Our Faculty

Anna Cal
Alex Chen
Robert Holliston
Kathryn Whitney

Anna Cal

Director of Collaborative Piano

Pianist Anna Cal is the director of collaborative piano performance and interpretation on the Art Song Projects. She gives solo studio coachings to the pianists, as well as ensemble coaching to the singer-pianist duos on the course, and she gives masterclasses and workshops on song interpretation to our pianists, singers, and auditor participants.

Anna was trained in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was accepted into the Soviet State Music School at age six. She studied there for nine years, and was extensively trained in Piano Performance and Collaborative Piano. At age 15, she started her Bachelor Degree Program in The Rimski Korsakov College where she continued her training in Piano Performance and Collaborative Piano as well as Pedagogy and Psychology.

After acquiring her BMus with highest distinction, Anna was accepted to the St. Petersburg State Conservatory of Rimski Korsakov in 1982. She studied with many well-known professors, including Pavel Egorov, Vitaly Berzon, and Elena Shishko, graduating with her Masters Degrees with highest distinction in three separate fields of Solo Piano Performance, Collaborative Performance and Piano Pedagogy. She also has extensive training in the history of Music and advanced Harmony. After graduation, Anna moved to Italy, where she worked for two years with Italian and German singers performing songs and lieder in the Roma festivals.

Anna maintains a large private studio where she teaches Piano, Harmony, and coaches vocalists. She is a senior teacher at the Victoria Conservatory of Music in the Keyboard and Theory faculties, where she also teaches piano pedagogy.  Anna is on the faculty of VCM Summer Piano Academy. Anna has worked as a collaborative pianist and voice coach for the Young Artists program with Pacific Opera Victoria. She is a frequent performer in Victoria as a soloist and in collaboration with voices and instrumentalists.

Anna was Director of Collaborative Piano on the Winterreise Project (2015), the Dichterliebe Project(2016), the Schoene Muellerin Project (2017), the Vaughan Williams Project (2018) and the Mahler Project (2019).

Alex Chen

Collaborative Pianist and Vocal Coach

Alex Chen is a collaborative pianist and vocal coach whose personal approach and intellectual curiosity bring fresh perspectives on a diverse body of musical works. In the words of mentor John Hess, he is “an immensely musical and sensitive player” with “a deeply inquisitive mind”.

Alex has an MMus from the University of Western Ontario in Collaborative Piano, an ARCT from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Piano Performance, and a BSc from the University of Guelph. He is currently on faculty at the Victoria Conservatory of Music in addition to working as a freelance pianist for students at the University of Victoria.

His experiences include work in art song recital, playing as an opera répétiteur, collaborating with choirs, and exploring the instrumental duo & chamber music canons. Distinguishing himself as a performer and researcher, Alex held a Canadian Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). His scholarship supported his work in art song recital programming. As the first phase of his research, he created and performed song cycles formulated from disparate works by Rachmaninov and Brahms. For his second phase, he delivered a stirring recital titled “Demons & Dichterliebe” that juxtaposed supernatural bewitchment and obsessive love.

Among his many projects, Alex has been involved as a pianist and coach with the Accademia Europea dell’Opera (an experience funded by a Create and Explore Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts), the Victoria Conservatory’s Collegium program, and the Western University Opera Workshop. These collaborations have culminated in performances of Le nozze di Figaro, Serse, and Die Zauberflöte. Moreover, Alex has worked with singers and ensembles on numerous other arias, opera scenes, and choral performances.

In his spare time, Alex enjoys singing the odd song, performing in the chorus for Pacific Opera Victoria, and going on hikes in search of birds.

   Robert Holliston

     Head of Piano, Victoria Conservatory of Music


RobRobert Hollistonert Holliston studied at the Victoria Conservatory of Music under Robin Wood and Winifred Scott Wood, and at the University of British Columbia under Robert Rogers.

As an accompanist and chamber player he has performed throughout Canada and the USA, England and New Zealand, and has been heard frequently on CBC-Radio.

He has recorded CDs with the popular salon ensemble Viveza, trombonist Ian McDougall, tenor Ken Lavigne, his brother Tom Holliston, Show Business Giants and members of the Hornby Island Ensemble.

Robert has collaborated with many of Canada’s leading singers, including Richard Margison, Benjamin Butterfield, Judith Forst, Nathalie Paulin, Susan Platts, Peter Barcza, and fellow VCM faculty members; string players Eugene Fodor, Moshe Hammer, Marc Destrubé, Jonathan Crow, and Paul Marleyn; and (with Viveza) dancers Karen Kain and Evelyn Hart.

A popular public speaker, Robert has given pre-performance lectures for Pacific Opera Victoria since 1993 and is POV’s Principal Coach. Still an active performer, Robert is currently Head of Keyboard at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, where he also teaches piano and music history, and acts as vocal coach. Robert was a founding director of the VCM Opera Studio.

Kiiri Michelsen

Diction Coach

Canadian-Norwegian mezzo-soprano Kiiri Michelsen is active in performance, teaching (voice/lyric diction), coaching (lyric diction) and research (lyric diction).

Kiiri’s passion for languages, exacting attention to detail, and many languages coached have led her to gain the reputation of “diction guru” with colleagues and students alike, and she is sought after to coach soloists, choirs, conductors, vocal coaches, and anyone looking to improve their ability to sing or teach authentic language sounds clearly, correctly, and expressively.  Her unique blend of skills as a singer, voice teacher, diction instructor/researcher and coach have enabled her to develop a highly specialized and effective method of diction coaching which yields high-level results in singers of all levels.  Kiiri’s precise and intuitive guidance on articulator placement/function, combined with knowledge of lyric diction conventions past and present, leads singers to find enhanced precision, nuance, and authenticity with maximum vocal ease.  Her coaching is in demand for a wide array of languages, and her services as “Diction Technician” are requested by those looking to polish and perfect familiar languages, learn new ones, improve their lyric diction teaching, or even request research into lyric diction for an uncommon dialect or language.

Kiiri is the lyric diction instructor for the VCM/Camosun Diploma in Music Performance program, she has been the diction coach for various VCM Opera Studio productions, and she presents lectures and masterclasses for the Young Artist Collegium program and the Certificate in Music Teaching program.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance (secondary focus: Musicology), a Bachelor’s Degree in Music with Distinction (Piano/Voice, with a special interest in collaborative piano and chamber music), and her vocal training has taken her to various locations nationally and internationally for workshops and professional development courses.  Praised for her ” lovely warm voice and excellent technique”, Kiiri is a versatile singer, equally at home performing repertoire from the Baroque to the contemporary. 

Kiiri has researched lyric diction and coached repertoire in English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Spanish (Continental and Latin American dialects), the Galician dialect, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, and Latin (Italianate, Germanic, and French).           

 More information at www.kiirimichelsen.ca

Kathryn Whitney

Artistic Director, Instructor in voice

Kathryn Whitney is the artistic director of the Pacific Song Collective, the latest in a series of song performance and touring projects that she has developed in Canada and the UK. In 2010, Kathryn joined both the voice faculty at the Victoria Conservatory of Music (VCM) and the Institute of Musical Research (IMR), an arm of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, where she was an Associate Fellow for five years. She also co-founded and co-directs (with Verica Grmusa) the SongArt Performance Research Group, which is based in London, England.

In 2012, Kathryn was a Visiting Fellow at the AHRC Centre for Music Performance as Creative Practice at King’s College, London. She was artist in residence at Oxford University (Wolfson Creative Arts Fellow, 2002-2005) and at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (Walton Fellow, 2009-2011).

Kathryn has a special love of song, and has given recitals for the Oxford Lieder Festival, the Rolston Recital Hall, Banff, the Regina Musical Club, and at St John’s Smith Square, London. Her work has received support from the BC Arts Council, the BC Touring Council, the Organisation of Saskatchewan Arts Councils, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Arts Council of England, and the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust. A champion of new music, she has sung the world or national première of over 50 songs, the majority written for her voice. Raised on Vancouver Island, she trained initially at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and went on to study at the University of Toronto (BA), Oxford University (DPhil), and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London (PGDip Performance), where her teachers were Emma Kirkby and Susan McCulloch.

Prior to beginning work as a performer, Kathryn taught music history and aesthetics as a college lecturer at Oxford University for 12 years, with concurrent appointments at both Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Music. A clinician for the British Columbia Choral Federation, she is artistic director of the VCM Summer Baroque Chamber Singers Program and co-artistic director (with Brian Wismath) of the VCM Summer Academy Choral Program. Above all, Kathryn loves teaching. She hopes she will see you at a Pacific Song Collective project on Canada’s beautiful West Coast!