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-Cana dian 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

Meet the 2020 winners of the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Awards!

When it became clear last March that Canada, along with the rest of the world, had been struck by a pandemic, the board of the Foundation met to discuss how or if we should proceed with this year’s competition. The board was unanimous in its decision to put the competition online, in spite of the less-than-ideal conditions that created both for jury members and candidates. It was felt that the support afforded annually by the Foundation to young Canadian musicians was simply too significant to suspend the program until life returned to normal. And so, forward we went, with a quickly redesigned process!

This year, in addition to moving online, we were able to call upon a remarkable group of musicians to sift through applications and the 45 minutes of music provided by each candidate. We wish to acknowledge these individuals for devoting days of their time to this task, as well as for the extraordinary care with which they considered each application. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Jeremy Bell, Donna Brown, James Campbell, Rosemarie Landry, Stéphane Lemelin, and Lydia Wong.

The jury anticipated that performing artists around the globe were likely to be severely affected by COVID-19 restrictions; they realized that many opportunities that would have been available in normal times would be significantly curtailed. Consequently, they took the decision to spread available funds a bit more widely than would ordinarily be the case, so that a greater number of highly deserving artists could benefit, even if the amounts awarded were somewhat less than usual.

Here are the 2020-21 award winners:

Eva Aronian, Violin—Calgary, Alberta

Born in 1995, Canadian-Armenian violinist Eva Aronian has received numerous accolades, including the 2018/19 Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award, and top prizes at the Minnesota Orchestra Young Artists Competition (2019) and at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal Manulife Competition (2016). Praised as an artist “balancing emotional weight and technical virtuosity […] conveying the music’s power with a persuasiveness matched by few and surpassed by none” (Culture Spot LA), she has graced audiences with solo and chamber music performances across Canada, the United States, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Norway in such halls as Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Jordan Hall (Boston), Zipper Hall (LA), Maison Symphonique (Montreal), Teatro dal Verme (Milan), and the Kimmel Center (Philadelphia).

Ms. Aronian most recently served as teaching assistant to Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory, where she received both undergraduate and Master’s degrees. She is continuing her studies as an Artist Diploma candidate studying with David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, England. Ms. Aronian performs on a c.1700 Giovanni Tononi violin on generous loan from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Tim Beattie, Classical Guitar—Barrie, Ontario

Born in Toronto in 1997, Tim Beattie is currently studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland under Allan Neave and Matthew McAllister. He graduated cum laude from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in 2019, where he studied with Gabriel Bianco and Lex Eisenhardt. Drawn to the guitar at a very young age, Tim spent his formative years studying with maestro Robert Hamilton at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where he was the first guitarist ever invited to join the Phil and Eli Taylor Academy for Young Artists.

Named “Most Promising Youth” at the 2016 Arts and Culture Awards in Barrie, Tim has since been recipient of numerous awards including top prizes at the Antwerp International Guitar Competition, Brussels International Guitar Competition, Ex-Aequo International Competition, Hamilton International Guitar Competition, James  Stroud Guitar Competition, North East Scotland Guitar Society Award, Twents International Gitaar Competition, Uppsala International Guitar Competition, among many others.

Performance highlights include appearances at the Brussels International Guitar Festival, the Embassy of Canada in Belgium, Chamber Music Orillia, Cleveland International Castle (for the Duke of Buccleuch), Hamilton’s First Ontario Concert Hall (opening for KD Lang), Sauble Beach Guitar Festival, Ullapool Guitar Festival, Podium Wittemann (Dutch national TV), Concertzender (Dutch radio), and the online platform Young Classicals.

Aaron Chan, Violin—Richmond Hill, Ontario

Violinist Aaron Chan has established himself as one of the rising young artists of his generation. Aaron came to public attention when he won the Golden Violin Competition in 2019, which granted him a public recital at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. Aside from his performances as a soloist, Aaron has also performed as a chamber musician, participating in renowned competitions and festivals such as Verbier Festival Academy’s Soloists & Chamber Music program, the Fischoff competition, Aspen Music Festival & School, and ENCORE Chamber Music.

Aaron pursued his Bachelor of Music with Stephen Rose and Jinjoo Cho at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) and McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, where he also minored in Music History. He was the winner of the Concerto competition at CIM in the Fall of 2017, which gave him a public performance with the CIM orchestra at the Severance Hall. In 2018, Aaron won the classical concerto competition and chamber competition with his quartet (Lafontaine Quartet), which granted him public performances at the Pollack Hall and the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur respectively. 

As a violinist, he has played for numerous world-renowned musicians in masterclass settings, including Boris Kushnir, Augustin Hadelich, Mihaela Martin, Paul Kantor, Phillip Setzer, Roberto Díaz, and Guillaume Sutre. And as a chamber musician, he has worked with prominent chamber groups such as Artemis Quartet, Quatuor Ébène, Takács Quartet, the Alban Berg Quartet.

Anny Chen, Violin

Anny Chen is a Canadian-Taiwanese violinist currently studying at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris in the class of Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabedian. She previously studied at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, with Prof. Tanja Becker-Bender and the Royal College of Music London, with Dr. Felix Andrievsky.

Anny’s competition successes include winning 1st prize and audience prize at the 2019 Leopold Bellan International Music Competition, earning prizes at the 2018 and 2019 Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben Instrument Competition, winning 1st prize at  the Elise Meyer Competition and 3rd prize at the Shu-Te Sylvia Lee Violin Competition. Anny is an alumna of the Perlman Music Program and has performed at prestigious venues such as Wigmore hall (London) and the Laeizhalle (Hamburg). As a soloist, Anny has played with the HfMT Symphony Orchestra and Cambridge Graduates’ Orchestra, among others. She plays on a 1730 Petrus Guarneri kindly on loan from the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben.

Bryan Cheng, Cello—Ottawa, Ontario

Winner of the inaugural Bader & Overton Canadian Cello Competition (2020) and Grand Prize at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Competition (2019), 22-year-old Bryan Cheng has already secured a distinctive place in the world of classical music. 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 debut with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in 2018.

Highlights of recent and upcoming seasons include solo engagements with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Panamá, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim, Orchestra of the Americas, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, as well as the Kingston, Okanagan, Springfield, Adelphi, Niagara, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Lahti, and Schleswig-Holstein symphonies.

Bryan has collaborated with esteemed conductors Matthias Pintscher, Susanna Mälkki, Peter Oundjian, Joshua Weilerstein, and Jonathan Darlington. A former student of the late Yuli Turovsky and Hans Jørgen Jensen, Bryan is now in the studio of Jens Peter Maintz at the Universität der Künste Berlin. He plays the ca. 1696 Bonjour Stradivari cello and ca. 1830 Shaw Adam bow, generously on loan from the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank as First Laureate of their 2018 Competition. This is Bryan’s third award from the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation which, in 2019, also selected him to receive its first Walter Prystawski Prize.

Isabelle David, piano—Montreal, Quebec

Credit: Catherine David

Isabelle David is the youngest family member in a line of pianists stretching back five generations. Praised for her “poetic and supple virtuosity” (Helsingin Sanomat), she has participated in numerous festivals in North America and Europe, including appearances at Jordan Hall in Boston, Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, New York’s famed Carnegie Hall and Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Montreal.

Isabelle has collaborated with various ensembles, notably as soloist with the symphony orchestras of Montreal, Longueuil, Trois-Rivières, and Drummondville and as a chamber player with the Borromeo String Quartet and the Fine Arts Quartet. For the past ten years she has also been part of a duo with Canadian violinist Yolanda Bruno. The Bruno-David duo launched its first album, The Wild Swans, in 2019.

Isabelle is a doctoral student at Université de Montréal under the direction of Jean Saulnier. Her doctoral project, for which she received a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, involves the publication and interpretation of the piano repertoire of Quebec composer Auguste Descarries. Descarries was the piano teacher and mentor of the wonderful pianist, Louise Lussier, Isabelle’s maternal grandmother.

Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, Piano—Salmon Arm, British Columbia

Praised by conductors, composers, and audiences alike for his exceptional communicative power, thoughtful interpretations, and advocacy for Canadian compositions, Jaeden Izik-Dzurko is a Grand Prize winner of the FCMF National Competition, a winner of Juilliard’s prestigious Gina Bachauer Competition, Third Prize and Peter Takács Classical Sonata award winner at the Hilton Head International Piano Competition and the youngest Laureate of this year’s Cochran International Piano Competition.

Jaeden currently studies piano at The Juilliard School in New York City with Dr. Yoheved Kaplinsky; he previously studied with Dr. Corey Hamm and Ian Parker. Also instrumental in his development have been a number of excellent international summer music programs: Morningside Music Bridge, Art of the Piano, Musicfest Perugia, Domaine Forget, and The Aspen Music Festival and School.

Jaeden has organized and presented several solo recitals benefitting local community and international humanitarian projects. He has collaborated with local and international instrumentalists, vocalists, and chamber ensembles and performed with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, the Kamloops Symphony, and the Lions Gate Sinfonia. He has been featured on CBC Music, and broadcast live from Juilliard on WQXR.

Jessy Je Young Kim, Violin—Toronto, Ontario

Jessy Je Young Kim is an up and coming violinist from Toronto, ON with a versatile performance career that includes solo, chamber and orchestral concerts. She frequently plays with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She has won numerous awards and scholarships around Canada, including the Hnatyshyn Foundation Developing Artist Grant and 2nd prize at the Shean Strings Competition in Edmonton.

Career highlights include performances with the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Northwest in Seattle, Vancouver Pilgrim Orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Symphony and Guelph Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, she gave her debut performance in Koerner Hall in Toronto playing Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto under the baton of Johannes Debus. During her summers, she led the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra as their concertmaster. At the Yale School of Music, she won the Oneppo Chamber Music Prize and played in Carnegie Hall as part of the Yale in New York series with Ani Kavafian, William Purvis and Wei-Yi Yang. Jessy has completed her studies in University of Toronto, Yale School of Music and the Glenn Gould School studying with Ani Kavafian, Jonathan Crow, Barry Shiffman and Paul Kantor. Recently, she was named a fellow for the Rebanks Family Fellowship at the Royal Conservatory.

Alexander Malikov, Piano—Toronto, Ontario

A graduate of Oberlin College, where he studied with Angela Cheng and the Juilliard School, where he studied with Julian Martin, Alexander Malikov went on to receive an Artist Diploma under Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music and a Doctorate of Musical Arts with Anton Nel at the University of Texas.

Malikov has been featured as Artist-in-residence on Performance Today with the Minnesota Public Radio, and on both the modern piano and the fortepiano with members of the New World Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas. As a recitalist, he has appeared in many venues and festivals, including the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheater in Toronto, the Banff International String Quartet Festival, as “Montague Artist” at the Heidelberg University in Ohio, and at the “Rising Star” series at the Texas State International Piano Festival. Recent highlights include solo recitals in Toronto, the Rachmaninov-Paganini Rhapsody with the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Michelle Merrill and a world premiere of a new piano concerto by composer Minho Yoon. Also a composer, Alexander often performs his own solo piano works, and gave the world premiere of his own piano concerto in 2016.

Alexander Malikov received a gold medal at the Manhattan International Competition, and is a winner of numerous other piano competitions: the Knigge, the Shean, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and Toronto Symphony Orchestra competitions, and the Carl Baldassare Composer-Performer competition. He is currently pursuing an Artist Diploma Program with James Anagnoson and sohn Perry at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto.

Ema Nikolovska, Mezzo-soprano—Toronto, Ontario

see Walter Prystawski Prize for details

Christian Paquette, Flute—Ottawa, Ontario

© Kate L Photography |

Canadian flutist Christian Paquette is the newly appointed Principal Flute of the York Symphony Orchestra and, with support from the Foundation, is currently in the Doctoral Program at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University under the tutelage of Marina Piccinini. He has also worked in flute repairs with Adam Workman, founder of Flutistry Boston. Christian has frequently performed back in his hometown with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Thirteen Strings Ensemble. He was President of the Ottawa Flute Association from 2015 to 2017.

Christian has performed in the Music and Beyond Festival, in recitals at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, Concerto performances with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra (Nielsen), the University of Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (Ibert and Nielsen), and with the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra (Rodrigo). He is the recipient of numerous competition awards, including first prize at the Yale Gordon Competition, Canadian Music Competition, the National Music Festival, the NACO Bursary Competition and many others.  Past teachers include Paula Robison, Denis Bluteau, and Camille Churchfield.

Elisabeth Pion, Piano—Montreal, Quebec

TIHMS & Van Velden Fotografie

A scholarship winner of Jeunesses Musicales Canada, the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund, the Countess of Munster Musical Trust and the Kathleen Trust, pianist Élisabeth Pion is currently on full scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where she studies with Ronan O’Hora. She is the recipient of a prize “with great distinction” from the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, where she studied with Suzanne Goyette and André Laplante.

In addition to her Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award, Élisabeth has won First Prize at the Thousand Islands International Piano Competition, the Banque Nationale Prize of the Prix d’Europe competition (Quebec), and First Prize at the Shean Piano Competition.

She has participated in masterclasses with Stephen Hough, Nikolaï Lugansky, Richard Goode, Robert Levin and Christian Blackshaw. In 2018, Élisabeth was one of the CBC’s ”30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30.” She was a 2020-2021 Imogen Cooper Music Trust artist and is looking forward to her Wigmore Hall debut in London on July 13, 2021.

Pheobe Robertson, Flute—Sackville, New Brunswick

Flutist Phoebe Robertson has recently performed in such venues as Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, earning commendations for her solo, chamber, and orchestral playing. In 2015, she was awarded the Grand Prize of the National Arts Centre Orchestra Bursary Competition and the Competition’s Special Award for Excerpts. She has since earned prizes throughout Canada and the United States, including the Harry G. Archer Award for Performance, the Silberman Chamber Music Award, and the title of Major Artist of the Pittsburgh Concert Society. Praised for her “superb” orchestral leadership by Le Devoir (Montreal), she has led the flute sections of the Orchestra of the Americas, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and the European Union Youth Orchestra in tours throughout North America and Europe. Her appearances as a concerto soloist have included performances with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic. A keen advocate for new music, she premiered a recital of new works for solo flute by composers of the Tesselat Composers Collective in December 2019 and gave two premieres through the Bowdoin International Music Festival in July 2020.

Raised in Sackville, New Brunswick, Phoebe is a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts at the Manhattan School of Music, studying under Linda Chesis and Robert Langevin. She holds a Master of Music degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Music degree summa cum laude from the University of Ottawa, where she studied with Lorna McGhee and Camille Churchfield, respectively. She will be applying the funds from her Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award to travel costs associated with upcoming performance opportunities as well as the completion of her doctoral coursework.

Grace Sohn, Cello—Vancouver, British Columbia

Born in 1999, Grace Sohn is now based in Berlin, where she studies at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule für Musik, with Prof. Troels Svane. Her studies are supported with scholarships from the Sylva Gelber Foundation and the BC Council of Arts. As a rising next-generation artist, she was first prize winner of the Vienna Classical Strings Competition, the International Anton Rubinstein Competition in Berlin, and the International Busan Maru Competition in South Korea. She also won top prizes at the OSM Competition in Montreal and the Shean Strings Competition in Canada. In 2018, she was named one of “30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians under 30.”

Grace has performed as soloist in Europe, Asian and America with Mozarteum Collegium Orchestra, Philharmonia Northwest, Busan Philharmonic, Zagreb Virtuoso and with the VAM Symphony Orchestra. She has participated in masterclasses with renowned artists, including David Geringas, Jens Peter Maintz, Rafael Wallfish, Denis Brott and Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt. As a scholarship holder at the Liechtenstein Musikakademie, she participated in their intensive masterclass program.

Grace currently plays a Nicolaus Gagliano II cello on loan from the Canadian Council for the Arts and a french bow made by Claude Thomassin.

Abby Walsh, Violin—Sherbrooke, Quebec

A young artist of note on the Montreal arts scene, violinist Abby Walsh is recognized for her great richness of sound and her innate artistic sense. A recipient of many awards throughout her musical journey to date, Abby completed her studies at the Conservatoire de musique with the highest distinction, in the class of Johanne Arel. With help from the Gelber Foundation, she is continuing her studies at Rice University (Texas) under Paul Kantor.

A participant in numerous workshops and masterclasses, Abby has had the opportunity to work with acclaimed musicians, such as Leonidas Kavakos, Ilya Kaler, Christian Tetzlaff, Mihaela Martin, Boris Kuschnir, Vadim Repin and Giora Schimdt, to name but a few.

Grand Lauréat of the Concours de musique Classique de Pierre-de-Saurel in 2018 and of the Festival-Concours de musique de Sherbrooke in 2015, Abby had her debut at Montreal’s Place des Arts in the spring of 2018 in the context of its Foundation’s concert series, “Grande première des futures étoiles;” She was a soloist with l’Orchestre symphonique du Conservatoire and I Musici, playing the Korngold concerto at Symphony Hall. She will give her first solo concert in Pro Musica’s Mélodînes series.

Abby plays a Joseph Guarneri “Filius Andrea” violin (1705) and uses a Eugène Sartory bow, both graciously on loan from Canimex.

Tony Yike Yang, Piano—Toronto, Ontario

Tony Yike Yang Is a young pianist of growing acclaim. At only 16 years of age, Yang garnered 5th Prize at the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (2015) the youngest-ever laureate of the competition. More recently, he was awarded the Jury Discretionary Award at the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he was the youngest competitor. In previous years, Yang won top prizes at numerous international competitions, and won the silver medal at the 2014 Canadian National Chopin Competition in Toronto.

Yang has performed extensively in Canada and the United States and has made numerous appearances in Europe and Asia. In addition to his appearances at festivals and gala events, highlights include performances for Her Royal Highness Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Yang’s critically acclaimed debut album, Tony Yike Yang – Chopin: Sonata B-Moll / Ballada F-Moll / Mazurki, was released in August 2016 on the Fryderyk Chopin Institute’s Blue Series. The tracks are from Yang’s live performance in the second and third stages of the Chopin Competition in Warsaw (October 2015).

Yang has been featured on many television programs, including the “Inspiration Generation” series on Global TV, where he was selected as one of six outstanding Canadian young people. In 2016, he was named CBC Music’s Classical Young Artist.

He is currently pursuing a joint BA/MM at Harvard University, with a concentration in economics, and the New England Conservatory of Music where he is studying with Prof. Alexander Korsantia. In 2019, he served on the jury of the Hong Kong International Music Festival, and in 2020 on the jury of the Steinway Canada Young Artists Piano Competition (virtual edition).

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.

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.