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RBC Foundation/Calgary Philharmonic Concerto Concert is a stunning display of young talent

By Sweta Babladi, March 26 2024—

On March 6, four students, two from the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts and two from the Mount Royal University Conservatory, were featured as soloists alongside the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in the Eckhardt-Gramatte Hall. 

The concert was the result of the annual RBC Concerto Competition, in which students from both music schools have the opportunity to compete for the chance to perform fifteen minutes of a chosen concerto with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. After two rounds of auditions, four students were chosen to be featured at the concert. 

In addition to being an important milestone for the careers of these four students, the concert was also a reminder of the importance of music in young people’s lives and its role in bringing the public together to celebrate such a passion for the art. 

The first performer of the evening, Sonja Sward, represented the Mount Royal Conservatory in her performance of Gordon Jacob’s Concerto for Horn and Strings, Movement 1. With her unmistakable stage presence, Sward’s rendition of the concerto’s first movement was perfectly in balance with the orchestra’s accompaniment. In her fifteen minutes of performance, she showcased the full range of her instrument, from powerful swells over the orchestra to mellow lines that only the French horn can create. 

Holly Parker, the second performer of the evening who represented the Conservatory, conveyed an impassioned dialogue between the solo violin and the orchestra when performing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole in D minor, Op.21. The control and care with which Parker played the most tender sections of the concerto left the audience breathless long after she walked off the stage. The young musician not only understands how to breathe life into the notes on a page but also displays a stage presence that left no doubt that she understands herself as a performer. 

For Dakota Perez, who represented the SCPA and is in his final year of studying piano performance under Dr. Jani Parsons, the Concerto Concert was a landmark opportunity for his career. 

“It was a really rewarding experience to do this with a professional orchestra. To see [the Calgary Phil], these musicians that I have admired for so long, performing beside me was beyond unforgettable,” said Perez. 

His performance of the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, Movement 1 by Edvard Grieg showcased an attention to detail that is consistent throughout all of his performances. To take a concerto that has been performed countless times and make it entirely unique to the performer is a skill that takes many years and many attempts, and Perez did so effortlessly. This intentionality was obvious with the sensitivity of his dynamics and contrast between different sections of the first movement of this concerto. 

The final performer of the evening, Nikolai Nesterov, shared the stage with his mother, violinist Olga Kotova of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in his performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto in D minor No. 1, Opus 15, 1st Movement. Also studying under Parsons, Nesterov’s many years of prodigal work in the field of music came to a head in this performance. He captured the audience with his versatility, taking the spotlight during the most intense sections of the movement and just as easily becoming the backdrop of the orchestra the very next moment. 

Each of the performers at this year’s RBC x Calgary Philharmonic Concerto Concert delivered performances that were not only inspiring to fellow musicians in the audience but also a powerful assertion of the possibilities that come from dedication to and love for the art of music performance.

The concert’s program notes and information about upcoming School of Creative and Performing Arts events can be found on the SCPA website.

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