BVOF Bursary Awards

The BVOF Awards Programme

The establishment and development of a bursary programme is in keeping with Blackwater Valley Opera Festival’s philanthropic mission to discover and support exceptional talents, helping to define a new future for Irish artists that have the potential to develop successful solo careers. The bursaries and opportunity to perform at the festival are a vital springboard at a critical time in the careers of these young musicians. Blackwater Valley Opera Festival will continue to provide a platform for young artists and support the new musical talent of the future.

BVOF Bursary Awards

Blackwater Valley Opera Festival established the annual €10,000 bursary award in 2020, thanks to a generous private donor. With thanks to the generous support of Conor and Mareta Doyle, we are delighted to announce that the annual BVOF Bursary Award will continue for the five year period 2023-2027. The winners are selected by the festival’s Artistic Director and Co-Founder, Dieter Kaegi, who says “the programme is in keeping with our mission to discover and support exceptional talent, helping to define a new future for Irish artists that have the potential to develop successful solo careers.” 

We are delighted to introduce the 2024 BVOF Bursary Award winners: pianist Frasier Hickland and mezzo-soprano Anna-Helena Maclachlan, who will each receive an award of €5,000 to help further their musical careers and performing ability. They performed a special recital as part of Blackwater Valley Opera Festival 2024, and will also act as ambassadors for the festival in 2025.

2024 BVOF Bursary Award Recipients

Frasier Hickland (piano) and Anna-Helena Maclachlan (mezzo-soprano)

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2023
BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2023

Frasier Hickland is a recent graduate of the Royal College of Music, London, and the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Praised in recital for his ‘flair and dexterity’ (Seen and Heard International), the Irish pianist is a Leeds Lieder and SongEasel Young Artist, and has been featured on both BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’, and on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Classical Connections’. He has also performed in many prestigious venues in Europe and America, including Wigmore Hall, London, the Willard InterContinental, Washington DC, the Yacht Club de Monaco, Monte-Carlo, the National Concert Hall, Dublin and at the BMS International Festival of Chamber Music. Alongside his duo partner, flutist Amy Gillen, he was selected as a ‘Rising Star’ at the West Wicklow Chamber Music Festival and later this year their recital will be broadcast on RTE Lyric FM. Previously he gave the Irish premiere of Sally Beamish’s Wild Swans at ChamberFest Dublin, following a residency with the distinguished composer. His upcoming engagements include performances at the Oxford International Song Festival, the London Song Festival, and the Bloomsbury Festival.

Commenting on his BVOF award, Frasier said “I am both honoured and grateful to be the 2024 recipient of the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Bursary Award. This award has come at a crucial time in my development, as I have just completed my studies at the Royal College of Music in London. It will enable me to continue my musical training, produce professional quality recordings, and participate in festivals and masterclasses. In turn, this will enable me to raise my profile and expand my network. There is a lack of funding available in my specific field of collaborative piano, so I would like to extend a personal thanks to my sponsors Conor and Mareta Doyle for this generous bursary, which opens up many new possibilities.  I would also like to thank the entire team at Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, who have provided me with numerous performance and répétiteur opportunities since 2022, and I very much look forward to continuing the relationship as one of their ambassadors.”

Anna-Helena Maclachlan is a 22-year-old mezzo-soprano from Westmeath, Ireland. She recently graduated with a first-class honours from the BMus Vocal Performance degree at RIAM. There she studied with Mary Brennan and Grainne Dunne, having previously studied with Dearbhla Collins. In the second year of her degree, she was the winner of the Irene Sandford Award. In the same year, she was awarded one of the top bursary prizes of the Veronica Dunne Bursary for Young Irish Singers. Most recently, she was awarded 1st place in the Young Opera Voice competition at Navan Choral Festival and the Audience Prize at Northern Ireland Opera’s Festival of Voice.

Recent opera roles include Cold Genius in RIAM’s production of Purcell’s King Arthur, Victorian 2 in OCI’S production of Will Todd’s ‘Alices Adventure in Wonderland’, Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with the Saluzzo Opera Academy, and Melissa in RIAM’s production of Francesca Caccini’s ‘La Liberazione di Ruggiero’. Anna-Helena has taken part in several song projects. She was a soloist in Colman Pearce’s ‘Sundays at Noon’ concert in the Hugh Lane Gallery, where she performed ‘Summerfest’, originally written for Bernadette Greevy. She was also selected by Iain Burnside to participate in the European tour of his song project ‘Open your eyes and tell me what you see’. Anna-Helena was chosen to take part in the song programme of Tara Erraught’s ‘Celebrating the Voice’ in January 2023.

In response to the award, she commented: “I am honoured to have been chosen as a bursary recipient and ambassador by BVOF after having enjoyed my time at the festival so much last year. I felt so warmly welcomed by the festival and was impressed with BVOF’s innovation and willingness to platform young artists. The value of opportunities such as the Yeats in Music and BVOF Bursary recitals which I partook in,  cannot be overstated in a young artists career. BVOF gave me the chance to further develop my craft and collaborate with other artists. I am so grateful for their generosity, which will support me as I begin my studies in London with Royal Academy Opera.” 

2023 BVOF Bursary Award Recipients

Fionn Ó hAlmhain (bass) and Phoebe White (violin)

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2023
BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2023

Fionn Ó hAlmhain is a German-born bass who grew up in Ireland and is now based in London. He completed a BMus at the TU Dublin Conservatoire and studied singing with Dr. Robert Alderson. Since then, he has performed across Ireland and the UK, including work with Irish National Opera, Opera Collective Ireland, the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, the Salford Choral Society and Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra. Fionn is now undertaking an MA at the Royal Academy of Music and is a recipient of the Elton John Scholarship. He is an alumnus of the Glyndebourne Academy where he was nominated for the Gus Christie Award.

He said, “I am delighted and honoured to be awarded the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival bursary this year. I am going through a period of development at this time which is crucial to my career in many respects, and it would not be possible without this support.  I have enrolled in a Masters degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London under Professor Mark Wildmann which provides me with some of the most excellent tuition available to me anywhere in the world. The BVOF Bursary allows me to pay fees and to dedicate much more time to my studies. I have been able to get the coaching and practice resources at a time where they are having a huge impact on what I hope will be the beginning of a long and improving career.”  “As a young bass, one of the biggest challenges I face in my professional development is the time it takes for my voice to mature and come into its own. BVOF has been hugely supportive of me in my development both by offering me suitable professional opportunities since 2021 and by supporting me now with this bursary. This investment in my time and in my development has enabled me to do work which will make a huge difference when my voice comes to its full maturity. I will be a much better singer and artist than I would have been if these resources were not available to me at this stage.”

Phoebe White has been playing violin since the age of three. In her teens, she studied with Fionnuala Hunt at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. She studied under the tutelage of Mauricio Fuks at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, earning her Bachelor of Music Performance in 2019. In 2020, she moved to Berlin, where she now studies at the Berlin University of Arts and is a member of the Kurt-Sanderling-Academy of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin. In recent years Phoebe has established herself as one of Ireland’s rising stars in classical music. She has been awarded the RDS Music Bursary, the RDS Collins Memorial Award, and the Aileen Gore Cup at the Feis Ceoil. Previous awards include the National Concert Hall Young Musicians’ Award, the Dublin Philharmonic Award, the Maura Dowdall Award, and the Flax Trust Bursary.

As a soloist, Phoebe has performed with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Esker Festival Orchestra, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, and the Midlands Youth Orchestra. and has appeared at such festivals as the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, Westport Chamber Music Festival, Encuentro Santander in Spain, West Wicklow Chamber Music Festival, Clandeboye Festival, National Concert Hall Chamber Music Gathering, and Ortús Chamber Music Festival.  Commenting she said, “It is a great honour to be the recipient of this bursary and to be named an ambassador for the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival. This support is essential to me at this stage, as I enter the final years of my musical studies and focus on building my career.  I will use this funding to continue my studies at the Berlin University of Arts and the Kurt Sanderling Academy in Berlin. It will also enable me to seek out more opportunities, participate in festivals, masterclasses, and competitions, that I otherwise could not afford to do, and which will help me to develop as an artist and build connections. This will allow me more time to focus on my craft and develop my career.  The opportunity to perform as an ambassador for the BVOF is very exciting. As a developing artist, I need every chance to perform that I can get, and I very much look forward to connecting with new audiences and people in the industry over the coming year.”

2022 BVOF Bursary Award Recipients

Ellen Mawhinney (soprano) and John Porter (tenor)

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2022

Ellen Mawhinney is a native of County Antrim and successfully completed her Master of Music Vocal Performance programme at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland under the tutelage of Wilma MacDougall in 2020. She previously graduated from the RCS with a Batchelor of Music First Class Honours degree.  Her opera performances include Die Fledermaus with NI Opera, the role of Amore in RCS Opera Scenes, Scottish Opera’s concert production of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and English National Opera’s collaboration with RCS of Dove’s The Day After.  Ellen was the inaugural recipient of the Irish Heritage Brackaville Bursary for Vocal Studies at the auditions in the Wigmore Hall in November 2019. That followed her success at the Charles Wood Song Competition where she was also awarded first place.

Ellen was also appointed as a choral scholar for the Genesis Sixteen programme 2018-2019 and has since joined The Sixteen in concert for their world debut performance of James Macmillan’s The Grand Inconnu at the opening of the Edinburgh International Festival at Usher Hall and the Barbican Hall in London. In September 2021, Ellen sang in the second Irish Heritage Bursary Recital at the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival.

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2022

John Porter hails from Donegal, and is a graduate of Royal Academy Opera and University of Ulster. He currently studies under the tutelage of Rosa Mannion. John is a former Young Artist for Garsington Opera and Northern Ireland Opera, and a finalist in the Accademia Teatro alla Scala competition.

Operatic roles include: Alfred | Die Fledermaus, Tamino  | The Magic Flute, Rodolfo | La bohème, Nemorino | L’elisir d’amore, Pedrillo | Die Entführung aus dem Serail,  Tony | West Side Story, Kornélis | La princesse jaune, Anthony | Sweeney Todd, Basilio | Le nozze di Figaro, Borsa | Rigoletto, Nadir | The Pearl Fishers, Rinuccio | Gianni Schicchi, Beppe | Rita, Spoletta | Tosca and Ulysses | Ulysses, A Musical Odyssey (Laurence Roman; world première) and opera scenes including: Bill | Flight, Graf Albert | Die tote Stadt, Pylade | Iphigénie en Tauride and Il Duca | Rigoletto.

In 2021 John returned to Northern Ireland Opera in the roles of Alfred in Die Fledermaus and the Narrator in The Chronic Identity Crisis of Pamplemousse, he joined The Belfast Ensemble for Abomination: A DUP Opera and debuted as Tamino in The Magic Flute with Waterperry Opera Festival, and Count Almaviva The Barber of Seville for his four year with Jackdaws Music Trust.

In September 2021, he made his debut at the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival in two roles:  Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi as well as Aeglamour in the recording of Ina Boyle’s children’s opera Maudlin of Papplewick.

2021 BVOF Bursary Award Recipients

Amy Gillen (flute) and Rory Dunne (bass baritone)

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2021

Amy Gillen graduated from the Royal College of Music London with a Distinction First Class Honours Masters of Music Performance in Classical and Jazz Flute and the prestigious Tagore Gold Medal. She received first class honours in her BA in Music Performance in Flute at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and was awarded the McCullough Cup and RTÉ Lyric FM Bursary. She has performed as soloist with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Amy made her debut performance at the Wigmore Hall in London where she was awarded the 2018 Irish Heritage Bursary for Performance. Amy has won numerous prizes, including the Sir James Galway Rising Star Award, a14K Gold Nagahara, Flax Trust Bursary and Audience Award at the Flax, Belfast, Gemeinhardt piccolo and a Haynes head joint at GFF, Switzerland, Yamaha Woodwind and Brass Bursary for Ireland, and Most Promising Young Musician at Clandeboye Music Festival Belfast.

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2021

Rory Dunne studied as a singer and as an actor, and is a graduate of both the TU Dublin Conservatoire (BMus Hons) and The Bull Alley Theatre Training Company. His career has led him to work with Irish National Opera, Wexford Festival Opera, Cork Opera House, Northern Ireland Opera, Opera Collective Ireland, Lyric Opera Productions, Opera in the Open and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra Chorus. He has been awarded prizes from Feis Ceoil, Bernadette Greevy Bursary, Navan Choral Festival and the John McCormack Society, as well as being selected as a finalist in Northern Ireland Opera’s Glenarm Festival of Voice. 2021 performances included Cosi fan tutte with the Vienna Opera Academy, Gianni Schicchi with Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, Semele with Opera Collective Ireland and Le Songe d’une nuit d’été and Il Capuleti e i Montecchi with Wexford Festival Opera .

2020 BVOF Bursary Award Recipients

Naho Koizumi (soprano) and Darren Hargan (pianist/conductor)

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2020

Naho Koizumi is a Japanese UK based soprano and is a recent graduate of The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where she studied under the tutelage of Scott Johnson. She has previously studied with Sinéad Campbell-Wallace in the TU Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama, where she graduated with a first-class honours degree.

 Naho has performed with Lyric Opera, Irish National Opera and Blackwater Valley Opera Festival. Previously sung roles include Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Despina (Così fan tutte), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Gretel (Hansel and Gretel) and Adina (L’elisir d’amore). Naho will be singing the roles of Amie/Earine in the world premiere of Ina Boyle’s Maudlin of Paplewick with BVOF.

Naho was also understudying the role of Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi during the 2021 festival, which was then followed by an engagement with Seiji Ozawa Academy as Ida in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus.

BVOF Bursary Award Winner 2020

Darren Hargan is the founder and Artistic Director of Le Foyer des Artistes. He is a conductor and one of the most sought-after vocal coaches and accompanists for singers in Europe. From Derry City in Ireland, he is also a Swiss citizen. He studied on the prestigious joint course at the Royal Northern College of Music with the University of Manchester, spending his final year at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and was awarded a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. Passionate about contemporary music, he has conducted several world premières and conducted the Philharmonia Opernhaus Zürich, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Voralberg Sinfonieorchester in Bregenz, ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, and the Karlsbader Sinfonieorchester in the Czech Republic. In 2019, he was invited to the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival where he conducted Don Pasquale to critical acclaim. He returned in 2021 to conduct Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi as well as the world première of Ina Boyle’s Maudlin of Paplewick in his own critical performing edition.

BVOF | RIAM John Pollard Bursary Award

Tenors Rory Lynch and Seán Tester peformed at Blackwater Valley Opera Festival as winners of the 2024 BVOF RIAM John Pollard Bursary, accompanied by pianist Ella Nagy (a 2023 recipient of the award).

Soprano Abigail LaDuke and pianist Ella Nagy performed at Blackwater Valley Opera Festival as winners of the 2023 BVOF RIAM Next Generation Bursary (now known as the BVOF RIAM John Pollard Bursary – 2024).

In 2022, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival and the Royal Irish Academy of Music announced a transformative new music prize to support the studies of two Masters students every year at Ireland’s National Music Conservatoire. The largest bursary of its kind in Ireland, one vocal studies student and one instrumental student are selected annually to receive €20,000 per student. This award assists each winner to complete their two-year Master in Music Performance programme at the RIAM. Blackwater Valley Opera Festival has carefully designed the awards to meaningfully support the next generation of classical musicians studying and working in Ireland. The entrance bursary provides access to the acclaimed Masters programme at the RIAM, coupled with an exclusive performance opportunity at the RIAM John Pollard Recital during Ireland’s Summer Opera Festival. This takes place amidst the stunning backdrop of the Blackwater Valley in Co. Waterford.

“We are thrilled to partner with BVOF and the John Pollard Foundation to offer this astonishingly generous bursary to some truly talented and remarkable musicians. The award opens the doors of the RIAM to students across the globe, who may not otherwise have the means to study at Ireland’s oldest conservatoire, right in the heart of Dublin.” – Deborah Kelleher, RIAM Director

The award is open to vocal and instrumental students worldwide who apply to study on the Masters in Music Performance programme at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, with a particular focus on applications from tenor/countertenors for the vocal award. One vocal student and one instrumental student will be chosen through their RIAM audition to receive the award, which will be provided as €10,000 in Year 1 and €10,000 in Year 2. All students interested in studying at Masters level at RIAM can apply.

More information on how to apply and audition requirements can be found on riam.ie/apply


Irish Heritage Bursary Award

In 2017, a partnership was forged between Irish Heritage and BVOF, aiming to elevate the impact of Irish Heritage’s annual Music Bursary by introducing the Irish Heritage Award. This accolade is bestowed upon the winner and two runners-up of the Irish Heritage Bursary auditions. Annually, the Irish Heritage Bursary is presented to an Irish music student pursuing further music studies in Britain. The award includes an invitation for the winner and those highly commended by the judges to showcase their talents at a special recital performance during Blackwater Valley Opera Festival.

“Irish Heritage is privileged to be once again associated with the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival showcasing our young bursary winners of whom we are so proud. We are very honoured and grateful to BVOF for all the support and opportunities it provides Irish Heritage.” – Jim Kirby, Managing Director Irish Heritage.

The 2023 Irish Heritage Music Bursary for Performance was awarded to pianist Luke Lally Maguire and the Brackaville Bursary for Vocal Studies to soprano Laura Aherne. The 2023 Homan Potterton Bursary for String Instruments was awarded to violinist Samuel Kane and violist Jamie Howe, and The Accompanist Award to pianist Georgina Cassidy.

The 2024 Irish Heritage Music Bursary for Performance was awarded to Gabriel Francis-Dehqani (cello) and the Brackaville Bursary for Vocal Studies to Owen Lucas (tenor). The 2024 Homan Potterton Bursary for String Instruments was awarded to Sacha Bistany (guitar and Jayden Lamcellari (cello), and the Special Prize to pianist Fiachra de hOra (viola).

It was our pleasure to host 2024 award winners Gabriel Francis-Dehqani, Sacha Bistany,  Jayden Lamcellari and Fiachra de hOra accompanied by pianist Georgina Cassidy (a former Irish Heritage Award winner) at the Irish Heritage Bursary Recital at Salterbridge House in Cappoquin, Waterford during the 2024 festival season.

This award is made possible by the generous support of Michael and Giancarla Alen-Buckley.


RDS Collins Memorial Award

The winner of the 2023 RDS Collins Memorial Performance Award was soprano Megan O’Neill who performed at the 2023 Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, accompanied by Mairéad Hurley on piano, at St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore. This award is a performance award exclusively for past RDS Music Bursary award winners. Established in 2017 with the generous backing of Michael and Loret O’Brien, the RDS Collins Memorial Performance Award is in association with the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival.

The winner of the 2024 RDS Collins Memorial Performance Award was pianist Aidan Chan  who performed at the 2024 Blackwater Valley Opera Festival with baritone Dean Murphy, at St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore. 

Aidan Chan won the RDS Music Bursary in 2023 and is an Irish-Chinese pianist whose work primarily explores identity and social structures through performance. He has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in the US (Carnegie Hall), UK (Wigmore Hall), Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, China and across Ireland. As a concerto soloist he has performed with the TUD Sinfonia, as well as the Philharmonic Orchestra of Budweis. Aidan obtained a Master of Music degree with distinction from the Royal College of Music in London under the tutelage of Professors Nigel Clayton and Andrew Zolinsky, having previously completed his undergraduate studies there with first class honour

The RDS Music Bursary Programme itself consists of three separate awards – the RDS Music Bursary Award, the RDS Jago Award and the RDS Collins Memorial Performance Award. Each award includes a professional performance opportunity through RDS’s collaborations with the RTÉ National Symphony and Concert Orchestras, as well as with Blackwater Valley Opera Festival. The RDS Collins Memorial Performance Award winner is chosen by BVOF Artistic Director Dieter Kaegi, earning a significant performance opportunity at St. Carthage’s Cathedral during Blackwater Valley Opera Festival.