Chamberfest Gala 2019 raises more than $125K to help change lives through music

Benefit dinner and auction aids the Ottawa arts organization and its community engagement and education programming

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Did you know Roman Borys of the Juno Award-winning Gryphon Trio is also a high-performance driving instructor?

These are the sort of fun facts that one learns at the Chamberfest Gala, which was held at the Infinity Convention Centre on Wednesday night.

The benefit dinner and auction raised more than $125,000 for Chamberfest’s community engagement and education programming that helps the organization reach broader and more diverse audiences. The gala’s fundraising total topped the $100,000-plus raised from last year’s inaugural event.

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Chamberfest is well known for organizing the large and popular chamber music festival (and tourist attraction) in Ottawa each summer, and for its concert series that runs from October to May. 

The evening featured Ottawa’s own mezzo-soprano star Julie Nesrallah, who also hosts her own classical music show, Tempo, on CBC Music. She emceed the dinner and performed on stage with acclaimed chamber music ensemble Gryphon Trio, singing a famous aria from her favourite opera: Carmen.

Nesrallah spoke about the cause of providing greater public access to the arts. “The only reason I am where I am today is because my school had a strong music program,” the alumna of Alta Vista Public School told the crowd of more than 200 attendees.


Long-time Ottawa philanthropist Jean Teron was the evening’s honorary chair while Patti Blute — who’s been a volunteer fundraiser for the local arts scene for 23 years — chaired the gala’s auction. Blute also heads up the board of directors for Chamberfest with Vineet Srivastava, COO of major sponsor Cistel Technology.

Cistel CEO Nishith Goel attended with his wife, Nita Goel. Organizers didn’t let her birthday slip by that night without having attendees serenade her with the Happy Birthday song during dinner. Nesrallah’s powerful voice rang out over everybody else’s. 


The gala’s honorary committee consisted of such ardent arts supporters as: Marg Campbell, Susannah Dalfen, Eric Friesen, Albert Gabbay, Marina Kun, Ted Mann, Keltie Mierins, Janice Payne, Susan Peterson d’Aquino and Harvey Slack.

The evening featured nearly 120 silent and live auction items, with well-known lawyer Lawrence Greenspon helping to sell off the big-ticket items. There was something for everyone to bid on, including art work, fashion accessories, fine wines, dining out opportunities, and tickets to festivals, concerts and sporting events. 


There was a musical cruise for two on the Danube River, from Budapest to Germany, via Vienna, to be hosted by the Gryphon Trio. It sold twice, to the two top bidders, raising a combined $30,000. One of those winners was well-known, opera-singing cardiac surgeon Dr. Fraser Rubens, who’s performing next Thursday with Dr. Carol Wiebe in a special benefit concert for the Bruyère Foundation.


One of the most thrilling live auction items was a high-performance driving lesson with Roman Borys, to be held at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park near Bowmanville. Not only is Borys a cellist with Gryphon Trio and executive and artistic director of Chamberfest, but he also likes to drive really fast. “That happens to be a passion of mine, driving cars at race tracks,” he told The item sold to two top bidders, at $1,000 each.

Other items included a dinner for six with Gryphon Trio pianist James Parker, a dinner for 12 with Italian Ambassador Claudio Taffuri, and a dinner for four with Nesrallah. She was joined that night by her mom, Susan Nesrallah, who attends all of her daughter’s performances.


The audience listened to a choir performance from elementary school students involved with the community-based artistic outreach program Listen Up!  The students of Castor Valley Elementary School, located in the city’s south end, were joined by the Gryphon Trio in performing a song created in partnership with composer Kelly-Marie Murphy and spoken word artist Jamaal Rogers, former poet laureate for Ottawa.

“Today’s event is about supporting those kinds of activities,” Borys told “It’s about bringing the arts to the schools and creating opportunities for audiences of all ages to expand their knowledge and fulfill their curiosities through classical music and the programs that they have to offer.”



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