Rachel Mercer, Cyrena Luchkow-Huang, Allegra Chamber Orchestra & Janna Sailor

Biography Rachel Mercer, Cyrena Luchkow-Huang, Allegra Chamber Orchestra & Janna Sailor

Rachel Mercer, Cyrena Luchkow-Huang, Allegra Chamber Orchestra & Janna Sailor

Rachel Mercer
Described as a "pure chamber musician" (Globe and Mail) creating "moments of pure magic" (Toronto Star), Canadian cellist Rachel Mercer has appeared as a soloist and chamber musician across five continents. Grand prize winner of the 2001 Vriendenkrans Competition in Amsterdam, Rachel is currently Principal Cello of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and Artistic Director of the "5 at the First" Chamber Music Series in Hamilton. With a first love of chamber music, Rachel regularly collaborates with her longtime duo partner, pianist Angela Park, and was cellist of piano quartet Ensemble Made In Canada (2008-2020), AYR Trio (2010-2020), and the Aviv Quartet (2002-2010). Rachel has given masterclasses across North America, South Africa and in Israel and has given talks on performance, careers and the music business. An advocate for new Canadian music, Rachel has commissioned and premiered works including cello concerti by Stewart Goodyear and Kevin Lau, as well as solo and chamber work by Vivian Fung, Andrew Downing, Alice Ho, Abigail Richardson-Schulte, John Burge and Jocelyn Morlock. Rachel can be heard on the Naxos, Naxos Canadian Classics, Centrediscs, Analekta, Atma, Dalia Classics and EnT-T record labels, and released a critically acclaimed album of the Bach Suites on Pipistrelle in March 2014, recorded on the 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius Cello from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank. Rachel plays a 17th century cello from Northern Italy.

Recent seasons included the world premiere of a Cello Concerto by Stewart Goodyear, written for Rachel, supported by the Ontario Arts Council, and premiered with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Rachel also performed Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante with NACO for one of the 50th anniversary concerts of the orchestra, and recorded Canadian composer John Burge's "One Sail" with the Thirteen Strings Orchestra for release on Naxos. Rachel released two chamber music recordings this season. On Centrediscs, "Our Strength, Our Song", recorded with her sister, Akemi Mercer-Niewohner (Assistant Principal Second Violin of the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra), includes 6 duos by Canadian women, by Violet Archer, Jean Coulthard, Barbara Monk Feldman, and 3 new commissions from Jocelyn Morlock, Alice Ho & Rebekah Cummings. Ensemble Made In Canada culminated its 2 year tour of the Mosaïque Project with a live-streamed video production grand finale concert in FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catherines, which was also the release of the album: Mosaïque.

Since 2006, Rachel also appears in recital with pianist Angela Park as the Mercer-Park Duo. The duo performs across Canada, presenting the duo repertoire alongside new Canadian works. Their debut disc was released in July 2011 and the duo received Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council and FACTOR support to record all-Canadian music by composers of their generation, released on Naxos Canadian Classics in 2014. They were joined from 2010-2020 by violinist Yehonatan Berick, forming the AYR Trio.

​As a member of JUNO-winning piano quartet Ensemble Made In Canada from 2008-2020, Rachel toured regularly across Canada and the United States and performed for schools, seniors' residences, universities, the Canadian Music Centre, CONTACT (for young entrepeneurs), gave talks on the music business from a performer's perspective, and regularly workshopped with a range of composers from student to professional, as well as being Artist-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. The group's multiple commissions include John Burge's JUNO-nominated piano quartet (on Centrediscs) and "The Mosaïque Project", a cross-Canada tour from 2018-2020 including multi-media and a 14-composer commission. The album won the 2021 JUNO award for Classical Album of the Year (Chamber/Solo).

As a member of the Aviv String Quartet from 2002-2010, Rachel played in halls such as the Auditorium du Louvre, Zurich Tonhalle, Wigmore Hall, Herbst Theater in San Francisco, the Library of Congress in Washington DC, Baxter Hall in Cape Town, St Lawrence Centre in Toronto, and at festivals such as Montpellier, Aix-en-Provence, Lockenhaus, Davos, Colmar, Oslo and Ottawa. The quartet released cds on Naxos and Dalia Classics and celebrated its 10th anniversary with a complete Shostakovich cycle at the 2007 Verbier Festival. Collaborations included performances with Jorg Widmann, Boris Berman, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, James Tocco, Boris Petrushansky, Elisso Virssaladze and Anton Dressler. The quartet also gave masterclasses, coaching and outreach performances in the United States, Israel, South Africa and Canada, including at the University of Toronto.

Born in Edmonton, Rachel began cello studies at the age of three with Diana Nuttall. She spent formative years with Kristl Armstrong at the Vancouver Academy of Music, where she made her solo debut with the Vancouver Academy Chamber Orchestra at the age of 12. After moving to Ontario, Rachel attended the Royal Conservatory of Music and received the Gold Medal for her Associate Diploma, studying with Susan Gagnon and David Hetherington. She received a BM from the University of Toronto with Shauna Rolston, an MM with honours from the New England Conservatory with Laurence Lesser, and a solo diploma from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam with Dmitri Ferschtman. Rachel attended Orford, Banff, Holland Music Sessions, Ravinia, Prussia Cove, Scotiafest, Proquartet, the Juilliard Quartet Seminar and the Verbier Academy, for masterclasses with Boris Pergamenschikow, Frans Helmerson, Lynn Harrell, Janos Starker, Aldo Parisot, Gregor Horsch, Harro Ruijsenaars, Valentin Berlinsky, Valentin Erben, Henry Meyer and Walter Levin.

Janna Sailor
Conductor and violinist Janna Sailor is firmly established as a conductor, violinist, and musical innovator of extraordinary scope and versatility. Originally from rural Saskatchewan, she began her musical studies at the age of three and performing with professional orchestras at the age of thirteen.

In June 2016, Janna founded the Vancouver based Allegra Chamber Orchestra, one of the only all-female classical orchestras in the world; an ensemble dedicated to creating opportunities for women and minorities in the music industry, with a mandate of social action through music. The orchestra has been featured on CBC Radio,German Public Radio, Radio ICI, the Strad magazine, The Violin Channel, The Walrus, The Hub magazine, as well as other publications and media outlets across North America and Europe. Janna has conducted major orchestras and ensembles including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Calgary Philharmonic, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Vancouver Bach Choir, among others. Janna has held conducting positions with the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Academy Orchestra of Canada, and the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to conducting, Janna enjoys a diverse career as violinist, delving into contemporary, world and early music, jazz, and classical crossover, in addition to chamber and solo engagements. Ensembles she has performed with include the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Tafelmusik. Janna has served as concertmaster with both the Montreal based l’Orchestré de la Francophonie (2011) and the National Academy Orchestra of Canada (2014).

In 2012 she co-founded Cordei Contemporary Harp and Violin Duo, one of Vancouver’s premier new music ensembles. Since its inception Cordei has commissioned numerous works from Canadian composers including chamber operas, award winning scores for silent film, works for multimedia and electronics, in addition to collaborations with dance companies and visual art installations. The duo was awarded a Jessie for Outstanding Artistic Achievement for their work on the Patrick Street Production of The Light in the Piazza, and SOCAN Award (2014) for Best Original Film Score for their collaboration on the silent dance film, Zyra.

In addition to being active in the TV and movie industry, she has performed alongside artists such as Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Kenny G, Mary J. Blige, Chris Botti, The Canadian Tenors, Il Volo, Frank Sinatra Jr., Mary Margaret O’Hara and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. She has performed on two of Michael Buble’s Christmas Specials on NBC, and performed for heads of state including Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan, the Korean Consulate, and members of the Senate of Canada.

Janna completed her studies in violin and conducting at the Brandon School of Music and the University of British Columbia, and currently resides in Vancouver, Canada.

Allegra Chamber Orchestra
one of the only all female professional orchestras in the world. The ACO maintains the responsibility of the artist in society is to shine a light on issues that need to be changed and addressed, while provoking creative thought and solutions, first within ourselves, and then in the broader context of the community at large. Founded in 2016 by conductor and violinist Janna Sailor, t​he musicians of Allegra are brought together not only as professional musicians, but as women united in service and support of other women.

Each innovative concert, event and recording project presented by the ACO has a social impact focus and a practical method of financial and visible support for the partnering charitable organization. The ACO seeks to integrate music and humanity back into the community in a practical and accessible way, while maintaining the highest standards of performance and artistic excellence.

The orchestra and its unique output and mandate has been featured on CBC Radio, Radio ICI, The Walrus, The Strad magazine, The Violin Channel, The Hub, public radio stations across Germany and France, among other international media. The orchestra regularly commissions and premiers works by Canadian, female and minority composers, and has co-founded and continues to support a music therapy program for women living on the streets of Vancouver’s downtown eastside.

Allegra’s ongoing support and founding of music therapy programs in women’s resource centres across BC is made possible through a charitable partnership with Music Heals. A portion of proceeds from ACO-produced events go directly to fund music therapy, and concerts are made accessible to the women who benefit from these programs.

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