Canadian Opera Company Welcomes Five Student Musicians To 2018 COC Orchestra Academy

By: Jan. 05, 2018
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Canadian Opera Company Welcomes Five Student Musicians To 2018 COC Orchestra Academy

The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra Academy welcomes five student musicians to join its fifth annual training intensive, taking place January 7 - 26, 2018. Led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus, and in collaboration with The Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Schulich School of Music at McGill University and the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music, the program offers its student musicians one-on-one mentorship and practical experience in their pursuit of a career in an opera orchestra.

The five student players selected to join this year's Orchestra Academy are: violinists Felipe Muñoz Garcia (GGS) and Kimberly Durflinger (Schulich), violist Lucas Alan Blekeberg (GGS), cellist Kimberly Miyoung Jeong (GGS), and bassist Freddy Speer (Schulich). They were selected from a pool of eight final candidates chosen by their respective institutions, following auditions at the COC's administrative headquarters in Toronto.

"The COC Orchestra Academy immerses participants in the complex and collaborative world of opera, offering experiences that can't be replicated in a standard university or conservatory training program," says COC Music Director Johannes Debus. "There is more to being part of an opera orchestra than playing an instrument and the 2018 Orchestra Academy will benefit from the expertise of some of the most important and respected figures in the industry across a variety of fields, from world-class artists and musicians, to members of the COC's technical and administrative staff. This holistic training approach is an opportunity aspiring young musicians can't get anywhere else in this country."

Over the course of the three-week, immersive training program, the 2018 Orchestra Academy student musicians experience all aspects of performing as part of an opera orchestra, giving participants a deeper understanding of the art form and the role played by the orchestra within an operatic production. They experience how a performance comes together, how to prepare their part of a score, and the continuing work of an orchestra over the course of rehearsals and performances.

The student musicians' training and performance opportunities in the 2018 Orchestra Academy include:

  • Performing with the COC Orchestra on opening night of the COC's production of Verdi's Rigoletto on January 20, 2018, conducted by renowned American maestro Stephen Lord
  • A recital on January 25, 2018, part of the COC's Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, featuring the music of Respighi and Schoenberg, accompanied by their COC Orchestra mentors and artists of the COC Ensemble Studio
  • A roundtable with COC Artist-in-Residence Jane Archibald, focusing on the relationship between the orchestra pit and the stage, from a singer's perspective
  • Coaching sessions, workshops, and masterclasses with COC music staff, including COC Concertmaster Marie Bérard
  • Ongoing, one-on-one mentorship from a member of the COC Orchestra
  • A behind-the-scenes tour of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts led by Rigoletto's technical director, to introduce players to the technical aspects of a production

This year's Orchestra Academy participants will be paired up with mentors from the COC Orchestra, learning from them in a one-on-one capacity. This year's mentors are Jayne Maddison, first violin; Elizabeth Johnston, second violin; Catherine Gray, viola; Bryan Epperson, cello; and Tom Hazlitt, bass. The COC Orchestra is the oldest opera orchestra in Canada, and has received worldwide acclaim for its musical versatility and range of expression. Created in 1977, the orchestra has a permanent membership of more than 50 instrumentalists.

As part of the Orchestra Academy experience, participants will further develop their musicianship by:

  • studying rehearsal and performance etiquette, as well as developing the awareness, co-ordination, reaction, flexibility and listening skills required to play in an opera orchestra;
  • learning endurance techniques and how to focus for long periods of time;
  • gaining an understanding of sound production, articulation and blending as well as tuning within the orchestra, the section and with the singers, and the subtleties of balancing sound intensity;
  • and studying different styles and levels of expressiveness in musicianship.

The COC Orchestra Academy is an extra-curricular program that was launched in January 2014 as a pilot program. Members of the COC Orchestra participate in the COC Orchestra Academy voluntarily.

Together with the COC Ensemble Studio and Company-in-Residence program, the COC Orchestra Academy forms the COC Academy, a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive post-graduate training unit for opera professionals in Canada. The COC Academy aims to foster a vibrant community of Canadian artists and creative professionals-from singers to instrumentalists to administrators-and provide its participants with the skills, experiences and resources to thrive in a global opera environment.

About the 2018 COC Orchestra Academy Members

Felipe Muñoz Garcia - Violin I

Violinist Felipe Muñoz Garcia recently graduated from the Catholic University of Chile, where he was a two-time winner of the university's Soloists of the 21st Century Competition. As a member of the Harmony Orchestra, he was invited to play alongside the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Staatsoper, Vienna in 2015. He has participated in the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Germany, granting him the opportunity to work with renowned directors like Christoph Eschenbach. He has also performed at Elbphilarmonie (Hamburg) and Konzerthouse (Berlin). Currently, he is studying at The Glenn Gould School under the direction of Mayumi Seiler and sponsored by the Hilti Foundation.

Kimberly Durflinger - Violin II

A student at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, violinist Kimberly Durflinger is working towards the completion of a master's degree in violin performance. In 2016, she graduated from the Eastman School of Music with a bachelor's degree in violin performance and a minor in French. She has taken part in a masterclasses with the Juilliard String Quartet and Arditti String Quartet, as well as attended various summer festivals including the Orford Academie de Musique, the Bowdoin International Music Festival, and the PRISMA International Music Festival, where in 2013 she won third prize in the concerto competition. Currently, she is under the tutelage of Andrew Wan, concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Lucas Alan Blekeberg - Viola

Hailing from northeastern Iowa, violist Lucas Alan Blekeberg studies with Steven Dann in the Artist Diploma program and The Royal Conservatory's Glenn Gould School. Previously, he graduated from the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, where he studied viola and violin. A multifaceted musician, he has showcased his talent and ability as a recording artist, performer and teacher. His recent works include recordings with the Marina Quartet, McGill Opera Orchestra, Pronto Musica Chamber Orchestra, Vermont Mozart Festival, and various folk ensembles. Currently, he is composing a solo viola piece set to premiere in Toronto.

Kimberly Miyoung Jeong - Cello

Cellist Kimberly Miyoung Jeong is currently enrolled at the Royal Conservatory of Music, studying with Desmond Hoebig and Andres Diaz. Prior to this, she earned a diploma in cello performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music, and a master of music in cello performance from Yale School of Music. She has performed with the Eastman Philharmonic, Yale Philharmonic, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and was a National Finalist in the Canadian Music Competition in 2008 and 2009, a recipient of Yale School of Music's 2015/2016 Julia Havemeyer Fellowship and 2013/2014 George Greenway Scholarship. She has also held teaching positions with the Danbury Chamber Music Intensive, Yale Music in Schools Initiative, Yale Morse Summer Academy, and the Harmony Program.

Freddy Speer - Bass

Bassist Freddy Speer is pursuing a graduate diploma in classical double bass performance from the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. After graduating high school, he continued his studies with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and was accepted into McGill University's music program later that year. He spent two summers in 2015 and 2016 with the Youth Orchestra of Canada, where he toured Canadian concert halls. During those summers, he trained at facilities in Waterloo, Ontario, where he was coached by Jeremy McCoy, assistant principal bass of the Metropolitan Opera. In 2016, he was selected by his professors to represent McGill at the Sibelius Academy's Creative Dialogue music festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has performed with McGill Symphony Orchestra and McGill's Contemporary Music Ensemble, playing works from Prokofiev, Dvo?ák, Schubert and Beethoven.

About the Canadian Opera Company
Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America. Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world's attention. The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world's foremost Canadian and International Artists. The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. For more information on the Canadian Opera Company, please visit


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