the campaign,” Leathers told CBC’s The National. Fun fact: he debated about auditioning for Juilliard on piano instead of trumpet.
Chris Botti’s Impressions was hugely influential. “It taught me so much about musicality, making the music sound connected to the emotions.” Leathers also loves ballet and opera. “Both include orchestral music, yet what happens onstage is almost completely dissociated with what I do,” he explains. “Therefore, my brain can easily divert from ‘participation mode’.” But when it comes to participating, he says nothing beats the symphonies of Mahler. (Except perhaps watching Mayday: Air Disaster, a favourite.) His dream gig? To play the Super Bowl halftime show.
Johnathan Devey, pianist
From: North Saanich, B.C.
In February, Johnathan Devey (Jono to friends) played Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the University of Victoria Symphony Orchestra. He credits his “really smooth performance” not only to his teacher, May Ling Kwok (“always keeping me on my toes”), but also to a recent epiphany: “I learned to love studying the tiniest details of my music, and it’s turning me into a much more stable performer. For once I feel totally in control of my playing.”
Piano isn’t Devey’s only love. “I’ve always wanted to play the cello, it’s just such an expressive instrument,” he reflects. “To date, Jacqueline du Pre’s 1967 recording of the Elgar cello concerto with the London Philharmonic is the only performance I’ve ever shed a tear listening to.”
Last summer, Devey received a second prize in the FCMF’s National Music Festival, and won first prize in piano at the CFMTA’s National Competition. This summer, he’s in Salzburg, Austria, attending the Mozarteum’s International Summer Academy on a scholarship.
A people person, Devey says the COVID-19 pandemic taught him never to take casual conversation for granted. “I didn’t realize how much those little interactions throughout the day mattered to my well-being.” Some other wellness essentials: ’80s new wave on repeat, and when he needs a break from piano, making acrylic paintings. “I get obsessed with random things pretty easily, like a hobby or a reading topic or type of music,” Devey admits. “And then I’ll devote all my free time exploring it until I accidentally stumble across the next thing.”
Vanessa Yu, pianist
From: Richmond Hill, Ont.
The first thing to know about Vanessa Yu is that she’s a cake fiend. “I will happily eat cake for any meal of the day,” she admits. Of course, there are worse vices, and who knows, this one could be fuelling her success: Yu won the grand prize at the 2021 Pacific Rim International Music Competition, which comes with an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in January 2023. In June, she gave a solo recital for the noon-hour recital series at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, and they’ve invited her back for the coming concert season. In July, she took part in the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival (“breathtakingly beautiful”) and this month, she’s performing at the International Holland Music Sessions in the Netherlands — “my first overseas solo recital! I’ll be playing some of my favourite pieces by Scarlatti, Chopin and Debussy.”
Yu is equally passionate about chamber music. “I’m in a César Franck phase,” she says. “I finally learned and performed his violin sonata with my duo partner this year — it’s been on my bucket list for a long time and now it’s become one of my favourite works. Naturally, I ended up falling in love with a lot of Franck’s other piano and chamber works.”
Lately, Beatrice Rana’s albums have been holding Yu in their thrall, and she confides that she’s always wanted to play the French horn for its “warm and noble timbre.” Outside music, Yu is into brush calligraphy and bullet journaling (her “side hustle”) and says one day she’d like to write and publish a book. “I love how the writing process is both iterative and thoughtful — sort of like music.”
We invited Yu to Humber Crest United Church in Toronto to perform Debussy.
Vanessa Yu performs Claude Debussy’s L’Isle joyeuse | 30 Under 30
24 days ago
Duration5:55Vanessa Yu performs Claude Debussy’s L’Isle joyeuse.
Dale Jeong, cellist
A highlight of Dale Jeong’s second year studying cello performance at the Juilliard School in New York City was playing Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1 with fellow students at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We got a chance to play at different art galleries in the museum, and it was fulfilling and heartwarming to see so many people stop by to listen to our performance,” he says. In May, he and three other Juilliard students also played Beethoven’s Op. 131 String Quartet — “although it was a challenge, we had so much fun.”
You might think Jeong would take a breather this summer, before returning for his third year at Juilliard, but no: he was selected as an academy fellow at Toronto Summer Music’s Chamber Music Institute, and when that wrapped on July 30, he boarded a plane for Dresden, Germany, to take part in the Moritzburg Festival Academy. “It’s my first time visiting Germany so I am super excited,” he says. “I’ll be playing a lot of chamber music and orchestra, with incredible guest artists such as Midori and Jan Vogler.”
For Jeong, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax’s recording of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata was a revelation. “It’s filled with emotions and bursts of energy,” he explains. “I remember listening to it almost every day one summer.” His down time is spent on the badminton court, in the kitchen (“most people don’t know that I love to cook”) or watching Moon Knight. (“Oscar Isaac is an amazing actor!”) Jeong’s goal? “A dream project would be joining one of the best orchestras in the U.S., such as NY Phil, Boston, L.A. or San Francisco.”
Simon Proulx, clarinetist
“I don’t think I would have wanted to learn music were it not for my grandparents, who used to take me to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra kids concerts,” says Simon Proulx, living proof of the power of early exposure to music. He also singles out Derek Fraser, his former band director at Winnipeg’s Oak Park High School. “His character and genuine commitment to learning about each and every person in the band program was inspiring and continues to push me to be a better person each and every day.”
Proulx, who won the $1,500 Holtby scholarship in 2021 from the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg, is currently studying clarinet performance with Jose Franch Ballester at UBC. “After a first year that was mostly online, I was thrilled to go back to Vancouver and have regular rehearsals and performances with the UBC Symphonic Wind Ensemble,” he says. In May, he travelled to Toronto to play in the National Youth Band of Canada.
When asked about his favourite composer, Proulx doesn’t think twice. “Francis Poulenc,” he says. “I really enjoy French music in general, but there is something in the breadth of his music, which can be both so serious and so playful, that sets him apart.” Outside music, Proulx is enamoured of Greece, having taken Greek lessons throughout his life. “My grandpa is Greek, and I have some relatives who live on some less touristy islands,” he explains. “I have been twice, and am overdue for another trip. I love the food, the language, the history, the culture, but most of all I really admire the folk tradition there and its use of [you guessed it] the clarinet.”
Lexie Krakowski, cellist
Last summer, Lexie Krakowski won first prize (strings) and the grand award at the FCMF National Music Festival — “an incredible opportunity,” she says — and as a result, she’ll play Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Symphony New Brunswick in April 2023, marking her first visit to Canada’s East Coast. But it was to her native West Coast that she returned this spring, at the end of her first year of studies at the Glenn Gould School, in time to join the cello section of the Victoria Symphony for performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. “A very exciting (and nerve-racking!) experience to play with musicians who’ve been my teachers and mentors for as long as I can remember,” she reflects.
When live concerts resumed last fall, Krakowski played Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra for a packed Koerner Hall. “The applause seemed never-ending, and as we stood onstage, I caught the eye of one of my fellow cellists, and saw that she, too, had eyes full of tears,” she recalls. “It was a night I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
This summer, when she’s not reading romance novels (“the cringier the better”), Krakowski is dividing her time between the chamber music intensive at Domaine Forget in Quebec and the Meadowmount School of Music in Westport, N.Y. We suspect her dream of performing Brahms’ Double Concerto is destined to become reality before long.
Brooklyn Wood, violinist, composer, conductor
From: Fort Langley, B.C.
“I’m constantly reminding myself to slow down and truly live in the moment,” muses Brooklyn Wood, but it’s easier said than done when opportunities come knocking in such profusion. This year, she was invited to conduct the senior orchestra at Langley Fine Arts School for a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake suite. (Under her baton, the same orchestra won the senior instrumental category in CBC’s Canadian Music Class Challenge last fall.) Wood was also commissioned by Music on Main and the Microcosmos Quartet to write a piece for string orchestra for the Kessler Academy. Celadon Waves was premiered at the Vancouver Playhouse and she was named the Kessler Academy’s composer in residence for 2021.
She was the violin soloist for Ravel’s Tzigane with her school orchestra (“a huge night”) and her string quartet (Sequoia Quartet) won first prize in the junior category at the 2022 Friends of Chamber Music Young Musicians Competition, performing Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. It goes without saying that Ravel is a big deal for Wood, who says she’s constantly inspired by his “ability to create beautiful expression and atmospheric colour in his music.”
A fan of fashion, Wood says her ideal day off “would probably be spent in a thrift or vintage store looking for cool clothes and classic records.” She singles out The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for special praise: “I love the late-1950s costume designs!” Newly graduated from high school, Wood’s next stop is Montreal, where she’ll begin her undergraduate degree at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music this fall, studying violin with Violaine Melançon.
BoKun (Brayden) Liu, pianist
From: Richmond, B.C.
For BoKun Liu, following Bruce Xiaoyu Liu’s run to the first prize at the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition was a thrill. “I saw a lot of things that I want in my playing: gossamer lightness, freedom and expressiveness,” he muses. BoKun himself is no stranger to competition success: he won first prize in the junior category at the 2021 Oakridge Park Piano Competition, platinum prize in the under-18 category at the 2021 JMI International Piano Competition in Singapore, and top prize in his category at the 2021 Four Notes International Piano Competition in the U.A.E., to name just a few. He was also one of 60 pianists accepted into the 2022 International Tchaikovsky Competition, which has unfortunately been postponed due to the war in Ukraine.
For motivation, BoKun looks no further than his older brother, classical guitarist Alan Liu, with whom he gave a joint recital last December at the VSO School of Music’s Pyatt Hall — “a great experience,” he says. This fall, BoKun begins his undergraduate studies at the Juilliard School. He’s looking forward to recording New York composer Brian Field’s Three Prayers for a Feverish Planet to raise awareness of climate change and action.
Offstage, BoKun loves running, which he says “creates a void amid the hustle and bustle.” He’s also starting to get the hang of unicycling. One of BoKun’s proudest achievements is co-founding VCPackages, a non-profit organization that provides care packages to the homeless population in downtown Vancouver.
Anna Stube, violinist
Later this month, Anna Stube will compete in the semifinal of the Cooper International Violin Competition in Oberlin, Ohio. “There are three rounds, with the final being accompanied by the Canton Symphony Orchestra, and incredible opportunities for the three top prize winners,” she explains. Stube’s experience at the 2019 OSM Competition, where she won first prize in the junior category, should give her an edge. Fans in Canada can watch the live stream and cheer her on beginning Aug. 15.
In July, Stube played transcriptions of highlights from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in a concert featuring musicians from the New England Conservatory’s Morningside Music Bridge program. “The concert hall has a glass backdrop with ocean views, which makes the music sound as if it were truly infinite,” she describes.
Born in Latvia, Stube is enamoured of her family’s adopted home, especially its proximity to the mountains (“I love driving to Canmore to play music with my collaborative pianist, then taking the next few hours to hike a trail”), the locally brewed Grizzly Paw root beer, and her “second home,” Calgary’s Sierra Café. Last October, the High River Gift of Music Society invited her to play in its Young Musicians Extraordinaire event — her first recital (“thrilling”) since the pandemic began. Stube is indebted to her mother, who has always said, “Why spend money on material things when you can spend it on music classes?” Why, indeed.”