Emad Zolfaghari is a promising 15-year-old violist from Oakville, Ont., who planned on attending the Morningside Music Bridge summer music program in Boston this month. A tape with his performances of Stamitz’s Viola Concerto, Schumann’s Marchenbilder and Bach’s Suite No. 2 served as an audition, which he passed.
It’s a sweet deal: Morningside offers full tuition scholarships, free transportation, on-campus lodging and meals worth a total value of $7,000.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, putting the kibosh on the trip for Zolfaghari and the rest of the 60 or so students, which included six other Canadians. It was a bummer on a major scale. “I was definitely disappointed,” the musician told The Globe and Mail this week. “There’s no other institute like it. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come around often.”
As it turns out, however, the opportunity will come around again – next summer, specifically. The directors of Morningside decided that all the students accepted into the 2020 session will be offered a spot in 2021 automatically.
“We’re operating online this summer, but it doesn’t come close to the experience of spending four weeks together, living in a residence, eating in the same cafeteria and rehearsing, practising and performing with everybody,” said Paul Dornian, Morningside’s executive director. “We’re replicating as much as we can online, but the sad reality is that it’s not the same as being on campus on a daily basis.”
Dedicated to serious students aged 12 to 18, Morningside Music Bridge was founded in 1997 by Dornian and Andy Chan of the Chan Family Foundation, the main financial backer. For years the program, administered by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, operated out of the Conservatory at Mount Royal University. In recent summers, the program migrated to Beijing and Warsaw, but it has now committed to spending each July at the New England Conservatory.
While students such as Zolfaghari and others from all corners of the globe are taking their lessons and master classes on Zoom, the Calgary Philharmonic has posted a number of virtual recitals, concerto competitions and artists in residence concerts online. Winners of the concerto competition finals will be announced on July 30. Cash prizes go as high as $6,000.
Dornian, who is also president and chief executive of the Calgary Philharmonic, describes Morningside as a “boot camp” experience. “It’s fun,” he said, “but you definitely get your work done.” Zolfaghari, who was accepted into the program in 2019 as well as 2020, agreed. “It’s definitely overwhelming at first. But once I got the sense of it, it made me improve.”
Morningside alumni include Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, Polish-Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki and Teng Li, formerly with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and currently the principal violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Morningside artistic director.
In addition to Zolfaghari, participating Canadian students this summer include Calgary cellist Luka Coetzee, Toronto-area cellist Eena Yoon, Edmonton pianist Jessica Yuma, Vancouver Bosendorfer enthusiast Ryan Zhu and violinists Duncan McDougall and Tiffany Yeung, also from the Toronto area.
How good are they?
“There isn’t one of these students who couldn’t walk out on stage in front of a professional orchestra anywhere in Canada and do a very credible job as a concert soloist,” Dornian said.
But first, it’s Boston or bust.
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