June 17th, 2019

From Rose Bowl to Juilliard: Coetzee taking love of cello as far as she can

By Peggy Revell on March 18, 2017.

Mari Coetzee was the winner of the Medicine Hat Rotary Music Festival's Rose Bowl five years ago. Since then, the cellist has continued to play, and is now in her second year of studies at the Juilliard School in New York, and numerous concerts across Canada. Most recently, she performed at Carnegie Hall in celebration of Canada's 150th.--SUBMITTED PHOTO


From the Rotary Music Festival Rose Bowl to Carnegie Hall and Juilliard — it’s the journey of 20-year-old Mari Coetzee from southern Alberta, who has dedicated her life to playing the cello.

“I always knew I wanted to be a cellist, since I was nine,” said Coetzee, who started music lessons at the age of five through the Medicine Hat College Conservatory, becoming part of Medicine Hat College’s academy program at 12. At 15, she began travelling to Calgary for lessons.

Five years ago, she was also the winner of the Rotary Music Festival’s Rose Bowl, a recognition of the festival’s top performer.

“I’d like to thank Medicine Hat, Medicine Hat College and the Cultural Centre, because it was there that I really started my musical journey and found my love for playing cello, and was able to explore all the different things I could do with a cello,” said Coetzee.

She was named as one of 30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians under 30 by CBC Music in 2015, a recognition that followed her winning the 2015 Shean Strings Competition in Edmonton — which in turn led her to play with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra two weeks ago.

And Coetzee is now in her second year of an undergraduate program at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, and continues to perform across Canada and in the U.S.

It’s the education and opportunities that Coetzee says she loves about attending Juilliard, including collaborations with other students.

“We have opportunities to set up our own concerts, or do innovative projects together … The people are open to doing all sorts of things. So I’ve also done projects with dancers, and people from the drama division, and working with composers.”

This includes a performance at Carnegie Hall in January with other Canadian artists to mark the country’s 150th anniversary.

Ensemble Resonance from Calgary was doing a tour in New York City, including a Carnegie hall concert where the group presented different works of Canadian composers. They wanted to feature a young Canadian string quartet, so contacted Coetzee who helped organize a group with other Canadians at Juilliard.

They played a piece by Nova Scotia composer Dinuk Wijeratne.

“It was a wonderful celebration of all the variety that Canadian composers have,” said Coetzee, plus the opportunity to work with fellow Canadians attending the school with her.

A lot of hard work goes into her music.

Coetzee says on average she plays up to eight hours a day, almost every day of the week.

She’s not quite sure what she wants to do after graduating. One option is applying for a Masters program in the U.S. or Europe, and she wants to make sure there’s variety in her future.

“I find it really hard to narrow it down to one direction. I don’t feel like it’s necessary to do that either, because music is so varied. So I would want to do a combination of teaching and performing, and chamber music ensembles, and also travel a lot and see where it takes me.”

She already spends her summers going to as many different music festivals as possible to play for the experience.

“I simply love travelling as much as I can,” she said. “Whenever I go to a new place or a new city, each city has its own feeling and its own culture, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to be in different environments all the time, and with different musicians and play with them.”

And she encourages other young musicians following in her footsteps to stay true to the music and what they want to express through music.

“It will take them to places they couldn’t have imagined of going before,” she said. “And also provide a way for them to stay passionate even when things are harder, when it requires a lot of work.”

The Rotary Music Festival’s Stars of the Festival concert is Sunday, 7 p.m. at the Medicine Hat College Theatre, and will include presenting the winner of this year’s Rose Bowl.

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