Nov. 18, 2022

Newly established Gordon Albert Bell Undergraduate Scholarship in Music awards inaugural recipient

Nikolai Nesterov, music undergrad in the School of Creative and Performing Arts, honoured in front of the Bell family at Oct. 13 event
Nikolai Nesterov
Nikolai Nesterov performs at an Oct. 13 event to honour the Bell family’s long-standing tradition of generosity and philanthropy at UCalgary.

It’s no overstatement to suggest that music is in Nikolai Nesterov’s blood.

His parents, concert pianist Dmitry Nesterov and Olga Kotova, a violinist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) – graduates of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory – came to Calgary from Russia in 1992, when Dmitry was invited to compete in the first-ever Esther Honens Calgary International Piano Competition where he became a Laureate. His parents are both UCalgary alumni as well, having earned their master's degrees (MMus) at the university.

To be sure, the 20-year-old pianist and undergrad in the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ (SCPA) music program has an enormous pedigree to live up to.

That’s one reason why becoming the inaugural recipient of the newly established Gordon Albert Bell Undergraduate Scholarship in Music is so meaningful to him.

“It sounds kind of crazy now, but at one point in high school I was thinking I should become a forensic scientist,” says Nikolai. “I was at a crossroads, and I questioned myself: ‘Am I good enough to pursue a life in music, like my parents?’ But then I realized that if I cut music out of my life, I wouldn’t be me anymore. I would lose a part of myself.”

Training and competing since age of 4

Nikolai – an alumnus of Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy of Music for Gifted Youth, who has been training and competing since the age of four – dreams of becoming a concert pianist like his father, who also teaches piano at Mount Royal Conservatory. Nikolai envisions one day performing a solo concerto piece with the CPO as well, the beautiful sounds of his mother’s violin accompanying him from the orchestra pit.

“This scholarship is very helpful to me financially, in terms of tuition costs, but more importantly it motivates and inspires me to work hard and to continue pursuing my musical dreams,” says Nikolai.

And this is most surely music to the ears of the Bell family, whose philanthropy and generosity provided this undergraduate scholarship gift to the University of Calgary, along with a newly established Bell Family Fund, to support the experience of SCPA’s music students. 

The Bell family have generously donated to the University of Calgary for years including a gift of $1.7 million in 2006, in support of scholarships and experiential learning in several faculties. A portion of that 2006 gift was used to establish the Elsie Mary Bell Endowment for the Arts and the Elsie Mary Bell Graduate Scholarship in Music.

Gordon Albert Bell and Nikolai Nesterov

Music undergrad Nikolai Nesterov shakes hands with Gordon Albert Bell after being presented with the inaugural Gordon Albert Bell Undergraduate Scholarship in Music.

At an event on Oct. 13 at Rozsa Centre, Nikolai was honoured to meet and thank the Bell family, including Gordon Albert Bell himself. Gordon is the father of celebrated composer and professor of music at SCPA, Allan Bell, and uncle to Graeme Bell, the internationally renowned scientist now at the University of Chicago, and Sandy Bell, a longtime internal communications employee with the University of Calgary, both alumni. The grateful undergraduate was thrilled to perform two pieces for the Bell family.  

The Bell family also had the opportunity to meet one of the two recipients of this year’s Elsie Mary Bell Graduate Scholarship in Music, Pooya Khorramyar, a doctoral student whose research is focused on developing a universal online peer-learning platform for autodidacts (self-taught musicians). The other recipient of the scholarship this year is Bert Johnson, who is doing his PhD on the role of technology in music education.

Bell family contributes to dynamic learning environment

The event was also an opportunity for UCalgary to thank the family for their philanthropy. “The Bell family’s support has helped make our School of Creative and Performing Arts a crucial and necessary contributor to the Calgary arts community,” says Dr. Aoife Mac Namara, dean of the Faculty of the Arts. “In creating the Bell Family Fund and the Gordon Albert Bell Undergraduate Scholarship in Music, the Bell family is contributing to a dynamic learning environment that promotes artistic innovation and experimentation. These incredible gifts will have a positive impact on the music students who benefit from them.” 

She adds: “The impact will be to produce artists who are expertly and rigorously trained and who are reflective, independent, and critical thinkers. Students will emerge from the School of Creative and Performing Arts deeply informed, yet also perceptive, proactive, and socially engaged.”

For Bruce Barton, director of the SCPA, the Bell family’s gifts are a fundamental part of the school’s very ecosystem. “The opportunities this support provides moves us – students, but also faculty and staff – beyond ourselves,” he says. “These are gifts that liberate our imaginations and demand that we rise to the opportunities they afford.”