The 2017 Shean Strings Competition Backgrounder : 6 Finalists Compete for $8,000 Top Prize

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Edmonton, AB – On Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20, 2017, six string players from across Canada will take to the stage of Muttart Hall at the Alberta College Campus of MacEwan University (10050 MacDonald Drive, Edmonton) as they vie for the $8,000 top prize in The Shean Strings Competition and the opportunity to play with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at a later date.

The competition will see the competitors perform their String Recital Programs on Friday, May 19 from 1:00 – 4:00 PM and 6:30 – 9:30 PM, and perform their String Concertos on Saturday, May 20 from 2:00 – 4:00 PM and 6:30 – 8:30 PM.  The adjudications and awards will follow the concertos on Saturday at approximately 9:00 PM, and a reception will follow the awards.*

This year’s competitors (with hometowns in parentheses) are:  Shang Ko (Sunny) Chan, violin (Surrey, BC); Gabrielle Després, violin (Edmonton, AB); Sean Gao, violin (Burnaby, BC); Alice Lee, violin (Toronto, ON); Grace Sohn, violoncello (Coquitlam, BC), and Grace Takeda, viola (North Vancouver, BC).

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The adjudicators for this year’s competition are:  David Hoyt, Chair; Norman Adams, violoncello; and Edmonton-born Jessica Linnebach, violin.

Admission to The Shean Strings Competition is $10 per day.
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The 2017 Shean Strings Competition Backgrounder

The Shean Competition for Strings and Piano, made possible by a generous grant to the Edmonton Community Foundation from Ranald and Vera Shean in 1996, is open to young amateur musicians between 15 and 28 years of age who are residents of Canada currently studying here or abroad, or to non-residents who have been studying in Canada for a minimum of two academic years.  Six semi-finalists are chosen from the submitted discs.  The winner of the 2017 Competition may be invited to perform with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at a later date.  Strings and piano are featured in alternative years.

Ranald Shean excelled in both music and sports and was a “Master Music Teacher”.  Vera Shean was an equally gifted violinist and pianist.  They met in Vancouver where Ranald was an associate teacher with Gregori Garbovitsky’s and Vera was Garbovitsky’s piano student. Vera also completed advanced piano studies with Sir Arthur Benjamin.  Ranald & Vera married and began a lifelong collaboration in music, predominantly in the Edmonton area.

In the 1940s, Ranald was concertmaster and conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  In addition to playing violin in the Symphony, Vera performed in recital and as an accompanist for the CBC, and Ranald also conducted the Edmonton Youth Orchestra.  In 1966, they established the Edmonton Conservatory of Music which later merged with the Alberta College Conservatory of Music.

Their passion was teaching. During their lives, they both maintained a full teaching schedule (Vera – piano, Ranald – violin) working seven days a week. Sunday was “Open House” for their students.  Any student who wanted to come and practice, work with an accompanist (Vera), have extra coaching, play in an ensemble, etc. was welcome.  Both Ranald and Vera were inducted into the City of Edmonton’s Arts & Culture Hall of Fame.

Their dream for young musicians to experience the same passion they had for music lives on in The Shean Competition.

The Shean Strings Competition Finalists

Shang Ko (Sunny) Chan, Violin – Surrey, BC
Shang Ko (Sunny) Chan started learning violin at the age of five, and is currently studying with Nicholas Wright at the Vancouver Academy of Music.  Mr. Chan began his musical education by attending the special musical education program in Taiwan and has been in love with the violin ever since.  In Canada, Mr. Chan has performed as a substitute violinist for professional orchestras including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Vancouver Island Symphony Orchestra.  He has also played with the UBC Symphony Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada in concertmaster and assistance concertmaster positions.  Mr. Chan was also chosen to be the finalist for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra in 2011.

Mr. Chan has been the recipient of multiple scholarships including the Peninsula Music Scholarship, Sharon Stevenson scholarship, UBC Music Traveling Grant, and Burt Harris Memorial Scholarship.  Mr. Chan obtained a Bachelor of Violin Performance degree from UBC with full tuition assistance including a UBC Scholarship as well as a Bursary.

Mr. Chan has received numerous master classes from musicians around the world including Cho-Liang Lin, David Chan, Philippe Quint, St. Lawrence Quartet, Mark Fewer, Jonathan Crow, Dale Barltrop, Stephen Sitarski, Mark Skazinetsky, Che-Yen Chen, and others.  He is truly inspired by all the great musicians around North America.

Gabrielle Després, Violin – Edmonton, AB
16-year-old violinist Gabrielle Després was born in Edmonton and began her violin studies at the age of three.  She studied with James Keene for nine years, and has been under the tutelage of Robert Uchida since 2016.  She has won numerous local, provincial and national prizes, including first prize in the national round of the Canadian Music Competition and the Alberta Provincial Music Festival.

Ms. Després has performed as a soloist with the Edmonton Youth Orchestra, the Concordia University Orchestra, and the Edmonton Philharmonic Orchestra.  She studied at the Orford Summer Music Academy for two summers with Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, the Morningside Music Bridge 2013 summer program in Calgary, and the Casalmaggiore International Music Festival with Taras Gabora.  She has also performed in violin master classes for Daniel Phillips, Annalee Patipatanakoon, and Ralph Evans.

Ms. Després won the chamber music prize at the Alberta Provincial Music Festival in 2014 with her piano trio, the Lumière Trio.  In 2016, she was featured on CBC Radio-Canada’s new television show, Virtuose, placing second out of 24 young Canadian artists on this nationally-televised series.  Most recently, Ms. Després won first prize in the senior division of the Northern Alberta Concerto Competition and was accepted to study at the Morningside Music Bridge program in Boston this summer.

Sean Gao, Violin – Burnaby, BC
Sean Gao was born in June 2000 in Guangzhou, China.  He moved to Vancouver at the age of two and began his violin studies at the age of six with his father, Yong Gao.

At the age of 13, Mr. Gao made his début as a soloist with the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra.  He is the winner of the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra Concerto Competition, Seattle Young Artists’ Music Competition, Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition, Kiwanis Music Festival, and many more.

Mr. Gao is currently the concertmaster of the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra, and former concertmaster of the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra.  Mr. Gao has spent his recent summers at the VSO Institute at Whistler and Domaine Forget. He has had the opportunity to play in master classes for many world renowned soloists including Rachel Barton Pine, Ray Chen, Régis Pasquier, Olivier Charlier, and many more.

In addition to his orchestral contributions, Mr. Gao is also an avid chamber musician, winning 1st prize in the annual Friends of Chamber Music Competition.

Mr. Gao currently studies with Nicholas Wright of the Vancouver Symphony, and UBC professor David Gillham at the Vancouver Academy of Music.  His contribution to the musical community in Vancouver inspires himself along with others to achieve greater goals through music making.

Alice Lee, Violin – Toronto, ON
Alice Lee began playing violin at the age of five in Victoria, BC. At age 11, she performed the Bruch Violin Concerto in front of 45,000 people with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra under Tania Miller as the soloist in the Victoria Symphony Splash 2011.  In the following years, Ms. Lee performed with the Sooke Philharmonic under Norman Nelson in the UVic Farquhar Auditorium, Victoria, and with the Academy Chamber Orchestra under Claudio Vena in Koerner Hall, Toronto.  Ms. Lee has also performed live on radio (WCLV 104.9) in Cleveland, OH.

Ms. Lee won 1st prize at the 2016 OSM Manulife Competition as well as the Best Canadian Interpretation Prize.  In addition, she won 2nd prize at the 2015 Johansen International Competition in Washington, D.C.  She also won 1st prize at the Don Chrysler Competition, and other top prizes at many music festivals.

She has received numerous master classes and lessons with major artists, including Maxim Vengerov, Midori, Joel Smirnoff, Donald Weilerstein, Paul Kantor, Jonathan Crow, Ning Feng, Tadeusz Gadzina, and Ivan Ženatý.

Currently, Ms. Lee studies with Barry Shiffman as a full scholarship student in the Taylor Academy at The Royal Conservatory of Music.

Grace Sohn, Violoncello – Coquitlam, BC
South Korea-born, Canadian ’cellist Grace Sohn is currently studying with Ariel Barnes at the Vancouver Academy of Music (VAM), where she frequently occupies the principal ’cellist position in the VAM Symphony Orchestra and participates in the chamber music program.

Among many accomplishments, she was the first prize winner of the International Busan Maru Competition held in South Korea, performing the Schumann ’Cello Concerto with the Busan Philharmonic Orchestra.  She won the Seattle Young Artist Music Competition, Canadian Music Competition, Kay Meek Competition, VAM’s Concerto Competition, Kiwanis Music Festival, and the Burnaby Clef Competition.  She performed Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the Philharmonia Northwest at Kane Hall and with the VAM Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum Theater as soloist.

Ms. Sohn has performed in many international festivals such as the Casalmaggiore International Music Festival in Italy, Banff Master Class for Strings program with scholarships in Canada, and the Great Mountains Music Festival in PyeongChang, South Korea with scholarships.  She also had the chance to study with Prof. Jens Peter Maintz at the ’Cello Akademie Rutesheim in Germany where she had the opportunity to perform the Dvořák ’Cello Concerto at the student recital with pianist Keiko Tamura.

Ms. Sohn is currently seventeen-years-old attending the Gleneagle Secondary School in Coquitlam.  She plays a Neuner & Hornsteiner ’cello made in 1880 Germany.

Grace Takeda, Viola – North Vancouver, BC
Grace Takeda’s musical endeavours have taken her into various different music genres including jazz, baroque, contemporary and free improvisation.  A native of North Vancouver, Canada, Ms. Takeda began her studies on the violin at the age of four after being awed and inspired by “Sailor Neptune”, a character from her formerly favourite TV show Sailor Moon, playing Boccherini’s Minuet.  At the age of six, she started taking piano lessons, following in her older sister’s footsteps.  Ms. Takeda equally loved playing on both instruments, but since multitasking isn’t quite her forte, she decided to concentrate on the violin in which she obtained her Bachelor of Music at McGill University in Montréal, Québec.  Her love of lower frequencies prompted her to switch to the viola at the age of 21 and has not turned back since.  She is currently a Master of Music student at The Juilliard School studying with Misha Amory of the Brentano String Quartet.  Her past mentors have included violist André Roy, violinists: Mark Fewer, Denise Lupien, Akira Nagai, Heilwig von Koenigsloew, and pianist Kathy Bjorseth.  When she is not practicing, Ms. Takeda loves to bake various types of cookies, muffins, and cakes as well as reading psychology articles, and hiking different degrees of mountains.

The Shean Strings Competition Adjudicators

David Hoyt, Chair
David Hoyt graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in musicology.  While still a student, he joined the Edmonton Symphony (ESO) horn section becoming Principal Horn in 1975.  He also played horn with the Canadian Opera Company, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Hamilton Philharmonic, and the Chuck Mangione Band.  He played Principal Horn for the Toronto Symphony and performed in Carnegie Hall with l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

David Hoyt began conducting professionally in 1982, becoming assistant conductor of the Edmonton Symphony in 1985 and of the Canadian Opera Company in 1991.  He has been guest conductor for the Atlantic Symphony, Orchestra London, the Winnipeg Symphony, the Saskatoon Orchestra, the Regina Symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic, the Edmonton Opera Company, the Alberta Baroque Ensemble, the Okanagan Symphony, the Vancouver Island Orchestra, and the Vancouver Symphony.

David Hoyt had a long-standing relationship with the Banff Centre working there yearly since 1972.  He taught for ten years at the University of Alberta, and has taught across the country at Festival 500 (St. John’s), The Scotia Festival (Halifax), Domaine Forget (Québec), Les Concerts Bell (Montréal), International Music Camp (Toronto), Festival of the Sound (Parry Sound), MusiCamrose (Alberta), and Courtney Music Festival (British Columbia).

David Hoyt resigned from the ESO in 2004 and presently conducts two ensembles: The Mill Creek Colliery Band and Orchestra Borealis.  For the last twenty years he has been artistic director of The Shean Strings & Piano Competition.  He is married to pianist Janet Scott-Hoyt and they have two daughters, both musicians.

Norman Adams, Violoncello
Norman Adams is Principal ’Cellist of Symphony Nova Scotia (SNS), and the Artistic Director of suddenlyLISTEN Music.  A student of Hans Jørgen Jensen, Bernard Greenhouse, and American new music pioneer Pauline Oliveros, Norman has been a soloist with SNS, and Les Jeunes Virtuoses de Montréal.  He has been guest principal ’cellist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and has performed chamber, and improvised music throughout Canada, the US, France, and the UK.  His performances have also been heard across the country on CBC Radio.  As an educator, Norman has been a faculty member at Acadia University, at Scotia Festival of Music, the Acadia Summer Strings Festival and has led creative workshops at String Fest at Memorial University of Newfoundland, CPA Allen High School, for the Nova Scotia Registered Music Teachers Association, and in schools around Nova Scotia.

In addition to his work as a classical ’cellist, Norman is well known as an improviser and electronic musician, playing free and creative music across North America and Europe, and at festivals from New York City to Prince George BC.  Norman has collaborated with many leading artists including Joëlle Léandre, Gerry Hemingway, Eddie Prévost, Pauline Oliveros, Xavier Charles, Marilyn Crispell, and Evan Parker.

Since 2000, Norman has been the Artistic Director and Producer of suddenlyLISTEN Music, an organization that both presents an annual series of concerts of improvised music, featuring a broad range of local, Canadian and international artists; and produces a wide range of other performance projects.  He is also dedicated to sharing music with all people, leading suddenlyLISTEN’s Improvisation Workshops for the past 11 seasons.

In 2010, Norman was awarded an Established Artist Award by the Nova Scotia Arts and Culture Partnership Council, for his varied work.

Norman is dedicated to the arts community, and serves on the national board of The Canadian New Music Network, as well as on the boards of The Lieutenant Governor’s Masterworks Award, and Strategic Arts Management.  He is a former Board member of Symphony Nova Scotia, and has served on juries for The Canada Council for the Arts and various Nova Scotian arts funding bodies and organizations.

Norman makes his home in Halifax with SNS principal violist Susan Sayle, and their two teenaged sons.  Together, they spend their summers living and working on Prince Edward Island.  Norm’s passion for music is equaled by his love for riding and racing bicycles, and if he’s not playing the cello, or organizing a concert, he’s probably out cycling on the roads and trails of Nova Scotia or the Island.

Visit suddenlyLISTEN at and Norman’s website at

Jessica Linnebach, Violin
Violinist Jessica Linnebach has distinguished herself among the next generation of Canadian classical artists being lauded on concert stages nationally and around the world. Since her soloist début at the age of seven, Jessica has appeared with major orchestras throughout North America, Europe and Asia.  A highlight of her career to date was a tour of the Middle East and Europe as guest soloist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Pinchas Zukerman.  Jessica has been a member of the National Arts Centre Orchestra since 2003 and was named their Associate Concertmaster in April 2010.

Acknowledging the importance of versatility in today’s world, Jessica is fast developing a reputation as one of those rare artists who is successfully building a multi-faceted career that encompasses solo, chamber and orchestral performances.  A passionate chamber musician, Jessica is a founding member of the Zukerman ChamberPlayers, a string quintet led by Pinchas Zukerman.  Since the ensemble’s inception in 2003, it has toured extensively to international acclaim appearing throughout North America, South America, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.  Its recording of the Mozart Viola Quintet in g minor was nominated for a JUNO Award in 2004 and its fifth and latest release, quintets by Mozart and Dvořák, was released in early 2008 on the Altara Label.

Jessica has also collaborated with some of the most illustrious artists of our day, including Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, Leon Fleisher, Joseph Kalichstein, Gary Graffman, Gary Hoffman, Lynn Harrell, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, and Michael Tree.

Accepted to the world-renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at the age of ten, Jessica remains one of the youngest ever Bachelor of Music graduates in the history of the school.  While there, Jessica’s primary teachers were Aaron Rosand, Jaime Laredo, and Ida Kavafian.  At eighteen, she received her Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City where she studied with Pinchas Zukerman and Patinka Kopec.

In 2015, Jessica became a founder and Co-Artistic Director of a chamber music festival in Prince Edward County, named the Classical Unbound Festival.

Jessica Linnebach plays a circa 1840 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (Guarnerius del Gésu 1737) violin.


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