2019 Award Winners Announced!

The Sylva Gelber Music Foundation held its twelfth annual competition in 2019. As in previous years, we discovered an extraordinary array of Canadian talent in classical music performance displayed by those young musicians who passed to the live audition phase of our awards process. We were extremely grateful for the assistance of our stellar jury, this year made up of Lawrence Ewashko from the University of Ottawa and the Ewashko Singers; David Gillham from UBC, a member of the Archytas Ensemble and the Ridge Piano Trio; Stéphane Lemelin, Chair of the Department of Performance and Professor of Piano at the Schulich School of Music in Montreal; and Nora Shulman, former Principal Flute with the Toronto Symphony and teacher at the University of Toronto and the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music.

Over three action-packed days at the University of Ottawa’s School of Music, which generously provides the Foundation with rehearsal and performance space, we had an opportunity to hear young musicians from every region of the country. Several are engaged in advanced studies at prestigious music schools in Canada, the US, England and Europe, or are working with master teachers, performers and conductors. Some were simply in need of assistance to continue regular lessons or support themselves in extremely expensive European capitals while they make the transition to a full-time professional career. Many award winners are combining their studies with participation in prestigious international competitions; our best wishes go out to them as they prepare to measure themselves against top young artists from around the world!

From among a group of highly talented candidates, the jury recommended awards to 10 young artists, in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, for a total disbursement this year of approximately $165,000. The Board of Directors of the Foundation is delighted to announce the following winners of the 2018 Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Awards:

Kevin Ahfat, pianist, Toronto

As a pianist that “leaves no question about his riveting presentation and technical finesse” (Seattle Times), Canadian pianist Kevin Ahfat is “poised to become one of the young heirs of the classical piano realm, with a bold, boundary-pushing, millennial style matched by refined execution” (Vanguard Seattle), “summoning plenty of thunderpower in the big moments, but clearly valuing musicianship over mere showmanship” (American Record Guide).

In 2018, Kevin was named one of CBC’s 30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30; he subsequently released a live recording of Brahms from CBC’s Studio 211. That same year, Kevin was thrilled to perform the North American premiere of the recently published Third Sonata for Cello & Piano, by Camille Saint-Saëns. In anticipation, he filmed and produced a minidocumentary entitled Soirée pour Camille, a short film documenting the historical context of the work, his artistic partnership with cellist Juliette Herlin, and their exploration of French music. Continuing his dynamic exploration of music and film, he recently partnered with Riddle Films to release a cinematic performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, filmed live at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.

Highlights of recent seasons include returns to the Seattle Symphony for its first ever Shostakovich Concerto Festival and to the Dame Myra Hess Series in Chicago, and the inaugural masterclass and recital for the Las Vegas Masterclass Series. Ahfat has had the privilege of sharing the stage with renowned artists across many genres, including Jean-Yves Thibaudet, So Percussion, David Finckel, Joshua Roman, and Joaquin Valdepeñas. He enjoyed a new partnership with choreographer Richard Alston and Juilliard Dance in their recreation of Alston’s Sheer Bravado (2006). He has also appeared with the ARC Ensemble, Amici Chamber Ensemble, and Art of Time Ensemble throughout North America.

Kevin Ahfat completed principal studies at the Juilliard School in New York under Joseph Kalichstein and Stephen Hough and spent the past year as a Rebanks Fellow at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. In the coming year, he will use his Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award to pursue studies with various eminent teachers, prepare for important international competitions, and deepen his skills in film and other visual media as a pathway to enhancing enjoyment and understanding of classical music.

Joel Allison, bass-baritone, Toronto

Canadian Bass-Baritone Joel Allison has been praised for his “beautiful, rich, ringing tone.” (Ludwig von Toronto) He has performed in Canada and Europe with the Canadian Opera Company, Saskatoon Opera, Saskatoon Symphony, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, the Tilford Bach Festival, and the Newfoundland Symphony.

In the 2019-20 season, Joel is performing the roles of The Mandarin in Turandot and Fiorello in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with the Canadian Opera Company in the Studio Ensemble; he is also giving his debut performance with Symphony Nova Scotia. Last season he debuted with the COC in their Studio Ensemble in the roles of Zaretsky in Eugene Onegin, Superior Senator in the world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian, and Schaunard in La Bohème. He also appeared for the first time with the Newfoundland Symphony in the Messiah.

Performance from the University of Toronto. He was the recipient of the 2016/17 Richard Bradshaw Fellowship in Opera, the Norcop Prize in Art Song, and the 2018 Tecumseh Sherman Rogers Graduating Award at the University of Toronto. Joel is an alumnus of the Ontario Youth Choir, Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute, and the Toronto Summer Music Festival Art Song Fellowship.

In competitions Joel has won Second Prize at the Christina and Louis Quillico Awards, Second Prize at The Great Lakes regional finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Second Prize at the COC Centre Stage Competition, and Second Prize at the Brian Law Opera Competition. His Gelber Award has enabled him to participate in the Salzburg Festival Young Singers Project the past summer and will facilitate networking and auditions in Europe, as well as regular lessons back in Toronto.

Joel holds a BMus. in vocal performance from the University of Ottawa and a Master’s in Opera

Suren Barry, pianist, Montreal

Suren Barry is well known to audiences across Canada, and his concertizing has brought him overseas as well. He has given numerous solo recitals at La Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur in Montreal and has also been invited to perform at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, at the “Im Hayastan” Festival in Yerevan, Armenia, and at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival.

An avid chamber musician, Suren regularly performs in various ensembles at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival and at the Festival Pontiac Enchanté. Recently, Suren has been performing with the McGill Percussion Ensemble, whose schedule included a concert at the McCormick Marimba Festival (Tampa, FL).

Suren holds a BMus degree from Carleton University and a Master’s in Piano Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music; he is currently pursuing his doctorate at the Schulich School of Music in Montreal. He recently received a prestigious Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for his research on keyboard improvisation in the 18th century. This project focuses on helping pianists reclaim the rich tradition of improvised classical music. His 2019 Gelber Award will enable him to continue with lessons in Montreal, participate in competitions, and pursue his interest in classical music improvisation through his own performance and in collaboration with esteemed improvisers in the UK and the USA.

Arian Brisson, flûtiste, Montréal

Photo: Annie Éthier

Grand prize winner of the Orchestre symphonique de Trois Rivières’ 28th competition and of the 2013 Prix d’Europe, Ariane Brisson has distinguished herself in multiple forums: at the 6th edition of the International Flute Competition in Krakov, at her final public examination at the Montreal Conservatory of Music (Great Distinction), and at the University of Montreal, where she earned her Master’s degree (Mention exceptionnelle).

Ariane studied under Mathieu Dufour at DePaul University in Chicago in 2013-14. More recently, her personal reflexions on musical interpretation prompted her to undertake doctoral studies at the University of Montreal.

An accomplished soloist, Ariane is also called upon to perform concertos and other masterworks of the flute repertoire with Les Violons du Roy, the orchestra of the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal and the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières. A passionate chamber musician, Ariana founded the duo Palladium with pianist Olivier Hébert-Bouchard in 2015; the duo was selected by Jeunesses musicales du Canada to perform in the context of their “Concerts Relève” series in 2017-18.

Drawn by the fluidity and sensitivity of her playing and the richness of her tone, the musicians of Pentaèdre invited Ariana to join their ensemble in 2016.

This year’s Gelber Foundation Award is Ariana’s second. It will enable her to undertake periods of study in Europe with her mentors, flutists Mathieu Dufour and Philippe Bernold.

Brian Cheng, cellist, Ottawa

© Harald Hoffmann

Laureate of the VI International Paulo Cello Competition, 21-year-old Bryan Cheng is acclaimed worldwide for his “absolutely astonishing” (La Presse, Montréal) command of the cello, “dreamy beauty” (Süddeutsche Zeitung), and “abundant facility, innate musicality, and sense of joy” (New York Concert Review). He made his solo debut at age 10 with the Orchestre de chambre I Musici de Montréal, his Carnegie Hall recital debut at 14, and his Elbphilharmonie solo debut in 2018 with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and conductor Joshua Weilerstein.

Solo highlights of recent and upcoming seasons include appearances with Finland’s Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and Tapiola Sinfonietta; Germany’s Schleswig-Holsteinisches Sinfonieorchester and Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim; New York’s Adelphi Orchestra; Missouri’s Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, Niagara and Okanagan Symphony Orchestras, and Symphony Nova Scotia, under the baton of such esteemed conductors as Susanna Mälkki, Peter Oundjian, David Geringas, and Jonathan Darlington.

As cellist of the ChengÇ Duo, Bryan has released a trilogy of critically acclaimed albums on the German label audite: Russian Legends (2019), Violonchelo del fuego (2018), and Violoncelle français (2016). He currently studies at the Universität der Künste Berlin with Jens Peter Maintz, and plays on the ca. 1696 Bonjour Stradivari cello with the ca. 1830 Shaw Adam bow, generously on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank, as First Laureate of their 2018 Competition. Bryan will use his second Gelber Foundation Award to continue a customized program of intensive study, including mentorship from master cellists and conductors; he will also participate in numerous prestigious international competitions, and develop new repertoire for performance.

Kady Evanyshyn

Born in Winnipeg, Kady Evanyshyn joined the International Opera Studio at the Hamburg Staatsoper in September 2019. A competitor in this year’s Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera International Song Competition, Ms. Evanyshyn is positioning herself at the crossroads of classical opera and contemporary vocal music. She recently premiered Stefano Gervasoni’s Drei Grabschriften for mezzo-soprano and piano and performed Berio’s Folk Songs with Jeffrey Milarsky in Alice Tully Hall. Upcoming performances include Claire in Cold Mountain (West Coast premiere), Glascha in Katja Kabanova (German debut), and J.S. Bach’s cantata Ich habe genug, conducted by Simone Dinnerstein. Ms. Evanyshyn has received awards from the Gerda Lissner Lieder/Song Competition and the Winnipeg Music Festival.

Past roles include Second Woman in Dido and Aeneas (New York, London, Versailles), Frau Reich in Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor (Juilliard), and Annio in La clemenza di Tito (Aspen). Kady is an alumnus of the Aspen Music Festival, Music Academy of the West, and Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Vocal Academy. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at The Juilliard School, studying with Edith Wiens. She is supported by the Novick Career Advancement Grant in addition to her Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award, which she will use to assist with travel, vocal lessons and German language training, and other costs that help to build her musical career during her stay in Germany.

Maïthéna Girault

Maïthéna is a first-prize winner of the Canadian Music Competition and winner of the 2017 Golden Violin Award, Canada’s largest collegiate music prize. She was the winner in the strings category and of the Québécor Prize at the 2019 Prix d’Europe competition. In 2015, she made her debut in Carnegie Hall as a soloist and chamber musician. A passionate chamber musician,

Maïthéna was a founding member of the Milton String Quartet, Grand Prize winner at the 2017 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.

Maïthéna entered the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal at age eight, where she studied with Helmut Lipsky for ten years. She went on to graduate with a Licentiate in Music and a Graduate Diploma of Performance from McGill University, where her primary teachers included Andrew Wan, Alexander Read and Axel Strauss. Maïthéna performs on the 1858 Ex. ”Comte Koucheliov” violin by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume with a bow by François Lotte, both generously loaned to her by Canimex. This is her second Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award; she plans to use it to continue her studies at the Manhattan School of Music with Lucie Robert and to pursue her involvement in chamber music.

Xiaoyu Liu

Now 22, pianist Xiaoyu Liu was born in Paris and raised in Montreal. One of the most dynamic and technically gifted pianists of his generation, he is heralded for musical interpretations that are “powerful, polished and emanate from a disciplined spirit” (The Telegram).

His playing has taken him around the world, and he has given recitals in Canada, China, the USA, Japan, France, Italy, Ukraine, Salvador, Poland, Israel, and Switzerland. As a soloist, he has performed with major orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Montréal Symphony Orchestra, Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Israel Camerata Jerusalem, Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, YOA Orchestra of the Americas, among others.

In 2014, he took part in a North-America tour with the China NCPA Orchestra, performing Ravel’s G major Concerto, and also appeared with them at the China National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. (National Post) described his interpretation “a subtle range of French colour and feeling ”. In 2018, he will be touring with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in China (Beijing Concert Hall, Shanghai Oriental Art Center, Changsha, and Fuzhou).

Winner of the Prix d’Europe and the Grand Prize at the OSM Competition, Xiaoyu has also won prizes and recognition in various prestigious international competitions, including the Sendai International Piano Competition, the Montreal International Music Competition, the Visue, the Grand Prix Animato in Paris, the Interlaken Classics in Bern, and the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel-Aviv. He has made numerous studio recordings with ICI Radio-Canada featuring works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel, and Satie. This is his second consecutive Gelber Foundation Award; it will assist him in pursuing his studies in Montreal and facilitate his participation in various international competitions.

Xiaoyu received the Prize with Great Distinction from the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal under Richard Raymond and he is continuing his studies with renowned pianist Dang Thai Son at the University of Montreal.

Josh Lovell

Canadian Tenor Josh Lovell is in his first season in the ensemble of the Wiener Staatsoper, performing Lysander in a new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lurcanio in Ariodante, Don Ramiro in La Cenerentolaand finally, Ernesto in Don Pasquale. Other engagements include Don Ramiro with The New Generation Festival in Florence, Gonsalve in L’Heure Espagnol with Wolf Trap Opera, Poisson in Adriana Lecouvreur as part of the Salzburger Festspiele’s Young Singer’s Project, Mozart’s Requiem with the Vancouver Symphony, and Handel’s Messiah with the Victoria Symphony.

Josh was a member of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, and participated in San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program.

Josh is the 2018 Grand Prize and Opera Prize winner of the 52nd Annual International Vocal Competition ‘s-Hertogenbosch in The Netherlands, the 2nd place winner of the 2018 Dallas Opera Competition, and the 3rd place winner of the Marcello Giordani Foundation competition; in 2017 he was a semi-finalist with the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. From Victoria, British Columbia, he was a student of Benjamin Butterfield at the University of Victoria and graduated from the University of Michigan, where he studied with Stanford Olsen. He currently studies with Julia Faulkner.

Ema Nikolovska

Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

Born in Macedonia and raised in Toronto, Ema earned a coveted place in the Opera Course at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she previously completed a Masters. Her principal teachers include Rudolf Piernay, Susan McCulloch and Helga Tucker. She has an undergraduate degree in violin from The Glenn Gould School, where she studied with Paul Kantor and Barry Shiffman.

Ema is a BBC New Generation Artist and a Young Classical Artist Trust (YCAT) Artist. Her prizes and awards include the Ferrier Loveday Song Prize, the Oxford Lieder Young Artist Platform award, the Guildhall Wigmore Prize, the Gerald Moore Award Singers’ Prize, the Susan Longfield Prize, the First and Audience Prizes at the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards, and Second Prize at the International Helmut Deutsch Lied Competition.

Ema has been part of the Art of Song Program in Toronto, the Britten-Pears Programme, the Music Academy of Villecroze, Les Azuriales, the Franz-Schubert-Institut, Thomas Hampson’s Lied Akademie, and the Verbier Festival’s Atelier Lyrique.

Recent highlights include a debut recital at Wigmore Hall, the Guildhall Gold Medal Final, and a Schubert Lieder recital with Malcolm Martineau at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin. Upcoming engagements include the Creative Dialogue XI Symposium with Kaija Saariaho, a recital with Joseph Middleton in Glenarm, the role of Celia in Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata and Sister Edgar in The Angel Esmeralda, and a premiere by Lliam Paterson (both Guildhall productions).

Ema is grateful to the Shipley Rudge Scholarship, London Syndicate and The Countess of Munster Musical Trust for their support. She will be applying her Gelber Award to the costs associated with living and studying in London.