A gift for the gifted

The late Doris McLellan’s generous bequest instrumental in supporting young musicians


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A wellspring of young Canadian musicians will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the late Doris McLellan, the humble daughter of a fishmonger and lifelong chief telephone operator for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2022 (334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A wellspring of young Canadian musicians will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the late Doris McLellan, the humble daughter of a fishmonger and lifelong chief telephone operator for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

An avid supporter of the arts, McLellan (née Motriuk) faithfully attended Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg concerts with her sister Daisey, a nurse, until her death at age 86 in 2002. The local benefactor with deep roots in Winnipeg’s North End left a generous bequest to the club that launched the WMC McLellan Competition in 2006, held biennially in collaboration with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

A cash prize totalling $20,000, generated in interest from the bequest, is divided among three finalists culled from a months-long, rigorous series of preliminary, semifinal and final rounds.

The finals, featuring the WSO led by maestro Daniel Raiskin, will be presented tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute’s Jubilee Place. This is the competition’s first “finals” round since 2018, with the April 2020 concert cancelled owing to the global pandemic.

“It’s a lovely, very Winnipeg story of how an ordinary person can make a significant impact,” says Belle Meiklejohn, who currently serves as the competition’s convener, during a telephone interview.

“This competition is so important to these young musicians because there are not many opportunities to play with an orchestra. When I contact potential jurors across the country, everyone is already very aware of what we do. We’re not just a little secret out here in Manitoba.”

Would McLellan be proud of her legacy, which has helped nurture the careers of such Canadian notables as cellist Juliana Moroz, pianist Paul Williamson, sopranos Sydney Clarke and Andrea Lett, trombonist Keith Dyrda and violinist Joshua Peters, among so many others?

“I think Doris McLellan would be very honoured to know of the thought and care that have gone into not only the development of the competition, but its continual running,” Meiklejohn says. “There’s no question she would be proud of these gifted young artists, making the music she loved so much.”

This year’s finalists reflect on their own musical journeys, and what it means to be taking the stage as soloists tonight:


For Winnipeg-born cellist David Liam Roberts, 22, tonight’s concert will be particularly poignant, as he shares the stage with his former teacher, WSO principal cellist Yuri Hooker.

He chose his work, Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129, primarily for its luminous second movement, Langsam, which begins with the soloist weaving his sound around the principal cellist’s in an intimate, heartfelt duet.

Currently completing his four-year program at Toronto’s Glenn Gould School, Roberts — who was named one of “Canada’s 30 Hot Classical Musicians under 30” by CBC in 2019 and who received the Canada Council Michael Measures Prize in 2021 — relishes the opportunity to pay musical homage to his mentor.

“It’s a very special moment in the piece and it’s just the most beautiful, romantic music. I’m really excited for that personally,” Roberts says during a telephone interview from Toronto, before acknowledging the impact Hooker has had on his professional and personal life.

“Yuri has had a very important role in my development as a cellist, and has shaped me fundamentally into the artist that I am today,” he says. “I owe him a lot of gratitude, as he gave me all the tools I needed to play the cello at a professional level. He also provided me with guidance as an artist that not many students get from their teachers, and that’s been priceless.”

The concert also marks his première performance of the work he had originally been slated to perform in March 2020 with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra. The concert was cancelled during the first-wave lockdown of COVID-19.

“It’s actually very similar to the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in that it’s through composed, so there’s no breaks between the movements. That makes it pretty tricky to memorize and requires a lot of stamina to get through,” he says. “Schumann wasn’t mentally well near the end of his life, and the third movement is also really disjointed at times. But I think it’s also one of the finest pieces Schumann ever wrote.”

Roberts — who now fills in regularly with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and is planning to pursue an artist diploma at the Glenn Gould School — is, like Lewis, marking his sophomore appearance as a McLellan finalist, placing second during the 2018 competition.

He is looking forward to reuniting with the WSO — his last appearance took place last June, when he played a pair of double concertos with Hooker — as well as performing as featured soloists with his close friend and colleague Lewis, planning to “hang out” this week with his musical chum.

“I’m looking forward to being back in Winnipeg, and am grateful to have such a supportive arts community here,” says the cellist. “It’s going to be a very special night.”



Opera is in Geneva Halverson’s blood and bones. The Winnipeg-born mezzo-soprano’s great-grandfather, renowned German bass-baritone Emil Hack, performed regularly with the Leipzig Opera before being drafted into the army. He perished during the Second World War at age 32; the 31-year-old Halverson is keenly aware of carrying his torch.

“He was a very energetic and dynamic performer who used to belt out songs at the local pub after opera premières,” says Halverson, who keeps a black-and-white photograph of Hack close by for inspiration. “Being able to continue his path, because he never got to finish his, means the world to me.”

Halverson began studies at the University of Manitoba Desautels Faculty of Music as a piano major until sidelined by pesky overuse injuries. After switching to voice, the versatile artist professes a penchant for “trouser roles,” those male character roles strikingly sung by mezzo-sopranos wearing, well, trousers.

“I feel the most freedom whenever I sing these roles,” the artist reveals. “Sopranos and mezzos usually get all the glitz and glamour and ballgowns, but I’m not really comfortable with that. So trouser roles are my own version of glamour, and I feel incredible singing them.”

One of Halverson’s favourite selections tonight is Stefano’s aria from Gounod’s Que fais-tu from Romeo and Juliette, describing the character as a “total wingman.”

Two excerpts from Mahler’s searing Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) are especially poignant, Halverson says, in light of the war in Ukraine, in which even the youngest, most innocent generations are being mercilessly slaughtered.

However, the soloist quickly assures there will also be lighter fare, including Mozart’s Non so più cosa son from Le nozze di Figaro and Nacqui all’affanno from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, to balance the program.

Asked what the audience should expect from tonight’s performance, Halverson’s answer is swift and sure: “I would like listeners to feel transported, because I’m going to take them to lots of different places.”


Thunder Bay, Ont.-born violinist Gregory Lewis, 25, recalls being swept away by the lush romanticism of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor after being introduced to the iconic work by a prospective teacher exploring his interest in learning the fiddle. He was three years old.

“I’ve had a lifelong relationship with this piece,” Lewis says over the telephone from his New Haven, Conn., home where he is currently completing his doctor of musical arts degree at Yale University following prior studies at the Colburn School. “This teacher told my parents that I should start listening to this list of concertos, and recommended the Mendelssohn.

“I’ve loved it my entire life and purposefully waited to learn it until I was a little older so that I could do the piece justice.”

Lewis, a graduate of the U of M Desautels Faculty of Music — where the self-described intensely “goal-driven” artist began his bachelor degree at age 16 — started tackling the piece in earnest last fall.

Tonight his long-held dream comes true, as he marks his debut performance of the piece with a professional orchestra.

“It’s so expressive, so vocal, but then has these moments of sheer brilliance,” Lewis says when asked what initially drew him to the soaring piece. “It has the most gorgeous opening and finds that perfect balance between melody and virtuosity.”

The multi-award winning musician — who took home second prize during the 2016 WMC McLellan finals — has performed extensively across North America and Europe as a solo, chamber and orchestral musician, including at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City, and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Still, the artist with five siblings boasts humble roots, earning his performance chops as a youth by busking every Saturday morning at farmers markets in Thunder Bay. He describes the experience as being “incredibly lucrative,” allowing the then-11-year old aspiring musician to purchase his first full-sized violin to the tune of $10,000.

He sings the praises of his finalist colleagues, including cellist David Liam Roberts, with whom he performs in the Zyra Trio along with the 2020 McLellan winner, pianist Paul Williamson. He’s keenly looking forward to performing for Winnipeg listeners again.

“It always feels like coming home every time I’m here,” Lewis says. “It’s such a privilege, and is so exciting to play with an orchestra like the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, so it should be a really fantastic evening.”

The 2022 WMC McLellan Competition Finals will be presented tonight at 7:30 p.m. at MBCI Jubilee Place. For tickets or further information, visit wfp.to/mclellan.

All COVID-19 protocols will be observed (mandatory masks, proof-of-vaccination status and ID), with tickets ($30 -$15) available online or at the door (cash only).


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