Violinist Justin Saulnier wins NACO Bursary Competition

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NACO Bursary Award: Justin Saulnier (violin) © Fred Cattroll
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Austin Wu (violin) © Fred Cattroll
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Christoph Chung (viola) © Fred Cattroll
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Emily Kistemaker (viola) © Fred Cattroll
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Maria Krstic (violin) © Fred Cattroll
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Patrick Paradine (violin) © Fred Cattroll
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Honourable mentions: Aidan Fleet (cello) and Katherine Moran (viola) © Fred Cattroll

In an exciting weekend of spirited competition, a talented group of emerging young strings players gathered on the University of Ottawa campus for the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s Bursary Competition. The competition, held from April 21 to April 23, 2023, welcomed 23 aspiring strings players, aged 16 to 26, with ties to the National Capital Region, including 13 violinists, six violists, and four cellists. The young artists competed for more than $21,000 in Bursary prizes. 

In addition to monetary prizes, these young artists experience many benefits, including learning how to prepare for a professional, high-stakes orchestral audition; gaining real-life experience in their career progression; and the opportunity for financial support that will allow them to continue their studies. The Bursary Competition is aimed at emerging artists who have ties to the National Capital Region, in a gesture of thanks to NACO’s home community for its continued support.

This year’s jury comprised Interim Chair Francine Schutzman (non-voting); four NAC Orchestra musicians (Stephanie Morin, winds; Lawrence Vine, brass and percussion; Leah Wyber, low strings; and Leah Roseman, upper strings); Christine McLaughlin of the Friends of the NAC Orchestra (non-voting); and two external judges (Angela Schwarzkopf, harpist, and Murielle Bruneau, former NACO double bassist).

Bursary, awards and prizes

Jury members selected eight finalists to compete at the University of Ottawa’s Freiman Hall on April 23. After vigorous deliberations, the jury named 18-year-old violinist Justin Saulnier the Grand Prize winner. Saulnier will take home the Bursary’s top prize of $7,000.

Originally from Orleans, in Ottawa’s east end, Saulnier is also the recipient of the Lloyd Carr-Harris String Scholarship to attend McGill University Schulich School of music and is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in violin performance with Andrew Wan. He was the concertmaster of Canada’s National Youth Orchestra for their 2022 season. He is also the former concertmaster of the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra and the Ottawa Youth Orchestra. He has also shared the stage with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Thirteen Strings, the Ottawa Pops Orchestra, and the Parkdale Orchestra.  

As a soloist, Saulnier has received several other awards, notably the first prize in the OMFA’s provincial competition, the Kinsmen Club Shield Trophy, the RCM Gold Medal, and the Edythe Young Browne Trophy. He is also the winner of the 2023 McGill Concerto Competition. He made his orchestral solo debut at age 12 with the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra. 

The remaining Bursary prizes, totalling $14,700, were awarded to the other finalists: Austin Wu (violin), Christoph Chung (viola), Emily Kistemaker (viola), Maria Krstic (violin), Patrick Paradine (violin), as well as honourable mentions to Aidan Fleet (cello) and Katherine Moran (viola). 

In 2024, the competition will be open to students of wind, brass, and percussion instruments. 

About the Bursary 

The first National Arts Centre Orchestra Bursary Competition was held in 1981 with the prime objective of encouraging the pursuit of excellence by young instrumentalists aspiring to orchestral careers. Each year, a jury identifies deserving recipients through audition and competition.

The Bursary was created in 1979 by members of the NAC Orchestra as a gesture of appreciation to the audiences who were so supportive of the Orchestra during its first decade. It is meant to provide recognition and financial support to help further the development of young musicians who have connections to the National Capital Region (NCR).

Funding for the award originally came from two sources: the NAC Orchestra Bursary Fund, created in 1979 by the members of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and from the NAC Orchestra Trust (originally the Capital Trust founded in 1932 to benefit the Ottawa Philharmonic Society which, on its demise in 1970, transferred the income to the NAC). The fund is now known as the NAC Orchestra Trust Fund. In 1981, a single prize of $1,000 – the NAC Orchestra Bursary – was awarded. In subsequent years, the Fund has grown, thanks to the generosity of private organizations and individuals, and prizes now total more than $21,000.

Thank you to our donors 

The National Arts Centre Foundation wishes to acknowledge the generous support of the Crabtree Foundation. The NAC Orchestra Music Director role is supported by Elinor Gill Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LLD (hc). Special thanks to the Janice and Earle O’Born Fund for Excellence in the Performing Arts and Mark Motors Group, Official Car of the NAC Orchestra. 

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