The 2021 Walter Prystawski Prize

We are delighted to announce that Cameron Shahbazi of Hamilton, Ontario is this year’s Walter Prystawski Prize winner.

Praised by De Trouw for his “full, voluminous” voice and “personal and beautiful” timbre, Persian-Canadian countertenor Cameron Shahbazi is gaining recognition for his interpretations of both baroque and contemporary music. He is the recipient of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Prize at the 2018  International Belvedere Competition, 2nd Prize at the 2018 Innsbrucker Baroque Competiton, and top prizes at the 2017 Opéra Avignon Jeunes Espoirs Competition.

In 2020, Shahbazi returned to Oper Köln for a worldwide streaming of Written on Skin, conducted by François-Xavier Roth,

singing the role of The Boy/Angel 1 to critical acclaim. He subsequently landed on the cover of Das Opernglas and featured in Opera Canada Magazine. At the Dutch National Opera, Shahbazi created the role of Sergey Diaghilev in Willem Jeth’s new opera, Ritratto, which was one of the Guardian’s picks of opera and classical concerts to watch during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Shahbazi will be making highly anticipated role debuts in the 2021/22 season, including Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare in Egitto with the Moscow Chamber Ensemble, the title role in Tolomeo, re d’Egitto at the International Handel Festival in Karlsruhe, and Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a new production by Brigitte Fassbender at Oper Frankfurt.

Shahbazi was an associate artist of the Dutch National Opera Studio, a graduate of the University of Toronto and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and a grateful grant recipient of the Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation and Staetshuys Fonds. He is honoured to be receiving a Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award and the Foundation’s 2021 Walter Prystawski Prize.

Click here for more information about the Prize and about Walter Prystawski

The 2020 Walter Prystawski Prize

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2020 Walter Prystawski Prize is mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska. Ema is also a second-time winner of a Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award.

Born in Macedonia, Ema Nikolovska grew up in Toronto where she studied voice with Helga Tucker and completed an undergraduate degree in violin at The Glenn Gould School with Paul Kantor and Barry Shiffman. She received her Masters at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Upon graduation from the Guildhall Opera Course in 2019, Ema was invited to join the prestigious Berlin Staatsoper, where she embarked on a two-year contract last September. Her 2020 Gelber grant will enable her to pursue additional training in voice, dance, drama, and the German language, as well as to undertake various career-building initiatives.

In 2019 Ema was selected as a BBC New Generation Artist, won the Ferrier Loveday Song Prize at the Kathleen Ferrier Awards and was selected by Young Classical Artists Trust.

Awards during her studies include the Gerald Moore Award Singers’ Prize, 2nd prize at the 2018 Helmut Deutsch International Lied Competition with Michael Sikich, winner of the Oxford Lieder Young Artists Platform with Gary Beecher, Susan Longfield Prize and First and Audience Prizes at the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards.

Highlights over the last year include a Schubert recital with Malcolm Martineau at the Pierre Boulez Saal, her debut at Wigmore Hall with pianist Dylan Perez, singing in the final of the Guildhall Gold Medal in the Barbican Hall conducted by Richard Farnes, a recital of French song with Joseph Middleton at the Glenarm Festival of Voice, and a performance of Ligeti’s Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel broadcast by Radio 3. This past summer, Ema joined Verbier Festival Academy’s Atelier Lyrique and the Creative Dialogue XI Symposium led by Kaija Saariaho, Anssi Karttunen and Daniel Belcher in Finland.

This season Ema returns to the Boulez Saal, Heidelberger-Frühling and Oxford Lieder Festivals. She performs the role of Celia in Guildhall Opera’s production of La fedeltà premiata by Haydn (conducted by Alice Farnham, directed by Stephen Barlow), and Sister Edgar in a commission by Lliam Paterson, The Angel Esmeralda (conducted by Dominic Wheeler, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans). Concert performances will include Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in Berlin Cathedral, a recital at Lille Opera House with Simon Lepper, and performing Mahler and Malcolm Forsyth songs with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mei-Ann Chen.

Ema has been part of Graham Johnson’s Song Guild at Guildhall, Thomas Hampson’s Lied Akademie at the Heidelberger-Frühling Music Festival, the Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme, Les Azuriales Young Artists Programme, the Music Academy of Villecroze Masterclasses with Teresa Berganza, and the Franz-Schubert-Institut.

Ema is grateful to the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation, the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund, Shipley Rudge Scholarship and London Syndicate, as well as The Countess of Munster Musical Trust for supporting her studies.


The Walter Prystawski Prize, valued at $5,000, is given annually to the person whom the jury feels is the most deserving of all successful candidates. Its purpose is to provide extra funds to broaden the winner’s musical education and enable that person to enjoy the rich cultural experiences that might not otherwise be possible for a student or young professional.

The prize was created in recognition of Walter Prystawski’s invaluable contribution to the board of the Foundation. As a personal friend and colleague of Sylva Gelber and while he was still concertmaster of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Mr. Prystawski supported her decision, as a founding member of the board, to assist young musicians making the transition to a professional career. After her death in 2003, he continued to serve for some 15 years, helping to shape our program of awards and to establish the policies that continue to drive our process and our decisions. Mr. Prystawski’s wise counsel is greatly responsible for the Foundation’s success in recognizing and encouraging dozens of exceptionally talented young musicians.