Described as a “pure chamber musician” (Globe and Mail) creating “moments of pure magic” (Toronto Star), Canadian cellist Rachel Mercer has appeared as a soloist and chamber musician across five continents. Grand prize winner of the 2001 Vriendenkrans Competition in Amsterdam, Rachel is Principal Cello of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and Co-Artistic Director of the “5 at the First” Chamber Music Series in Hamilton. With a first love of chamber music, Rachel regularly collaborates with her longtime duo partner, pianist Angela Park, and was cellist of JUNO award-winning piano quartet Ensemble Made In Canada (2008-2020), the AYR Trio (2010-2020), and the Aviv Quartet (2002-2010). Rachel has given masterclasses across North America, South Africa and in Israel and has given talks on performance, careers and the music business. An advocate for new Canadian music, Rachel has commissioned and premiered works including cello concerti by Stewart Goodyear and Kevin Lau, as well as solo and chamber work by Vivian Fung, Andrew Downing, Alice Ho, Abigail Richardson-Schulte, John Burge and Jocelyn Morlock. Rachel can be heard on the Naxos, Naxos Canadian Classics, Centrediscs, Analekta, Atma, Dalia Classics and EnT-T record labels, and released a critically acclaimed album of the Bach Suites on Pipistrelle in March 2014, recorded on the 1696 Bonjour Stradivarius Cello from the Canada Council for the ArtsMusical Instrument Bank. Rachel plays a 17th-century cello from Northern Italy.
Recent seasons included the world premiere of a Cello Concerto by Stewart Goodyear, written for Rachel, supported by the Ontario Arts Council, and premiered with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Rachel also performed Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante with NACO for one of the 50th anniversary concerts of the orchestra and recorded Canadian composer John Burge’s “One Sail” with the Thirteen Strings Orchestra for release on Naxos. Rachel released two chamber music recordings this season. On Centrediscs, “Our Strength, Our Song”, recorded with her sister, Akemi Mercer-Niewohner (Assistant Principal Second Violin of the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra), includes 6 duos by Canadian women, by Violet Archer, Jean Coulthard, Barbara Monk Feldman, and 3 new commissions from Jocelyn Morlock, Alice Ho & Rebekah Cummings. Ensemble Made In Canada culminated its 2 year tour of the Mosaïque Project with a live-streamed video production grand finale concert in FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catherines, which was also the release of the album: Mosaïque.
Since 2006, Rachel also appears in recital with pianist Angela Park as the Mercer-Park Duo. The duo performs across Canada, presenting the duo repertoire alongside new Canadian works. Their debut disc was released in July 2011 and the duo received Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council and FACTOR support to record all-Canadian music by composers of their generation, released on Naxos Canadian Classics in 2014. They were joined from 2010-2020 by violinist Yehonatan Berick, forming the AYR Trio.
As a member of the JUNO-winning piano quartet Ensemble Made In Canada from 2008-2020, Rachel toured regularly across Canada and the United States and performed for schools, seniors’ residences, universities, the Canadian Music Centre, CONTACT (for young entrepeneurs), gave talks on the music business from a performer’s perspective, and regularly workshopped with a range of composers from student to professional, as well as being Artist-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. The group’s multiple commissions include John Burge’s JUNO-nominated piano quartet (on Centrediscs) and “The Mosaïque Project”, a cross-Canada tour from 2018-2020 including multi-media and a 14-composer commission. The album won the 2021 JUNO award for Classical Album of the Year (Chamber/Solo).
As a member of the Aviv String Quartet from 2002-2010, Rachel played in halls such as the Auditorium du Louvre, Zurich Tonhalle, Wigmore Hall, Herbst Theater in San Francisco, the Library of Congress in Washington DC, Baxter Hall in Cape Town, St Lawrence Centre in Toronto, and at festivals such as Montpellier, Aix-en-Provence, Lockenhaus, Davos, Colmar, Oslo and Ottawa. The quartet released cds on Naxos and Dalia Classics and celebrated its 10th anniversary with a complete Shostakovich cycle at the 2007 Verbier Festival. Collaborations included performances with Jorg Widmann, Boris Berman, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, James Tocco, Boris Petrushansky, Elisso Virssaladze and Anton Dressler. The quartet also gave masterclasses, coaching and outreach performances in the United States, Israel, South Africa and Canada, including at the University of Toronto.
Born in Edmonton, Rachel began cello studies at the age of three with Diana Nuttall. She spent formative years with Kristl Armstrong at the Vancouver Academy of Music, where she made her solo debut with the Vancouver Academy Chamber Orchestra at the age of 12. After moving to Ontario, Rachel attended the Royal Conservatory of Music and received the Gold Medal for her Associate Diploma, studying with Susan Gagnon and David Hetherington. She received a BM from the University of Toronto with Shauna Rolston, an MM with honours from the New England Conservatory with Laurence Lesser, and a solo diploma from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam with Dmitri Ferschtman. Rachel attended Orford, Banff, Holland Music Sessions, Ravinia, Prussia Cove, Scotiafest, Proquartet, the Juilliard Quartet Seminar and the Verbier Academy, for masterclasses with Boris Pergamenschikow, Frans Helmerson, Lynn Harrell, Janos Starker, Aldo Parisot, Gregor Horsch, Harro Ruijsenaars, Valentin Berlinsky, Valentin Erben, Henry Meyer and Walter Levin.