A Welcome Return to Live Auditions and 12 Fantastic Award Winners!


This year, the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation received nominations from two dozen eminent teaching institutions in Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. The Foundation is grateful to its wonderful preselection panel for the many days they spent reviewing applications and listening to the recordings submitted by each applicant. They were: renowned pianist and University of Ottawa Professor Emeritus, Andrew Tunis; former Vancouver Symphony Orchestra principal flutist, currently performing with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and teaching at the University of Ottawa, Professor Camille Churchfield; distinguished mezzo-soprano Joanne Kolomyjec, Assistant Professor of voice at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music; and internationally respected pedagogue, soloist and chamber musician, violinist David Gillham from the University of British Columbia. Of those nominated, the panel chose 27 young musicians to progress to the final round of live auditions in Ottawa.

After two years of managing a competition in virtual space, the Foundation was thrilled to return to a live audition process for this year’s finalists. Unusually, auditions took place at the lovely Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, home to Ottawa Chamberfest.  We were grateful to Steinway Ottawa for their generosity in lending us a grand piano for the event.

We are also grateful to our five distinguished jurors for their days of service to the Foundation: pianist and international conductor Bill Eddins, Musical Director Emeritus of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; soprano and beloved voice teacher Rosemarie Landry, professor at the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Music and Sylva Gelber Music Foundation board member; celebrated pianist Stéphane Lemelin, Chair of Performance at McGill’s Schulich School of Music and Vice-Chair of the Foundation; the highly accomplished Britton Riley, a Canadian-American cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Centre in Washington and Founder-Artistic Director of Chamber Music@ New Park in Ithaca, NY; and acclaimed Canadian musician and former Conductor and Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic, James Sommerville, principal hornist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

It is our pleasure to announce this year’s award winners:

Leslie Ashworth, Viola
Oakville, Ontario

Alice Hong Photography

Named one of CBC’s 2021 edition of “30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30,” Leslie was a prize winner in the 2022 Stepping Stone International Competition in Quebec City and a semi-finalist in the 2022 Washington International String Competition. She has achieved the Royal Conservatory of Music’s ARCT Associate Diploma in Violin, Viola (2019 National Gold Medal), and Piano. Leslie received the Ontario Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteer Award for founding Suite Melody Care. She plays on a 1696 Albani violin and an 18th century Bohemian viola on loan from generous benefactors. She gratefully acknowledges the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation for their support of her studies at Juilliard  for 2022–23.

Described by Toronto Concert Reviews as “a mature artist and budding superstar,” Canadian violinist and violist Leslie Ashworth has performed in France, Italy, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and Toronto’s Koerner Hall. Ashworth earned her Bachelor of Music from The Glenn Gould School and her Master’s of Music in Violin from Rice University, studying with Barry Shiffman and Paul Kantor. She is pursuing a Master’s of Music in Viola with Misha Amory at The Juilliard School as a Morse Teaching Artist and a proud recipient of a Kovner Fellowship.

Matthew Cairns, Tenor
St. Catherines, Ontario

One of CBC’s 2019 “30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30,” Toronto-based tenor Matthew Cairns is making a name for himself as one of the most exciting young tenors on the rise.

In the 2022-23 season, Mr. Cairns joins the prestigious Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. He makes his Metropolitan Opera debut as the Messenger in Aida and covers the role of Bob Boles in Peter Grimes.

A force in competition, Mr. Cairns was a Grand Finalist in the 2022 Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition and a semi-finalist in the 2022 Neue Stimmen competition

An alum of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, Mr. Cairns was recently seen as the First Armoured Guard in The Magic flute, the Witch in Hansel and Gretel, Gamekeeper in Rusalka, and he covered Alfredo in La Traviata. He’s performed Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi with the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, Liberto in The Coronation of Poppea with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and Detlef in The Student Prince at the Chautauqua Institution, where he placed first in its Sigma Alpha Iota Competition. Other roles include Count Belfiore in La finta giardiniera, Sam Kaplan in Street Scene, and Sam Sharkey/Lumberjack in Paul Bunyan.

Mr. Cairns earned his master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Toronto. His award will assist with career development, travel and living costs in a year filled with classes and competitions as he transitions to an international career.

Gabrielle Després, Violin
Edmonton, Alberta

Canadian-born violinist Gabrielle Després is the winner of numerous competitions, most recently first prize in 2022 Juilliard Concerto Competition, second prize in the 2022 Washington International String Competition, first prize in the 2020 Irving M. Klein

International String Competition and second prize in the 2021 Shean Strings Competition. In 2020, she was included in CBC’s annual list of “30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30.”  

As a soloist, she has performed with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Edmonton. In 2021, she served as Concertmaster of the Juilliard Orchestra, performing Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben under the baton of Sir Antonio Pappano. Most recently, Gabrielle performed the Korngold Violin Concerto in her debut as soloist with the Juilliard Orchestra.  

Gabrielle received a Bachelor of Music degree at the Juilliard School where she studied with Masao Kawasaki and Joseph Lin. She will return to Juilliard this fall as a proud recipient of the Kovner Fellowship as she begins her pursuit of a Master of Music, studying with Catherine Cho and Donald Weilerstein. She is also very grateful to her past teachers, Robert Uchida and James Keene, for their guidance during her early years of study.

Gabrielle currently plays on a 1790 Giusppe and Antonio Gagliano of Naples violin, generously on loan from the Brobst Violin Shop. She gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Anne Burrows Music Foundation and the Edmonton Community Foundation in supporting her education. Her Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award will cover various travel and career development costs in the year ahead.

Daniel Dastoor, Violin
Montreal, Quebec

Known for his musical sensitivity and inspired performances, violinist Daniel Dastoor has emerged as one of Canada’s leading young artists. A native of Montreal and a frequent participant in competitions, Daniel is a winner of the Calgary Philharmonic’s Marley Rynd Scholarship, won first and second prize at the Glenn Gould School’s Chamber Competition, and is a prizewinner of the Canadian Music and Alberta Festival competitions. He has also performed as soloist with the Calgary Philharmonic and with the Lethbridge Symphony.

A passionate chamber musician, Daniel has participated in the Perlman Music Program, Kneisel Hall, the NAC’s Young Artist program, and at many other music programs and festivals, including Fontainebleau, Trondheim Chamber Music, the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance, the Banff Centre, and Orford. Daniel competed at the 11th Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition and at the 45th Fischoff Chamber Competition. He has appeared at the Festival de Febrero, Concerts@100, Rockport Chamber Music Festival, and the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto series, and has given performances across North America and Europe. Recent projects include recordings in Toronto’s Koerner Hall and an online performance as part of the Banff Centre’s EvoFest: Evolution Concert Series.

Daniel is currently in the first year of his Artist Diploma in Chamber Music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studies with Ian Swensen. Most recently, he completed an Artist Diploma at the Glenn Gould School where he studied with Paul Kantor and Barry Shiffman as a Temerty Fellow. He holds degrees in music from the Mount Royal Conservatory and the University of Calgary where he studied with Bill van der Sloot, and degrees in Computer Science from the University of Calgary and University of Toronto. He plays on a 1737 Guidantus violin on generous loan from the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Daniel gratefully acknowledges the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation for their generous support for his studies in San Francisco.

Sarah Dufresne, Soprano
Montreal, Quebec

Raised in beautiful Niagara Falls and currently based in Montreal, soprano Sarah Dufresne is known for her clarity of tone, rapid coloratura, and diverse repertoire. She has just completed a two-year residency at l’Opéra de Montréal and now looks forward to the 2022–23 season where she joins the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Artists Programme and debuts on the stage of Covent Garden.season where she joins the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Artists Programme and debuts on the stage of Covent Garden.

Recently praised for her vocal technique and ease on stage, Sarah’s 2021–22 season includes various concert performances with the l’Atelier lyrique, where she will appear as Messiah soloist for Chorus Niagara, as Anne for Ottawa Choral Society’s performance of Whitbourn’s Annelies, and will cover various roles at l’Opéra de Montréal through her resident artist position.

This past October, she appeared as Nora in Opéra de Montréal’s season opening production of Vaughn William’s Riders to the Sea.

Sarah has performed with various companies and orchestras across Canada, including Waterloo Chamber Players, Grand Philharmonic Choir of Kitchener Waterloo, Opera McGill, Halifax Summer Opera, and with Orchestre Metropolitain under the baton of Nicolas Ellis. Sarah has also completed residencies at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Lachine International Vocal Academy, the Stratford Summer Music Program, and the Scuola Giovanni Grasso.

Vartan Gabrielian, Bass-baritone
Toronto, Ontario

Canadian-Armenian bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian is a recent graduate of the Canadian Opera Company’s ensemble program and the Santa Fe Apprentice program. While still a student, he made his professional debut with the Opéra de Montréal performing the role of Sparafucile (Rigoletto).

Highlights in his upcoming 2022–23 season include his role and house debut as Nourabad (Les pêcheurs de perles) at Vancouver Opera. At the Canadian Opera Company, Gabrielian returns to perform Jailer (Tosca) and Dottore (Macbeth) in addition to covering Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), Banquo (Macbeth), and First Nazarene (Salome). A sought-after concert performer, Gabrielian will also be performing Verdi’s Requiem under the baton of Francis Choinière.

Recent appearences include performing the title role in Le nozze di Figaro at the Trentino Music Festival, Betto (Gianni Schicchi), Armed Guard (Die Zauberflöte), and Dottore Grenvil (La traviata) at the Canadian Opera Company, the title role of Sweeney Todd at Curtis Opera Theatre, and Leporello and Commendatore (Don Giovanni) at Opera Philadelphia. In prior seasons, he has performed the following roles at the Chautauqua Institute: King (Ariodante), Colline (La Bohème), Sparafucile (Rigoletto), Masetto (Don Giovanni), and Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte

Gabrielian was a finalist at the 2022 Belvedere Competition and has been a recipient of awards from numerous organizations including the Metropolitan Opera National Council, Career Bridges Schuyler Foundation, Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation, Gerda Lissner Foundation, and the George London Foundation.

Gabrielian is a graduate of the prestiguous Curtis Institute of Music, where he earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree of Vocal Performance under the tutelage of Marlena Malas and Armen Boyajian. His Sylva Gelber Music Foundation award is covering expenses related to his attendance at the Trentino festival, and travel and role preparation for a number of important European auditions.

Lauren Margison, Soprano
Toronto, Ontario

Recognized for her strong communication with audiences, soprano Lauren Margison is making her mark as a young artist of note. An alumna of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, she was a member of the prestigious Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, laureate of Jeune Ambassadrice Lyrique and the youngest finalist to appear in the prestigious and highly competitive Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Vocal Competition. A finalist and prizewinner in the 2017 George London Foundation Awards, Lauren went on to take first prize in the 2018 competition. 

Lauren’s upcoming and recent engagements include Tatiana in Eugene Onegin with Highlands Opera Studio, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for Orchestre symphonique de Québec, the title roles in The Csardas Princess with Toronto Operetta Theatre and Vanessa with Opera in Concert, and Micaela in Carmen with Pacific Opera Victoria. Her Gelber award will cover the expenses associated with an audition and coaching tour of Germany in the spring of 2023.

Elisabeth Pion, Piano
Saint-Hyacinth, Quebec

A curious and innovative artist, 26 year-old Quebec pianist Élisabeth Pion is internationally active as a soloist, chamber musician, and artistic collaborator.

Based in London, UK, Élisabeth is currently finishing the Artist Diploma program with Ronan O’Hora at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where she has been on full scholarship since 2018. She has previously worked in Canada with Francine Lacroix, Suzanne Goyette and André Laplante. She is also part of the Imogen Cooper Music Trust.

In July 2021, she made her Wigmore Hall solo recital debut. Her upcoming performances include her debut with the Orchestre symphonique de Sherbrooke and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. She has previously been invited as a soloist with notably the Orchestre classique de Montréal, the Ensemble Volte, the Orchestre symphonique de Laval, the Victoria Symphony and Arion Orchestre Baroque.

Élisabeth places great value on approaching music from a holistic perspective. Her deep interests in literature, writing and Tai Chi nurture her musical practice.  She is a member of the De Beauvoir Piano Trio and, with Agnès Langlois,  is also the Co-Director of the Festival Unisson, which centres on creating an immersive experience between a single listener and a musician.

Élisabeth has recently been awarded the 2022 Choquette-Symcox Award from the Fondation Jeunesses Musicales Canada. She is grateful for the support of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation, The Musicians’ Company Carnwath Scholarship, Help Musicians UK, the Fondation Jeunesses Musicales Canada and Talent Unlimited UK.

Sebastian Reuten, Oboe
Calgary, Alberta

Sebastian Reuten is a Master’s Music student specializing in Pedagogy at the Zurich University of the Arts. After meeting Prof. Louise Pellerin at the Orford Music Academy, he decided to pursue his music studies with her at the Zurich University of the Arts in 2018, where he completed his Bachelor’s in Oboe Performance in 2022. He received his first oboe lessons at the age of twelve with Associate Principal Oboe David Sussman in Calgary, where he grew up and attended the Advanced Performance Program at the Mount Royal Conservatory. In Switzerland, Sebastian performs as a soloist and as an orchestral musician with various ensembles, including the Swiss Youth Orchestra, as well as various trios and octets.

Recently, Sebastian has collaborated as a composer with Canadian students from Sheridan Art College to score the films “Under This Luminous Sky” (2022) and “Fuelled” (2021). In his spare time he enjoys writing music, watching films and travelling. Sebastian is proud to be one of the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation award winners and extremely grateful for the Foundation’s support of his continued studies in Switzerland.

Nicolas Richard, Bassoon
Fredericton, New Brunswick

Nicolas Richard was appointed Second Bassoon of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in 2021, having previously served as Principal Bassoon of the Niagara Symphony Orchestra. He has performed with Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, the National Ballet of Canada, and with the symphony orchestras of Windsor, Kingston, and Ottawa. 

Beyond his orchestral pursuits, Nicolas has appeared as a soloist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, and the University of Ottawa Orchestra. In addition to his 2022 Sylva Gelber Music Foundation Award, Nicolas won the second prize in the OSM Competition and is the first prize winner of the National Arts Centre Orchestra Bursary Competition, the Ottawa Symphony’s Sénécal-Mozart Prize, and the University of Ottawa’s Concerto Competition. 

Nicolas has spent summers in the United States at the Music Academy of the West and the National Repertory Orchestra. In Canada, he has attended the National Academy Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. 

Originally from Fredericton, Nicolas completed a Master of Music degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, studying with Benjamin Kamins. He received his Bachelor of Music at the University of Ottawa, where he studied with Christopher Millard and Richard Hoenich. Outside of practicing and obsessing over making reeds, Nicolas enjoys running and reading the given week’s New Yorker. 

Abigail Sinclair, Soprano
Halifax, Nova Scotia

A committed storyteller and performer, Halifax/Kjipuktuk soprano Abigail Sinclair seeks to inspire new audiences by fluidly reinterpreting classical works while promoting the creation and performance of contemporary music. Abigail recently completed a degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Toronto and with help from the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation will begin her MA (Performance) in Voice at the Royal Academy of Music in London this Fall.

This past Summer, she participated in SongFest in San Francisco where she was selected to premiere the 2022 Sorel Commission—a chamber piece entitled “Love, Loss and Exile” by American composer Juhi Bansal.

Abigail is the Executive Director of Green Room Sound Collective, an initiative promoting new music by emerging Toronto-based composers. Most recently she performed in the digital premiere of Green Room’s original chamber opera Union, for which she co-wrote the libretto.

Highlights of the last year include an Encouragement Award in the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition’s Buffalo/Toronto District, and a recital focussing on the depiction of female characters throughout music history, with pianist Ria Kim for the Banff Centre’s EvoFest: Evolution Concert Series.

Abigail is immensely grateful for the support of the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation, the Nova Scotia Talent Trust, and the University of Toronto.

Korin Thomas-Smith, baritone
Toronto, Ontario

Named as one of CBC Music’s 30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30 in 2021, baritone Korin Thomas-Smith has been praised for his “warm, rich tone” (Schmopera) and enjoys a career performing in the United States and Canada. Korin is honoured to be supported by the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation, which will help with living and career development costs in the year ahead.

Korin is currently pursuing studies at Yale University in the Masters of Musical Arts program, performing as Tarquinius in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and Raimbaud in Rossini’s Le comte Ory in spring of 2023. Other roles include Dulcamara in the 2022 production of L’elisir d’amore, as well as upcoming scenes performances as Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro and Malatesta in Don Pasquale

In 2022, Korin attended the Ravinia Steans Music Festival as a vocal fellow. Korin is also alumnus of Music Academy of the West, and the Aspen Music Festival and School where he covered Count Almaviva in their production of Le nozze di Figaro.

Korin was a fellow of the Rebanks Family Fellowship and International Performance Residency Program at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 2020, and holds a Masters degree in Opera Performance from the University of Toronto, where he performed the roles of Edmund Bertram in Dove’s Mansfield Park, Figaro and Nardo in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and La finta giardiniera, and Harry Easter in Weill’s Street Scene. In 2019, Korin was awarded the James and Charlotte Norcop Prize in Song, and gave a prizewinner’s recital alongside fellow recipient and pianist Joy Lee.