York singers shine in local competitions

York University students in the Department of Music’s classical vocal performance program made an impressive showing in two competitions last month, taking home numerous prizes and scholarships including an opera trophy for best performance.

York was represented by 19 singers in the 13th annual Newmarket Voice Festival, which took place Nov. 3 to 8. The majority of the students won gold awards in their categories.

Above: The group gathers for a post-competition photo at the Newmarket Voice Festival. York Professor Catherine Robbin (back row, left), Department of Music contract faculty members Raisa Nakhmanovich (back row, centre) and  Norma Burrows (back row, right), accompanied the students to the competition.

The festival culminated in a Concert of Stars on Nov. 14, showcasing the top soloists and ensembles from the competition. Eleven York students were among the featured artists and seven of them were awarded scholarships that evening.

Mezzo-soprano Laura Kelly received the festival’s senior scholarship valued at $1000 and the opera trophy for best performance. Adjudicator Lorna MacDonald praised her tonal quality in performing the opera aria Non so più cosa son by Mozart, and her lovely demeanour singing Berlioz’s L’Île inconnue. Kelly’s rendition of two German lieder – Brahms’ Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer and Schumann’s Abschied von Frankreich – won her further praise for her "beautiful sensitivity" and "lovely voice", and she was congratulated for creating a beautiful mood in the room when she sang Montsalvatge’s lullaby Cancion de Cuna Para Dormir a un Negrito.

Other York scholarship winners include:

  • Mezzo-soprano Jamie Henigman – Tentanda Via Award for excellence in musicianship and commitment to new Canadian repertoire;
  • Soprano Jennifer Fletcher – Illtyd Harris Memorial Scholarship, general category;
  • Mezzo-soprano Ellen MacDonald-Kramer – Ron Adams Scholarship for best diction in a sacred solo class;
  • Soprano Jessica Scarlato – Marie Devereux Memorial Scholarship, general category;
  • Soprano Danielle MacMillan – Cormac Robbin Memorial Scholarship in the senior classical category for an emotionally moving performance; and
  • Soprano Joyce Goh – Ron Bonham Scholarship in the open class.

Several of York’s Newmarket Voice Festival winners also competed in the Ontario chapter auditions of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), held Nov. 22 at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Right: Catherine Robbin (left) with Laura Kelly

Three York sopranos dominated the third-year women’s category, with Athina Babayan placing first, Scarlato second and MacMillan third. Goh placed second in the second-year women’s category.

Babayan performed three songs for the adjudicators. For Caminante, a contemporary work by the Spanish composer Imant Raminsch, her feedback included "you had me from the start" and "[you have a] lovely voice and ease of singing that is very calming." She was complimented on her "effortless tone" and "lovely legato lines" in singing Die Nacht by Richard Strauss. But Babayan’s favourite piece – and the one she reprised in the public concert spotlighting the top singers from the adjudication sessions – was the Italian aria Una voce poco fa from the Rossini opera, The Barber of Seville. Babayan’s performance was described as "lovely" and "sparkling" when she hit the high F in this aria, a perfect vehicle for her coloratura skills (high vocal range and ability to sing elaborate embellishment).

Left: From left, Jessica Scarlato, York music faculty member Stephanie Bogle and Athina Babayan

"I am very proud of York’s showing at the Newmarket Voice Festival and the NATS auditions again this year," said Catherine Robbin, internationally renowned mezzo-soprano and director of York’s classical vocal studies program. "Congratulations to all the students who participated, and their teachers. Thanks also to Raisa Nakhmanovich and all the other accompanists who supported the students in the competitions."

In addition to Robbin, instructors in York’s classical vocal performance program are Norma Burrowes, Stephanie Bogle, Michael Donovan, Janet Obermeyer and Karen Rymal.