30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30, 2021 edition
Meet the young musicians burning up Canada's classical music scene
Merriam-Webster defines hot as "capable of unusual performance" and "currently popular or in demand," and that's definitely the case with the sizzling young musicians featured in our annual classical "30 under 30" list, a summer tradition at CBC Music dating back to 2013.
The 2021 edition includes musicians who've grabbed our attention over the past 12 months by winning competitions and awards, graduating from top music schools, making exciting debuts and releasing new albums — all while a global pandemic was raging. No small feat.
Scroll down to meet this year's inductees into our classical "30 under 30" community, from oldest to youngest. And if there's a rising classical music star you'd like us to know about, hit us up on Twitter via @CBCclassical using the hashtag #CBC30under30.
Arlen Hlusko, cellist
From: Lowville, Ont.
Where to begin? In May, Arlen Hlusko released Nineteen Movements for Unaccompanied Cello, an arresting performance of a 50-minute work, which she commissioned, by Scott Ordway. The Gramophone review describes "a continuum for musical ideas and experiments that have an absorbing originality of their own."
"I'm not very good at sitting still outside of work," Hlusko admits, which explains why she started #SeptemberSoloCello, a COVID-19 project that saw her collaborating with more than 20 composers from all over the world on new pieces for solo cello. Hlusko is also a newly appointed member of the famed Bang on a Can All-Stars ("a dream come true"), whose upcoming season includes a residency at Carnegie Hall. It's not her first association with Carnegie Hall: she's also involved in its Musical Connections program, in which inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility create and perform music with visiting artists.
Hlusko concedes her book-buying habit is out of control ("it's a sickness") while praising recently read Think Again by Adam Grant as "a fascinating dive into human thought processes, the process of learning and unlearning and admitting what we don't know." Hlusko has a long-standing fascination with neuroscience and doesn't rule out returning to school for in-depth study. "I've also considered taking a summer off to be a park ranger," she says. Anything seems possible.
Marie Nadeau-Tremblay, baroque violinist
In 2020, Marie Nadeau-Tremblay and the other two-thirds of her trio, Les Barocudas, released La Peste, their debut album devoted to music composed during periods marked by plague. The striking album art gave them the appearance of LARPers (which perhaps they are?) and their performance blew everyone away and got nominated for a Juno Award. Since then, Nadeau-Tremblay was named Radio-Canada's classical Révélation for 2021-22, and has recorded her next album, Préludes et Solitudes, a collection of music for solo violin by Telemann, Biber and others, slated for release in September.
In the practice room, Nadeau-Tremblay devotes an inordinate amount of attention to the unruly ring finger of her left hand. "I spend about 70 per cent of my practice time every day just trying to make it work!" It's evidently paying off, but if ever she just can't even and throws in the towel, she says the cornetto, electric guitar or guzheng would be viable alternatives to the violin.
Nadeau-Tremblay got seduced by baroque music upon hearing Il Giardino Armonico's Viaggio Musicale — "It's 17th-century music like you've never heard it before, with so much fire, beauty and panache!" — and singles out Jacob Collier ("an actual genius") and Bruce Lee as inspirations. "Bruce said once, 'To me, ultimately, martial arts means honestly expressing yourself.' I feel the same way about music, and about art in general," she muses. This may explain how she got so good (and competitive) at retro video games. "I bet I can beat anyone at Dr. Mario on Nintendo 64," she boasts.
Ryan Davis, violist
Just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryan Davis was selected as a contestant on Serge Ibaka's Instagram Live show, How Talented are You?, on which he played a loop-pedal cover of Drake's "Hotline Bling." "It was a surreal collision of my two favourite things, music and basketball," he says. A self-described Toronto Raptors fanatic, this former Rebanks fellow at the Royal Conservatory of Music is also an origami amateur, a coffee connoisseur, a flag enthusiast ("I would estimate that I can identify about 60 flags of different countries at this point") and the proud parent of a "beautifully massive monstera plant."
Davis says he's lucky to have parents who've supported him with "kindness and grace," and a big brother "who didn't shove [him] in a locker once while growing up." Despite his accomplishments, he describes the viola as "a very humbling instrument" and says he's "frequently working on smooth bow changes, different types of vibrato, and string crossings."
A big achievement of the past year was recording one of his own compositions for viola and electronics, Colour You Like, at Toronto's Koerner Hall. "The response I received was overwhelmingly encouraging," he says. Under the moniker Radia, Davis hopes to release an album of his own compositions before the end of the year.
We invited him and "30 under 30" alum Kevin Ahfat to Glenn Gould Studio to play music by Frank Bridge:
Gabrielle Gaudreault, choral conductor, pianist
From: Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Que.
No sooner had Gabrielle Gaudreault completed her doctorate in choral conducting at McGill University than the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. "Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities, and that's OK," she reflects. With job prospects looking grim, she and her husband started their own business, CG Music Academy, offering piano, voice and composition lessons in Arlington, Va. "We are proud of how much the business has grown in the first year; we have now hired two more teachers, and are offering both virtual and in-person lessons." She also sings and conducts with Artifice Ensemble, a choral ensemble in Washington, D.C., that focuses on new music. Perhaps one day they'll collaborate with composer, and fellow McGill grad, Maria Atallah, a favourite of Gaudreault. "She has a very unique compositional language — her music mixes electroacoustic and extended techniques with elements of ancient music from Eastern Christianity."
Gaudreault's path began at Montreal's Vanier College, where conductor Erica Phare ignited her passion. "She radiated a pure and contagious joy of singing," Gaudreault recalls. "She was 100 per cent invested in our success and we all felt it."
Late in 2020, Gaudreault travelled to Hamburg, Germany, to work as the assistant conductor to Kent Nagano at the Staatsoper and Staatsorchester, but her most exciting project is set for the fall: "My husband and I are looking forward to the birth of our first child in October 2021."
Alexander Soloway, pianist
For Alexander Soloway, the COVID-19 pandemic's dark cloud had an unexpected silver lining. "I love playing the piano, working on great music and preparing for the stage," he says, "but there hasn't been a stage for over a year now. For the first time in my life I have allowed myself the indulgence of a weekend. It seems insane as a musician to do that, and even more insane to admit it publicly."
Those leisurely weekends may be a thing of the past for the graduate of the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio: this fall he'll enter the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program to further his training as a collaborative pianist and vocal coach. Until then, he's spending part of the summer at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, Calif., taking part in, among other things, a 21st-century Liederabend and a performance of Charles Loeffler's Quatre poèmes, Op. 5, with mezzo-soprano Sun-ly Pierce and violist Richard O'Neill.
Offstage, Soloway enjoys skateboarding and snowboarding ("to the dismay of many of my piano teachers, who are sure I will break my wrists") and playing and watching hockey. When he's not scoring goals, he's striving for them: "Playing beautiful legato will be the pursuit from now until forever," he says, adding, "I'd like to be able to play 'Erlkönig' without having to practise."
Brandyn Lewis, double bassist
A teacher once told Brandyn Lewis he sounded like a bass player. "I am a bass player and wasn't sure what he meant," he now recalls. "It took me some time to realize that he was challenging me to have the same lyricism and expression as a cellist or tenor." Lewis took the advice to heart, and has been working as a section bassist in the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and recently co-founded Ensemble Obiora, whose mission is "to uncover and disseminate works by composers of colour ... and to hire musicians from different cultural backgrounds to increase their representation on the classical music stage." Ensemble Obiora was selected for Free Rein, the National Arts Centre's summer residency program, and will give its inaugural concert at Montreal's Salle Pierre-Mercure on Aug. 28.
Chi-chi Nwanoku has been Lewis's biggest inspiration. "She is a brilliant musician and founder of the Chineke Foundation, which promotes diversity in classical music in the U.K. She inspired me to develop Ensemble Obiora here in Canada," he explains.
"An orchestra week takes a toll on the body, and I play the double bass, which is physically demanding to play," notes Lewis. "I try my best to distance myself from classical music on my days off to maintain a healthy balance." Pop music is an effective antidote: "I pretend like I'm a contestant on The Voice every time I hop in the shower," Lewis admits. "I invent choreography and everything."
Samuel Fraser, bassoonist
"Being a bassoonist will get you very few dates," says Samuel Fraser, principal bassoonist with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra since 2017, although he concedes the job comes with perks: "You get to do work every day that will give you goosebumps [and] you get to be part of a community of incredibly talented and interesting people." For Fraser, no music is more hair-raising than Shostakovich's. "I love the characters he writes into his music. I often listen to the oboe solo in the third movement of his first symphony on repeat when I'm running."
Fraser did two half-marathons during the pandemic — "I've had more time to take care of my physical health," he says — and picked up a job at Long & McQuade when performances stopped. But soon it's back to work, including his teaching jobs at the University of Windsor and Wilfrid Laurier University, where he pays forward his own experiences as a student: "Eric Hall, my first bassoon teacher, has consistently been there for me throughout my studies and career. He is a dear friend and colleague and is a beacon of positivity and musical knowledge."
A "big fan of chamber music," Fraser is a founding member of Daraja Ensemble. He says of all animals he most closely resembles a turtle ("if I could, I would turn down my shyness dial a few notches") and is addicted to Hamilton: An American Musical Soundtrack ("the cast that recorded that album is fire.")
Rebecca Cuddy, mezzo-soprano
From: Brampton, Ont.
Rebecca Cuddy remained busy during the COVID-19 pandemic as Indigenous artist in residence at the National Theatre School of Canada in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal). "I'm trying my hand at different practices in the theatre arts and it is just incredible," she enthuses. "Directing, lighting and sound design, playwriting and, by extension, libretto-writing, straight theatre and acting — even the making of a short film. A love of opera sets you up to see the grand beauty in all theatre."
While Cuddy graduated from Western University in London, Ont., and later the Royal Academy of Music in the U.K., she singles out her very first singing teacher, Claudiu Stoia, for "believing in me and always speaking with me honestly about the realities of this career path." And she has reconnected with him since returning to Canada for "Zoom lessons that leave my cheeks stinging from laughter," she says.
One challenge Cuddy faces is travelling. "I absolutely despise every aspect of flying," she explains. "I have anxiety dreams about it, I have a grotesque interest in hearing stories about flight disasters (as if this could ever help me feel better)." But she'll put up with it to do what she loves. Upcoming projects include Medusa's Children with OperaQ, and making her Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra debut in February 2022 singing Josette in Li keur; Riel's Heart of the North. Soundstreams recently released her performance with pianist Gregory Oh of Ian Cusson's Five Songs on Poems of Marilyn Dumont and Raven Chacon's Ella Llora, which you can watch here.
William Broverman, bass trombonist
From: Langley, B.C.
Last year, William Broverman moved back to Canada after spending four years as bass trombonist with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Yucatán in Mérida, Mexico, where a highlight was performing as a soloist in Frigyes Hidas's Florida Concerto for Tenor and Bass Trombone alongside the OSY's principal trombonist, Todor Ivanov. "I got very nervous in the weeks leading up to our performance but Todor helped me find the confidence I needed," he recalls.
While Broverman may have set out on his Mexican adventure alone, he has returned to the Vancouver area not only fluent in Spanish, but also accompanied by Leona, a street cat whom he nursed back to health. "She moved back home to Canada with me last summer and is fitting in perfectly as a new member of the family," he says.
"The majority of my professional career has happened outside Vancouver, as I left the city early on in my studies," Broverman reflects. "This has made it all the more exciting to come back and share the stage with some of the first professional musicians I really admired." In addition to joining the Vancouver Brass Collective and playing with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, he's been reacquainting himself with all the region has to offer: "There's nothing like hiking some of the beautiful B.C. forest trails while listening to Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony or Swan Lake with a good pair of headphones on — while being mindful of bears in the area, of course."
Jessy Je Young Kim, violinist
The first thing to know about Jessy Je Young Kim is that she, along with millions the world over, got hooked on Justin Bieber's latest album, Justice. On the other end of the musical spectrum, famed Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has long held Kim in her thrall. "She can express her thoughts and intent so well," she elaborates. Kim also recalls breaking her DVD of violin concertos by Beethoven and Brahms played by Itzhak Perlman and the Berlin Philharmonic under Daniel Barenboim by watching it so much: "I was blown away. It was so inspiring and all I could think was, 'I want to do that for the rest of my life.' I was about 11 years old and I remember trying to copy Mr. Perlman in the parts I could pick up by ear."
When she's not practising and thinking about music, Kim immerses herself in literature. "I love Haruki Murakami's books and am currently reading Men Without Women," she says. "I finished The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. It talks about how to be in the right mindset to perform to your fullest," which echoes something her violin teacher, Jonathan Crow, told her: "The only thing that is holding you back is you and you need to believe in yourself and be confident in your ideas."
A recipient of a 2020 Sylva Gelber Foundation Award, and a 2021 Toronto Summer Music fellow, Kim will begin a Rebanks Family Fellowship at the Royal Conservatory this fall. "I'm looking forward to playing chamber music in front of a live audience!"
Elisabeth Boudreault, soprano
From: Jonquière, Que.
Elisabeth Boudreault says she fell in love with art song upon hearing Karina Gauvin and Marc-André Hamelin's album Fête Galante, which she still listens to regularly. "It's become a great source of comfort for me," she says. "I know I can go back and listen to it if I have a bad day and it always picks me up. It might sound silly, but that soothing feeling it gives me also convinces me that singing is useful."
Boudreault, who recently moved to London, England, has been busy putting her own voice to use, most recently singing Gretel in l'Opéra national du Rhin's production of Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel and Barbarina in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. "It's easy to become obsessed with Mozart's operas," she cautions. "To be submerged in an opera, you somehow meet the composer and live with him for a while."
When cohabiting with Mozart becomes too much, Boudreault heads to her parents' home in Saguenay, where she gardens and bird-watches. Languages are also a fascination — not only "to understand the full weight of words" she sings, but also to write her own poetry. "Maybe someday, I'll write something that's worth sharing, but for the time being I keep my writings to myself," she muses. "They're part of a little secret universe of mine!"
Sydney Baedke, soprano
From: Medicine Hat, Alta.
Sydney Baedke has been spending the summer as an apprentice at Santa Fe Opera, covering Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. "It has been such a privilege to live, and be trusted with, this incredible music," she says. "It's also wonderful to be part of a young artist community and perform as a cohort after such an artistically solitary year." To prepare, Baedke read the novel by Pushkin upon which the opera is based. She also concedes, "I wish I had an automatic translator hard-wired into my brain. Life as an opera singer would be so much easier."
Baedke credits her parents with encouraging her talent, despite limited opportunities in Medicine Hat. "They set me up in every way imaginable," she explains. "The hours of driving to lessons, programs, masterclasses and auditions is probably some insane number." A galvanizing moment was the discovery of the 1964 Decca recording of Bellini's Norma starring Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. "It opened my eyes and ears to what the human voice could accomplish at the pinnacle of technical, musical and theatrical prowess and completely redefined my goals for what I wanted to accomplish in my pursuit of this art form."
Glenn Gould has been an ongoing fascination for Baedke, who recently re-read his poetry collection, A Well Mannered Storm, "something that I just happened to stumble across in a 'take a book, leave a book' library in Chicago, and is now a treasured possession of mine," she says. "He was a once-in-a-generation artist. It was as if he was directly connected to music in a way many of us can only aspire to be. I always listen to his Goldberg Variations before auditions — something about them keeps me centred."
Charlotte Siegel, soprano
"I imagine I will do many things during my career," muses Charlotte Siegel, an incoming member of the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio. "I see myself running an opera company or festival one day, or teaching. I also want to write a musical. I truly want to do everything — and why not try?"
Why not, indeed. Siegel fuels her unbridled enthusiasm every day with an early start. "I love waking up in time for the sunrise," she explains. She's also determined to pay it forward. "I would not be where I am today without community programs. This is why I'm so excited to be [co-founding artistic director] of the Marigold Music Program, which aims to close the accessibility gap between marginalized youth and music education."
With degrees from U of T and McGill under her belt, Siegel was a Buffalo/Toronto district winner for the 2021 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions, she participated in Pacific Opera Victoria's 2020-21 online season as part of its Music Alive Civic Engagement Quartet, and she was selected to be the librettist for the next iteration of Loose Tea Music Theatre's Carmen #YesAllWomen. "There is nothing quite like the rush of being part of a creative team," she reflects — except perhaps playing electric guitar? "I've always had a fantasy of sliding across the floor while shredding. Maybe one day!"
Watch Siegel and pianist Ahfat perform a Dvorak song at Glenn Gould Studio:
Julien Siino, cellist
From: Quebec City
In June, Julien Siino returned to the concert stage to play Beethoven's Triple Concerto with conductor Mathieu Herzog and Ensemble Appassionato at the Seine Musicale in Paris. "Such an exhilarating experience," says the recent recipient of an award of excellence from the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Siino was cellist in residence at the Academy of the Paris National Opera for the 2020-2021 season, where he worked on solo and orchestral repertoire with the principal chairs of the orchestra. "One of my best experiences was to play Verdi's Aïda with this amazing orchestra," he recalls. He's also one of six finalists at the 2021 Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition, which has been postponed to mid-September.
Siino got hooked on classical music via a CD reissue of Vladimir Horowitz's 1964 recording of Scarlatti sonatas. "When I was young, discs in the family car were usually rotated out after some time in the player," he recalls. "For some reason, this one just stayed in the car for years. I now see it as an integral part of my childhood's soundtrack and listen to it regularly." A current obsession for Siino is the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, especially his fourth symphony ("this intense work for huge orchestra just has such a profound effect on me"), and he says he owes a debt of gratitude to Mstislav Rostropovitch "for the 20th-century cello masterworks we have today thanks to his nagging toward composers."
And just look at Siino's beautiful cello, made in Paris by Auguste Sébastien Bernardel in 1838 with a bow by Victor François Fétique, on loan from Canimex Inc.
Korin Thomas-Smith, baritone
When asked about his ideal day off, Korin Thomas-Smith responds with gallows humour: "I've been having one, very long day off for the last year and a bit. At this point, my day off may just consist of work." Point taken, although this Rebanks Family fellow wasn't exactly idle during the pandemic. In April, he sang Collatinus in the Glenn Gould School's production of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia (watch the "making of" video here) and last summer he worked with Tapestry Opera on its production of Rocking Horse Winner and returned for its S.O.S. Sketch Opera Singers project, singing an R&B take on "Che gelida manina" — "something I didn't know I needed," he says.
Thomas-Smith deflects praise, saying he's still trying to figure out this whole "singing" thing: "Messa di voce? Breath and support? Don't even get me started on the cursed /u/ ('oo') vowel. And apparently, you still have to work on your middle register and it's not all about high notes, which I find difficult to believe."
Jokes aside, Thomas-Smith is at Music Academy of the West this summer, "where [he'll] get to masterclass, recital, the whole shebang," and then he's heading to Yale University to begin his master's in opera performance in September. He tips his hat to his mother: "[She] has never cared what I wanted to do, as long as I was happy to do it. Being completely without pressure to find what I am going to spend the next 60 years of my life doing is great."
Corie Rose Soumah, composer
In 2020, Corie Rose Soumah moved to New York to begin her doctorate at Columbia University, studying with fellow Canadian Zosha Di Castri — and she fell head over heels with the city. Her leisure time may include "an early morning run, a cup of coffee and time to discover a new album, an afternoon in the large parks of New York with a book and sunglasses, followed by some greasy takeout and a movie," she muses. As the world reopens, she says she hopes to take in performances at the Metropolitan Opera and live events at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. "However," she cautions, "it's never really a day off since somewhere between these activities some composing always happens." Columbia's Avery Library is one of her favourite spots to work.
Winner of a 2019 SOCAN Foundation prize for Reflets, Soumah says she draws inspiration from the mundane ("bus stops and waiting rooms") and her music "seeks the middle ground between aggressiveness and fragility." Her inspirations include Tōru Takemitsu ("for the beautiful introspection that his music always gives me") and Olga Neuwirth, who fascinates Soumah with her "skilful use of various styles, textures and sonorous objects."
Soumah says she's also fascinated by architecture ("the way architects envision spaces is [not] far away from how we conceive music and how music interacts in spaces"), not to mention K-pop and the series Babylon Berlin, "with its fantastic soundtrack." Perhaps inevitably, she's been reading Metropolitan Life by fellow New York denizen Fran Lebowitz.
Leslie Ashworth, violinist and violist
From: Oakville, Ont.
For Leslie Ashworth, the music of Bach has been an obsession since childhood. "I remember as a seven-year-old having bubble baths or colouring with my sister and hearing Bach playing in the background," she recalls. "It really subconsciously immersed me in violin music and Bach's music specifically, and I think it has contributed to my absolute love and affinity for Bach."
Later this summer, Ashworth will move to New York to begin her master's in viola performance at Juilliard, having completed a bachelor of music from the Glenn Gould Studio and a master's in violin from Rice University in Houston. She's also got her ARCT in piano performance and won first prize in Jeunesses Musicales Canada's "Home Sweet Home" Composition Competition last year. Somehow, during all of that, she found time to establish Suite Melody Care, an organization that provides young musicians with performance opportunities in hospitals, retirement homes and long-term care facilities. She'll be setting up its sixth chapter when she gets to New York. (Is it any surprise that Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible franchise is her favourite?)
Ashworth will play Stamitz's Viola Concerto with the Oakville Symphony in May 2022. "This will be my third time as a guest soloist with them," she says. "It's always a treat to perform in my hometown and for those who have supported you growing up." And speaking of treats, Ashworth is a sworn cupcake fanatic ("I have too much of a sweet tooth," she admits.)
Royce Rich, violinist
From: Richmond, B.C.
The long months of the pandemic have been hard for everyone, but for Royce Rich they were also tinged with grief on a personal level when his former violin teacher, Victor Danchenko, died in November. "I was a student of his during my undergraduate years and the standard for excellence he set in his studio was tremendously high," he remembers. "His work ethic, his passion for music-making, as well as his determination to be better and better was infectious and rare. I learned many fascinating things."
Rather than languish, Rich adopted Danchenko's work ethic and got busy self-producing his debut EP, Short Stories, a collection of seven virtuoso encores — "the most rewarding endeavour I have embarked on so far."
At the beginning of 2021, Rich decided to live temporarily in Vancouver and has enjoyed exploring the city. "The Vancouver seawall is my current obsession," he says. He has also prepared a recorded recital program for local series such as Music Friends and KnoxVan Concerts. If you're looking to start a conversation with Rich, ask him about violinist Ida Haendel. "She owned her charisma and unique musical ideas; a technical genius of the instrument," he enthuses. "I've listened to every recording of hers, watched every live performance, documentary and interview on YouTube. I even met her during the summer of 2010 at a music festival in New York. [She] was one of those artists who comes to Earth once every hundred years or so."
Gabrielle Liliane Brochu, mezzo-soprano
With recent degrees in music and mathematics from Mount Allison University in her rearview mirror, Gabrielle Brochu is heading to the University of Toronto this fall to begin a master's in opera. "I'm looking forward to the performance opportunities that will come from that: masterclasses, operas, recitals," she says. Until then, she's preparing for the world premiere later this summer of a mini opera with an Ojibwe libretto. "Language is so important, especially to Indigenous peoples," she enthuses. "Inherent is an entirely different perspective on the world, one that doesn't quite translate to the predominant Western languages."
In addition to math and music, beading is a passion for Brochu — she even has her own business, Humpback Creations. "My spirit animal is a humpback whale, which I found out in ceremony a couple of years ago," explains the Wolastoqey artist. "Beading has been a medium through which I've been reconnecting with my roots, and to other members of my community."
Brochu singles out Joyce DiDonato and Elīna Garanča as inspirations ("they are both high mezzos and have absolutely amazing voices"), is currently engrossed in Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs ("the quirkiness") and is a bit jealous of cellists ("I love the idea of no breath marks; the fact that a line can continue forever.")
Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, pianist
From: Salmon Arm, B.C.
"I can't really imagine putting the amount of time I devote to music into anything else," says Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, who, in the past year, presented a virtual solo concert for the Vancouver Recital Society, received an award from the Sylva Gelber Music Foundation and graduated from Juilliard. In fact, music is so central to him that he says if he were an animal, he'd be a bird, "so as to retain some connection to the musical realm."
These days, his own musical realm is suffused with Alexander Scriabin. "I have been fascinated by Scriabin's music for many years, in particular his remarkable stylistic and harmonic development during the course of his life and his lofty, sometimes messianic musical ambitions." Izik-Dzurko is organizing a private solo recital comprising Scriabin's 10 piano sonatas in the coming concert season, and in September, he'll play Shostakovich's Concerto for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra with the Kamloops Symphony under Dina Gilbert.
Selected as a quarter-finalist for the 2022 Honens International Piano Competition, Izik-Dzurko says the album Mikhail Pletnev: Live at Carnegie Hall changed his life ("the inventive interpretive detail, the technical flawlessness, and the expressiveness of his tone") and is inspired by Marc-André Hamelin ("a super-virtuoso, a sincere and thoughtful musician, an incredible composer and a brilliant and humble individual") to persevere.
Ben Diamond, guitarist
From: St. John's
When Ben Diamond found himself with a six-month gap between graduating from Memorial University and moving to Montreal to begin his master's at McGill, he seized the opportunity to release Prime, his debut album. "This project was recorded in a 'blanket fort' in my basement using my own gear," he notes. Another pandemic project for Diamond was co-founding and organizing the activities of the Atlantic Guitar Society — "certainly a learning experience, but incredibly rewarding."
At McGill, Diamond will study with Steve Cowan, the first guitarist he ever saw in concert. "His playing is unbelievably expressive in just about any context," he says. "I'm also excited to try some world-class poutine, baked goods and everything Montreal has to offer once I move there."
If you detect a singing tone and seamless voicing in Diamond's playing, there's a good explanation: "I am a huge choral music fan, and potentially choir [conducting] would have been the direction I would have gone in if it weren't for guitar performance." When he's not unwinding on his Nintendo Switch ("you can go into account settings to view how many hours spent per game, and there were some jaw-droppers to say the least"), he's spending time in Heart's Delight ("about 20 minutes down the road from the famous Dildo Brewery") where he enjoys "breathing in the fresh air, going out in the boat, taking a walk, and being present with family and friends."
Christina Kant, harpist
"I am proud of myself for completing a whole year of online school — including presenting my third-year recital from my home, three provinces away from campus," reflects Christina Kant. The University of Toronto student not only completed her year, she also won the school's concerto competition and will play Debussy's Danses with the U of T Symphony Orchestra as a result.
A fun fact about Kant: she completed Grade 10 in piano through the Royal Conservatory of Music and has set a summer project for herself to transcribe some of her favourite piano pieces by Reinhold Glière for harp. She's making time for that while taking part in the online National Youth Orchestra of Canada training program for the second consecutive year. In June, she performed in a fundraiser to bring a family of refugees to Canada.
Kant's role models include harpist Valérie Milot ("she's innovative and insightful") and her own teacher at U of T, Judy Loman ("I'm grateful for every moment of her guidance.") And while she prides herself on being disciplined and organized, she also knows how to relax: "When I have a day off, I like to stay in my pyjamas and have no schedule for the day."
Robert Conquer, trombonist
From: Scarborough, Ont.
The COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, the past 12 months have been huge for Robert Conquer. In December, he won the $10,000 first prize at the OSM Competition, playing Henri Tomasi's Trombone Concerto in the final round. (Watch it here.) "Between the immense stress of getting recordings made and organizing the competition around my school workload, along with the excitement and relief of advancing into the next rounds and winning in the end, during a pandemic no less, I had a great time experiencing the whole range of emotions," he says.
In May, Conquer completed his third year at the Curtis Institute of Music and received the Presser Foundation Undergraduate Scholar Award for his efforts. He also "bit the bullet and blew most of [his] pre-OSM Competition savings" on a new Shires trombone. "This new horn plays like a dream compared to my well-used horn before," he explains. He's using it this summer as a participant in the National Youth Orchestra of Canada's online training program.
According to his longtime friend (and fellow Curtis student) Matthew Christakos, Conquer is "wise, compassionate, dedicated, yet always ready to have a good time." They're both involved in Curtis's Residence Life program, where, Christakos says, "Robert always helped me (or anyone else on the team) organize around our goals and was the 'man with the plan.' [He] and I spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours playing Minecraft together throughout the pandemic, as core members of the 'Curtis Minecraft Team.'"
David Baik, violinist
David Baik is on a roll. He recently won the grand prize at the National Arts Centre Orchestra's bursary competition, got re-invited to the Aspen Music Festival (last summer's edition was cancelled) and — most importantly? — adopted a cat. "I decided to call him Nike because he has white feet, which reminded me of a pair of white Nike Air Force shoes," he explains.
Baik got introduced to classical music by his grandfather. "Every time I visited, he would always turn on classical music with his very old record player," he recalls. This may explain why Baik says he focuses on his enjoyment of music rather than his mastery of it. And yet, "we always need to practise, practise, practise," he concedes, "we always need to be in shape." And for Baik, this extends beyond the music studio. "I like to go to the gym to work out," he says, and when the pandemic shuttered gyms, he invested in some equipment and did home workouts.
He also stayed in shape playing Bach. "We are so lucky that Bach wrote three sonatas and three partitas for solo violin," he says. "His music gives violinists a reason to pick up their instrument when isolated." This fall, Baik returns to the University of Toronto, where he studies with Jonathan Crow. "Jonathan helps me find my own, personal voice on my instrument."
Juliana Moroz, cellist
They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and Juliana Moroz is living proof of that adage. The daughter of violinist Gwen Hoebig and pianist David Moroz, she was destined to become a musician — taking a seat alongside her violist brother, Alexander, in her family's JAGD Quartet. Naturally, her parents have been a huge inspiration, especially her father's "innate way to show his love for music" and her mother's "consistent drive and motivation to improve." In May, Juliana won the Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg's scholarship competition ($3,000) and will perform in the winners' recital in December. "If I really put my mind into doing something, I can almost always do it," she admits. "I tend to be very goal-oriented."
Offstage, her perfectionism and sweet tooth merge in the kitchen. "I love to bake," she enthuses, "I love making new creations and making all of my family members try them." Those include macarons, the mastery of which was a COVID project for Juliana. "I love how colourful and dainty they are!"
A student at the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., Juliana is preparing for her third-year recital ("both exciting and terrifying"), which will likely include music by Prokofiev. "I love the way he can tell a distinct story without using words," she says. "His cello sonata and Romeo and Juliet are two of my favourite pieces of all time."
Eugene Ye, cellist
From: Richmond Hill, Ont.
After spending six years at the Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Eugene Ye is on his way to Boston where he'll begin a dual degree (cello, economics) at Harvard and the New England Conservatory this fall. "The fact that I'll be studying with Paul Katz still blows my mind," he says.
Harvard is also the alma mater of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, one of Ye's role models. "Besides his insane musical and technical abilities, I truly admire his love of giving back to the community and spreading his joy and music everywhere he goes," he reflects. Closer to home, Ye's father has been his biggest inspiration: "Working harder than everyone else every single day while keeping a smile on his face and being the nicest person I know — I have never heard him complain about something out of his control."
While Maurice Ravel is Ye's favourite composer these days ("the colours he can create out of the orchestra in pieces such as Daphnis et Chloe and the Mother Goose Suite are indescribably amazing"), he says he listens to Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly at least once a week. "This album showed me that you could find the same power and detail in a piece by Ravel as you can in hip hop and other genres."
Watch Ye and pianist Ahfat play a transcription of Gabriel Fauré's "Après un rêve":
Ryan Zhu, pianist
After carefully considering acceptances from a number of top North American music schools, Ryan Zhu has chosen the Juilliard School in New York for the next stop on his journey. "I'm extremely looking forward to attending and studying under professors Stephen Hough and Robert McDonald," he says. In anticipation of this adventure, he's been listening to the former's recording of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 on repeat. "The amount of intellect and wisdom I can hear in this performance is unparalleled," reflects Zhu.
Virgos are known to be conscientious, the hardest workers in the room, and Zhu is a shining example. "I actually quite like to wake up early," he says. "It gives me a sense of achievement, like I've beaten the sun to the morning or something." Not surprisingly, he used the spare time afforded by the pandemic to expand his repertoire and develop his musicianship. "I learned how to become more efficient in my work and trained my concentration to be better and last longer." he explains. "While the pandemic took away many aspects of our lives, it also gave me the opportunity to reflect upon myself and take advantage of the time."
In June, Zhu took part in the online Gina Bachauer International Young Artists competition. This summer, he's been involved in the virtual Morningside Music Bridge program, which comprises a concerto competition (in which his performance of Prok 1 nabbed second prize), private lessons, collaborations with fellow musicians, and masterclasses — "It should be a blast!"
Jacques Forestier, violinist
"I'm very interested in politics, current affairs, travel and fine cuisine (oysters by far and above)," says Jacques Forestier, who's evidently wordly beyond his years. And yet, when asked whether he could picture himself pursuing a career outside music, he concedes, "it's depressing to think of a life without my violin." In May, he and that beloved violin won first prize at the annual Shean Strings Competition in Forestier's hometown — "a dream of mine for years" — which came with $8,000 cash and an engagement to play a concerto with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
Forestier is spending the summer in New York, studying in person with Itzhak Perlman at the Perlman Music Program in Shelter Island for the third time — "one of my favourite places in the world, being surrounded by music, beauty and friends." Forestier admires the late American cellist Lynn Harrell ("his sound just gushes with passion"), says Rachmaninoff is a constant obsession ("the Romanticism and angst within his music are second to none") and admits that expensive shoes are a guilty pleasure. (No shame in that, Jacques. Every journey begins with a single, well-shod step.)
Lincoln Haggart-Ives, violinist
From: Vaughan, Ont.
"Words are not always enough," reflects Lincoln Haggart-Ives, "I feel blessed to be able to express myself through my music." With an attitude like that, it's no wonder good things are happening for the young violinist. Last September, he starred in Goalkeepers 2020: a new path forward, a short film produced by the Bill Gates Foundation and directed by Karen Chapman, in which Haggart-Ives plays music by Jason Couse. "I loved working in the studio to make the recording," he says. In February, he won a Rising Star Award in the TSO's Play Along with Jonathan Crow contest and will perform Bach's Concerto for Two Violins alongside Crow at an upcoming TSO Young People's concert as a result. During the past year, he also got support from the NAC Orchestra, including some online lessons and an "inspiring" conversation with music director Alexander Shelley.
Haggart-Ives says Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X "sparked a light" in him to pursue his dreams "because I know that with hard work, I can accomplish anything." In addition to playing the violin, he has begun composing music, encouraged by his English teacher, Heather Adams. "I am proud of my first composition, Incessant Melancholy, a work based on the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman."
"I love to play classical music, and I also want to play music that crosses over genres," he reflects. "My goal is to perform with some of Canada's most talented pop musical artists such as Drake and Justin Bieber." Until then, he's quenching his thirst with chocolate milk and fruit punch, playing Geometry Dash and Terraria ("much to my mother's dismay") and "looking forward to multiple upcoming Marvel movies."
Shinie Wagaarachchi, clarinettist
From: Moncton, N.B.
Sistema New Brunswick is one of Canada's most extensive and rapidly expanding programs for young musicians, and Shinie Wagaarachchi is living proof of its success. She began playing clarinet with Sistema N.B. in 2017 and by April 2021, she had won first prize in her age group at the inaugural Mooc Cup Asian International Youth Clarinet Competition. She followed that up in July with a second prize in clarinet at the 2021 Stockholm International Music Competition.
"Shinie is the solfège assassin," says Dave Scott, Wagaarachchi's clarinet teacher. "It's normal to hear her solfège entire works by memory. At 12 years old, she already has a very mature growth mindset. I can't imagine that the thought has ever crossed her mind that any of her success is abnormal for someone of her age."
In May, she placed first in the junior woodwind category of the New Brunswick Music Festival. She also performed music from Mulan, The Lion King and Aladdin at ClassikFest Chaleur with the Sistema N.B. Clarinet Ensemble, under Scott's direction. "He always believes in me and is the one who taught me rhythm, articulation, scales, how to get a good sound and more," she says. "I don't know what I would do without him."
Wagaarachchi has been a member of the Moncton Youth Orchestra since September 2020 and, following a successful audition, has been invited to join the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra for the 2021-22 season. When she puts her clarinet down, she loves reading the YA series Peace, Love and Cupcakes.