During one of the first coffee breaks I took as a Mount Royal employee I walked down the Conservatory’s crooked hallway, tucked neatly away on the third floor of the University.
From behind closed practice room doors, I enjoyed hearing the familiar sound of musical instruments in use.
Passing the entrance to one of the larger rehearsal rooms, something made me stop.
I sat down, and for the duration of what I later learned was the Ernö Dohnányi's Serenade for String Trio, Op. 10, I was utterly immobile, tears streaming down my face.
One of the performers, whose playing so affected me that day, was 17-year old cellist Paul van der Sloot.
He and the two other members of his string trio – Alicia Venables and Gabe Kostelic – were practising for an upcoming performance at the Feast of Sound & Song, the Conservatory’s annual fund- and friendraiser late last October.
Now months later, van der Sloot feels like he’s riding one of the biggest waves of his career to date.
Taking first place in his Kiwanis Music Festival classes and eventually winning the Rose Bowl — awarded to the top perfomer, being invited to the Johansen International Competition for Young String Players in Washington DC, and claiming victory at both the Calgary Civic Symphony’s C3 and the Calgary Youth Orchestra’s Frank Simpson concerto competitions, van der Sloot has built terrific momentum for himself.
And this was all achieved by a student who once avoided practising and would skip out on rehearsals.
Playing makes the heart grow fonder
“Once I started realizing the opportunities that were out there, I put more effort into my playing and began to see the results,” he says as an encouragement to other would-be drop-outs. “I’ve seen a lot of others drop their playing when they had talent.”
“Now,” he says, “practising is no longer a drill. It is what allows me to play confidently in front of a large crowd.” He is quick to mention that performing is, in fact, what he loves most about being a musician.
In a spare moment between rehearsals, practising and performances, van der Sloot took the time to watch his mentor, celebrated cellist Andrés Díaz, up close in a performance at the Conservatory’s Leacock Theatre on March 30, 2012 .
van der Sloot studied with Díaz during the Conservatory's Morningside Music Bridge summer exchange and Academy for Gifted Youth programs.
Practicing with the professionals
Given their terrific rapport during these visits, van der Sloot plans to continue studying with the cello professor at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas after graduation.
“Andrés is an amazing teacher – he knows and plays everything,” says Paul. “He has unbelievable interpretive ideas and can transform pieces with his playing. But he’s super nice, fun, and supportive, too.”
When asked about what sustains him throughout these formative years, Paul smiles and says, “It’s using the instrument and the beauty of the music that moves people to tears. That’s what keeps me going.”
Moving people to tears? Well, he sure has that part down.
To see van der Sloot in action, grab a front seat at his performances of Elgar's Concerto in E minor, op. 85 on April 22, 2012 where he will perform with the Calgary Civic Symphony at 2:30 p.m. in the Jack Singer Concert Hall, and with the Calgary Youth Orchestra at 8 p.m. in the Leacock Theatre.
More information about both performances can be found online at cyo.ab.ca and calgarycivicsymphony.ca/concerts.
− Stephania Romaniuk, April 19, 2012