Tiny Pianist Dazzles at Calgary Performing Arts Festival


Charlotte Giraudeau piano
Charlotte Giraudeau with one of her biggest fans

Each year, students from Mount Royal Conservatory compete in hundreds of classes at the Calgary Performing Arts Festival (formerly the Kiwanis Festival). By their estimation, 80 to 90 percent receive a combination of first and second place certificates.

Pianist Charlotte Giraudeau is only 6 years old but is already an accomplished pianist, working with teacher Kathy Dornian in the Academy for Gifted Youth at the Conservatory.

“Charlotte competed in 6 classes including one which was her first complete concerto. Most students that age group would enter 1 to 3 classes,” says Kathy Dornian. “She was entered in the 6 years and under classes which are non-competitive (the piano categories are non-competitive up to age 8). She certainly received many accolades from the adjudicators.”

Charlotte Giraudeau
Charlotte ready to perform

“Most of her repertoire was around Grade 4, which is quite remarkable for age 6. Level aside, what makes her unique is that she is already displaying a high level of musicianship and imagination, and I feel that she shows tremendous promise and potential,” Kathy notes. “The cute-as-a-button factor of course is a lovely bonus at this age and she demonstrates a real ease with and love of performing for an audience.”

Charlotte has a sister, Madeleine, who also is a very talented student of the Academy for Gifted Youth. “Madeleine is 10 years old and playing at a Grade 9-10 level. She gave a stunning performance on March 11 of a very complex and difficult Canadian piece and won both the class and a scholarship. She competed in 5 classes, won 3 and placed second in 2,” says Kathy.

Charlotte and Madeleine are both adopted from different orphanages in China and are completely unrelated biologically, yet both obviously have a very strong natural affinity for music. Their parents moved to Calgary from Edmonton a couple of years ago. Their mother is Chinese, and their father is French.

“Charlotte is a joy to teach and lots of fun!” says Kathy. “It is rare to have an hour lesson for that age level but an hour with Charlotte simply flies by and we could probably easily go for two and she would still maintain focus and concentration.”

Up close with the masters: US pianist Jeremy Denk

jeremy denk, mount royal conservatory concerts, wyatt artists in residence concert series
American pianist Jeremy Denk is the next Wyatt Artist in Residence Jan. 17. Tickets are available at

Imagine having the world’s top classical musicians teaching in your classroom.

For Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy for Gifted Youth, it’s all part of the program.

American pianist Jeremy Denk is coming to Mount Royal Jan. 17 as part of the Conservatory’s Wyatt Artist in Residence Concert Series.


The unique program offers the public and the Conservatory’s gifted students a chance to be up close with the masters. Artists in residence offer an exceptional opportunity for the Conservatory’s Academy for Gifted Youth students, enriching curriculum through master classes. Academy piano students, ranging in age from 9 to 18, are benefitting from Denk’s mentorship.

Concert-goers have a rare opportunity to experience a world-class performance in the intimate 300-seat Leacock Theatre.

“Jeremy Denk’s performances in New York City have become among the hottest concert tickets to purchase,” says Conservatory Academy Manager Bill van der Sloot. “He is equally loved by classical music lovers and fellow artists as an artist among artists. He can make a profound impression on our young artists.”

Denk is one of North America’s most thought-provoking, multi-faceted, and compelling artists. He has appeared as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and London, and regularly gives recitals in New York, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and throughout the United States. The pianist’s writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New RepublicThe Guardian, and on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. One of his New Yorker contributions, “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” earned him a book deal from Random House.

Now entering its ninth season, The Wyatt Artist in Residence Concert Series continues attracting the world’s leading classical musicians to teach and perform in Calgary.
The series honours Mount Royal Conservatory Foundation chair emeritus Hal Wyatt and his late wife, Marnie, long-time friends and supporters of the Conservatory.
Wyatt performers are stars in the classical world. Past performers include pianist/composer Anton Kuerti, Grammy award-winning cellist Lynn Harrell, violinist James Ehnes, and Morningside Music Bridge alumna Yuja Wang.

Swedish cellist Frans Helmersson is the season’s final concert April 24, 2015.

Sherri Zickefoose, Dec. 16, 2014

Conservatory director, students earn awards


Mount Royal Conservatory Director Paul Dornian (right) and award-winning cellist Mari Coetzee earned top prizes from the Royal Conservatory of Music Nov. 2.
Mount Royal Conservatory Director Paul Dornian (right) and award-winning cellist Mari Coetzee earned top prizes from the Royal Conservatory of Music Nov. 2.

Mount Royal Conservatory Director Paul Dornian is now a Fellow of The Royal Conservatory of Music in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to the arts and achievements in the field of music education.

And teenage cello sensation Mari Coetzee has won the RCM’s national gold medal for cello performance, thanks to earning the highest exam marks in Canada.

The awards were presented in Calgary Sunday, Nov. 2 during the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Convocation ceremony at Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre.

Dornian, who has served as Conservatory director for 22 years, is a well-respected arts leader and has served on the boards of many local institutions, including the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Calgary Arts Development Authority and within Mount Royal University.

He is responsible for implementing many pioneering programs that have elevated the Conservatory to international status. Projects include the expansion of the Academy for Gifted Youth, Feast of Sound & Song, Morningside Music Bridge international summer training school and festival, and, of course, the Bella Concert Hall and new Conservatory building opening next fall.

“In Canada, we’ve all grown up with musical roots in the RCM examination system,” said Dornian. “When I was a child the exam system remained but the performance training aspect of the RCM had lost some of its luster. Over the past 30 years it has been exciting to watch the RCM, under the visionary direction of their President, Peter Simon, recover their status as a great music performance school. I am touched and honored to be receiving an award from this important cultural organization that is such a part of our cultural identity.”

In his speech to Calgary and southern Alberta music students gathered Sunday, Dornian said studying music demands great commitment, but returns much more.

“Music makes you a better person and makes the world a better place,” he said.

Past recipients of this award include Oscar Peterson, Robertson Davies, Adrienne Clarkson, Teresa Stratas, Michael and Sonja Koerner, and Leon Fleisher.

After completing two degrees in Clarinet Performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Dornian began teaching clarinet at Mount Royal Conservatory and eventually became manager of general programs and finally director.

After several successful years at the helm of Western Canada’s largest performing arts education institution, Dornian returned to university to complete his Master of Business Administration degree. His skills and results in fundraising have come to the fore, affording the Conservatory continued financial stability at a time when many arts organizations have struggled.

Award-winning Mount Royal Conservatory student Mari Coetzee, 16, is the recipient of the RCM 2014 National Gold Medal for Violoncello Performance. She recently completed an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto (ARCT) Diploma with first-class honours with distinction. She earned the gold medal for the highest national mark for all cello ARCT exams across Canada.

“I am thrilled to receive this award. I have been doing Royal Conservatory of Music cello, piano, theory, harmony, and music history exams since I was eight years old,” said Coetzee, who has been playing cello since age five.

“For me, this is a great way to graduate from the RCM. I’ve learned so much about music through the preparation and completion of these exams. This year I am in Mount Royal’s Advanced Performance Program and finishing grade 12. I am looking forward to studying for my music degree at the university level next year.”

Coetzee has been studying with Mount Royal Conservatory’s renowned cello instructor John Kadz.

“In all my many years of teaching I have seldom had a student like Mari whom I have now taught for seven years,” said Kadz. “Her determination, dedication, intelligence, discipline and pure hard work stand out and are the reasons she is the fine young cellist she has become.”

Sherri Zickefoose, Nov. 3, 2014


Wyatt Concert Series presents The Assad Brothers


It’s nearly time for Mount Royal Conservatory’s next Wyatt Artist in Residence Concert Series performance.

The Assad Brothers are performing Nov. 9. Tickets are available now.

The Brazilian-born classical, Latin and jazz infused Assad Brothers aren’t just treating their Calgary audience to an unforgettable concert: they’re here to instruct our Academy for Gifted Youth Guitar program as part of the Wyatt Series.

Murray Visscher, Mount Royal Conservatory Academy for Gifted Youth guitar program co-coordinator.

And the students are in for the masterclass of a lifetime, says Murray Visscher, Academy program co-coordinator and ensemble coach.

“I remember first hearing the Assad Brothers while I was in university. They had recently released the album, Latin American Music for Two Guitars, and they were coming to perform in Vancouver. The concert was amazing. They were fast and fluid with effortless ensemble, filling the room with their contagious passion for the works that they played,” said Visccher, who received his Masters Degree at the San Francisco Conservatory and has performed for audiences in major North American cities.

“I went to the concert with a group of guitar student friends and we all went away wanting to play just like that. The Assads have been a huge inspiration to my generation of guitarists and they continue to inspire. I’m thrilled that our Academy students have the opportunity to share the excitement that has motivated so many players to challenge their musical and technical boundaries in an effort to simulate the achievements of Sergio and Odair Assad.”

Sérgio and Odair Assad have set the benchmark for all other guitarists by creating a new standard of guitar innovation, ingenuity and expression.

The Assad Brothers are setting new performance standards and are playing a major role in creating and introducing new music for two guitars.

The Assads have worked with renowned artists Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Fernando Suarez Paz, Paquito D’Rivera, Gidon Kremer and Dawn Upshaw.

Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy Program for Gifted Youth began in 1980 and is an enrichment program providing musical training of the highest quality for gifted young artists.

The Academy Program offers participants a balanced, performance-based course of study, as well as opportunities to meet and perform with professional musicians and renowned teachers.

Specific training includes sessions with acclaimed musicians in private lessons, small group classes and masterclasses; individual sessions with an accompanist; chamber music coaching; instruction in theory, aural skills and musical discoveries; frequent recitals aimed at developing confidence and stage presence; and participation in a large ensemble for those students who play orchestral instruments.

DID YOU KNOW? The Wyatt Artist in Residence series honours Hal Wyatt and his late wife Marnie, long-time friends and supporters of the Mount Royal University Conservatory.

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 22, 2014

Polaris performer prepped by Conservatory pro

Violinist Jesse Zubot is a former student of Bill van der Sloot. His live performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Polaris Music Prize gala is turning heads. Photo: Victoria Johnson
Violinist Jesse Zubot is a former student of the Conservatory’s Bill van der Sloot. The noted improviser’s live performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Polaris Music Prize gala is turning heads. Photo: Victoria Johnson

People are still talking about Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s Polaris Music Prize gala performance last week. But take a closer look on stage: that’s violinist Jesse Zubot. Did you know he got his start taking lessons from our Academy for Gifted Youth manager Bill van der Sloot? Zubot began playing violin at age four and studied with van der Sloot until he was 16.

Mount Royal Conservatory's Academy manager Bill van der Sloot
Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy manager Bill van der Sloot

(His brother Joshua Zubot also studied at the Conservatory.)

Zubot, who now calls Britannia Beach, B.C., home where he runs the critically acclaimed creative music label Drip Audio, is part of three Juno Award-winning acts: the acoustic-roots ensemble Zubot & Dawson, The Great Uncles of the Revolution and Fond of Tigers.

He came back to the Conservatory as a guest artist for the Academy a few years back.

We caught up with Zubot to learn more about his Conservatory experience.

Jesse Zubot: One of the best things I got through the teachings from Bill was learning very clean and precise technique. This saved me a lot of time once I became a professional musician. As an adult musician, I could concentrate more on composing and creating exciting performances instead of having to spend all my time keeping my playing together.

Question: Your incredible work with Tanya Tagaq was a joy to hear and to watch during the Sept. 22 live performance at the Polaris gala. What do you think audiences took away from your performance? What was the experience like for you?

Jesse Zubot: I think the audience at the Polaris took away that it’s OK to be musically free…  I think they may have sensed some form of spiritual awakening almost.  Working with Tanya is all about being in the moment and letting the music guide you. We pretty much do 100 per cent improvised performances so it is very real and can even be overwhelming for some listeners as we aren’t afraid to raise the roof with extreme volume or intense emotions. Hopefully the Canadian music industry will be more open to supporting more artistic live musical performances in the future at award shows. The experience was great for me. It was good to actually really do what we do instead of conforming to an arranged piece of music that is the same as the actual recording, like most others did. It felt great to get some recognition for our work. We’ve been touring hard for the last six or seven years.

Question: Looking back, what was the best advice you received as a young musician that you carry with you today?

Jesse Zubot: I would say having fun and being committed is very important. If you make the decision to be a musician you really have to honour that decision and go for it 100 per cent.  It can be a hard life, but if you give it all you got, you will be rewarded greatly.

And here’s what Bill has to say about Jesse Zubot:

“The interesting thing about Jesse is that his imagination is boundless. He defies description as an artist. He has the facility and skills of an accomplished classical musician and that’s what makes him so amazing. He’s invented his own style of playing violin, that’s his imagination. There’s no one in the world that plays like him.”

And here’s a favourite memory: “I remember when he was 12, we couldn’t find him to go on stage to play a Paganini violin concerto in D major. We found him on a stage ramp riding his new skateboard while wearing his tux!”

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 2, 2014

Conservatory faculty and guest artists offering star power

Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra bassoonist Michael Hope is teaching Conservatory Academy students Monday night.
Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra bassoonist Michael Hope is teaching Conservatory Academy students Monday night.

What makes Mount Royal Conservatory the ultimate choice for music education?

Our stellar faculty and guest artists. No other music school offers students as many master classes and clinics with top-notch performers.

This week is no exception. Tonight’s woodwind/brass technique classes for our Academy are featuring our own faculty and adding Michael Hope to the roster. Hope, assistant principal bassoonist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, has performed with nearly every Canadian orchestra and appeared with many symphonies in the United States. He’s also a noted vocalist: Hope’s new CD, “Hallelujah,” is nominated for Inspirational Album of The Year for the Gospel Music Association of Canada 2014 Covenant Awards.

Joining Hope for the student classes are our Academy woodwind coordinator Lauren Eselson (flute), clarinetist Jocelyn Colquhoun, who is also our chamber music coach, and French horn instructor Laurie Matiation.

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 29, 2014

High River classical concert boasts Conservatory connections


Here’s an amazing concert you won’t want to miss:  two extraordinary Mount Royal Conservatory students — young pianist Kevin Chen, 9, and violinist Isabella Perron, 14, — are set to dazzle in High River Saturday, Sept. 20.

The Conservatory prodigies are opening the southern Alberta town’s annual High River Gift of Music concert series.

If you haven’t witnessed these gifted performers in concert, this is a great opportunity.

Conservatory alumnus Kevin will be performing the world premiere of his commissioned composition about the devastating 2013 southern Alberta flood, River Rhapsody. The full-scale, nine-minute piano piece reflects the flooding’s turmoil but also the resilience of the High River community.

Kevin, a former Conservatory student of Colleen Athparia, has passed Canada’s ARCT piano teacher diploma exam and is currently studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Despite being nine years old, Kevin has composed many pieces (the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra played his Symphony No. 1 last year). He has said he hears music in his head, and enters it directly into his computer.

“Kevin is the most talented all-round musician I’ve ever seen and I’ve taught many so-called prodigies before,” said Athparia. “He comprehends music at such a high level, that I really need only to guide him like a bird taking off in flight.”

Isabella is a gifted and award-winning violinist, singer, and pianist who competes nationally.johanne_concertPic-copy-195x300

Described as a complete musician, Isabella is highly regarded for her stage presence, spark and musical spirit. Isabella comes by these talents naturally: her mother, noted Montreal concert cellist Johanne Perron, teaches master classes and lessons at Mount Royal Conservatory. 

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 15, 2014


Tribute concert honours Calgary composer

Composer, teacher and music publisher Roberta Stephen is being honoured by Conservatory musicians and others at a tribute concert organized by the Canadian Music Centre Sept. 21 at Scarboro Church.

The name Roberta Stephen is music to ears of Calgary musicians.

The composer, teacher, publisher, and singer has been the mainstay of Alberta Keys Music Publishing Co. Ltd., publishing dozens of works by her fellow Canadian composers.

Conservatory faculty member Colleen Athparia performs at a concert honouring Roberta Stephen

“Roberta Stephen has done so much to encourage young composers and to promote Canadian music in Calgary,” says Conservatory Academy for Gifted Youth faculty piano instructor Colleen Athparia. “She has made a great contribution to Calgary composers by publishing their works.”

Athparia, who is hailed as one of the top four Canadian pianists of contemporary music today, is one of many performers honouring Stephen in an upcoming concert: A Tribute to Roberta Stephen — A Life in Music — Composer, Teacher, Music Publisher on Sunday, Sept. 21 at 3 p.m. at Calgary’s Scarboro United Church (134 Scarboro Ave. S.W.)

“I’m performing in this concert as a way of thanking her for her inspiration,” said Athparia, who has recorded Danse Sauvage by Calgary composer Allan Bell, which Stephen published.

The piano piece was the required Canadian composition in the inaugural Honens piano competition. 

The concert honouring Stephen and her music is showcasing a wonderful lineup of professional and student performers with ties to Mount Royal Conservatory. The free concert, organized by the Canadian Music Centre, pays tribute to her lifetime musical legacy through her compositions.

Performers honouring the octogenarian include Conservatory faculty, students and alumni, as well as other notable musicians:

  • Michelle Todd, voice
  • Stan Climie, clarinet
  • Colleen Athparia, piano
  • Kevin Chen, piano/composition
  • Lucie Jones and members of the Mount Royal Chamber Flutes
  • Lily String Quartet, featuring Diane Lane, Andrea Case, Elisa Milner and Patricia Higgins
  • Holly Kletke, voice
  • Cantare Children’s Choir

The work of award-winning Calgary composer Allan Bell, published by Stephen’s Alberta Keys Music Publishing Company, will be featured.

Stephen was born April 17, 1931, earned her Master’s degree from the University of North Texas and works as a teacher of singing, vocal pedagogy, composition, and advanced theoretical subjects. The award-winning teacher has been active in the community as a board member for New Works Calgary and the Canadian Music Centre.

For more information, click here.

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 8, 2014

Exciting times this fall at Mount Royal Conservatory

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September signals back to school at Mount Royal Conservatory for students, music educators, and new events for concert goers. Our Academy for Gifted Youth is gearing up with fresh faces, auditions are underway for our family of youth and adult choirs, and our ensembles, Calgary Youth Orchestra, early childhood programs and speech arts will soon be in full swing.

But fall classes and activities aren’t just for children.

Research shows that group classes and private lessons for adults enrich lives. Life-long learning benefits everyone, whether learning to play an instrument or singing as a hobby, or private speech arts lessons for boosting your career in the boardroom.

Curious? See what the Conservatory is offering and join us.


Calgary Boys’ Choir6978_lg
“Approachable” Fall Family Concert
Oct. 19, 2014
3 p.m. Leacock Theatre
A free early season family concert aimed at recruitment, featuring the Senior Choir and a variety of child-friendly post-concert activities.

Calgary Organ Festival and SymposiumMRU carthy closeup
Oct. 26-Nov. 2
Internationally-acclaimed performers and a Halloween silent film screening  set to live music are in store for audiences of the fifth annual Calgary Organ Festival. This year’s 10-day festival lineup of recitals and concerts includes performances by Luc Beauséjour (Montreal), and David Baskeyfield (UK/USA). The Great Halloween Organ SpookTacular is featuring a screening of the 1925 silent movie Phantom of the Opera with live pipe organ accompaniment at Knox United Church.  Free recitals at MRU include a live carillon concert outdoors. See complete listings at

Wyatt Artist in Residence Concert Series
Assad Brothers Guitar DuoAssad Bros Mount Royal Conservatory
Nov. 9, 2014
7:30 p.m., Leacock Theatre
Brazilian-born brothers Sergio and Odair Assad have set the benchmark for all other guitarists by creating a new standard of guitar innovation, ingenuity and expression. “Call it one of the most engaging musical presentations of the season. Better yet, call it a stunning display of the music of the Western Hemisphere:” The Los Angeles Times

Christmas in Songcons_img_header_cis
Nov. 29, 2014
7 p.m. Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
A family holiday tradition and a celebration the season with the joyful sounds of Mount Royal Conservatory. Christmas in Song has been a treasured part of Calgary’s holiday festivities for nearly three decades. This, our 26th annual concert, will feature Mount Royal’s Arietta, Arioso, Artio and Kantorei choirs, the outstanding Calgary Youth Orchestra, and a surprise line-up of special guest artists.

“Winter Wonderland” Concert by Calgary Boys’ Choir
Dec. 7, 2014
Leacock Theatre  7 p.m.
This will be a full-length, ticketed concert event featuring both levels of the Calgary Boys’ Choir in music celebrating the glories of winter, wildlife and scenery.

Sherri Zickefoose, Sept. 2, 2014

A Conversation with Conductor John Thompson

Mount Royal Conservatory  conductor John Thompson takes the Morningside Music Bridge orchestra through a final rehearsal.
Mount Royal Conservatory conductor John Thompson takes the Morningside Music Bridge orchestra through a final rehearsal.

Considering they experience just four orchestra rehearsals before performing, Morningside Music Bridge string musicians couldn’t ask for a better conductor than John Thompson.

Conductor John Thompson
Conductor John Thompson

The chamber coach is Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy chamber music program coordinator and conductor for our Conservatory strings.

But during Morningside Music Bridge, he coaches chamber and conducts the MMB Orchestra, this year leading them through Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

“Being of English heritage, it’s one of my favourite pieces from England. I love the piece, I’m happy to work on it,” said Thompson on the eve of the performance.

Question: What’s it like coaching top students from around the world?

John Thompson: The students do play at a very high level, they have a lot of skills to begin with. Most of them are pretty well technically equipped. You can spend more time on musical elements and colour and moods of music rather than just trying to teach them how to shift.

Question: As the conductor, you don’t have much time to rehearse. What has that been like?

John Thompson: Some have less orchestral experience than others, and so there are elements of counting and listening. They have to develop those skills. But when you put them all together it’s a wonderful combination of talent.

Question: What’s the best part of a program like Mornginside Music Bridge?

John Thompson: I think that because there are different countries, they’re exposed to a lot of different kids of music. They get great teaching from a variety of instructors. They do a lot of performing and there’s a lot expected of them. They’re all very motivated. And they make very good friendships and they learn a lot from each other.

By Sherri Zickefoose, July 31, 2014