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Shoshana Wasser

Associate Director of Public Affairs and Communications
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Karl Hirzer receives 2022 Heinz Unger Award

November 24, 2022

Karl Hirzer, the associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, has been announced as the recipient of the Heinz Unger Award. This privately funded award, administered by the Ontario Arts Council, is presented biennially to Canada’s most promising emerging conductor.

Karl will receive this $8,000 award at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestraconcert taking place on Saturday, November 26 – where Karl will be conducting a program that includes Stravinsky’s The Firebird(featuring dancers from the Alberta Ballet School), as well as dance-inspired works by Manuel de Falla, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie.


About Karl Hirzer

Karl Hirzer
  • Karl Hirzer is associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, where he previously served as resident conductor. He has led orchestras across Canada – from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to Symphony Nova Scotia – and is a regular guest conductor with the contemporary group Land’s End Ensemble.
  • Prior to his current roles, Karl served as assistant conductor for the National Academy Orchestra of Canada and the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble. He has worked with the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and the Gstaad Festival Orchestra. He has also collaborated and performed with a wide range of soloists, including Evelyn Glennie, Jonathan Crow, Hélène Brunet, Owen Pallett and Agata Szymczewska.
  • Karl is passionate about presenting new music to audiences in a way that complements the classical canon – inviting them to discover the full spectrum of musical diversity, eras and experiences. He is especially dedicated to exploring music by living composers.
  • Karl also has a steadfast commitment to music education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he combined his enthusiasm for film and learning by creating a video series, An Orchestra Adventure, introducing children to classical music and the instruments in an orchestra. It has since been broadcast by PBS in the United States and Canada, and has received over 100,000 views on YouTube.
  • Trained as a pianist, Karl holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performance (from the University of Victoria and McGill University, respectively), as well as an associate diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Music. He continues to perform as an instrumentalist and also composes his own music, with his first album of original material anticipated for release in spring 2023.
Karl Hirzer and orchestra


The jurors were enthusiastic in their selection of Karl Hirzer as the 2022 Heinz Unger Award laureate. As they stated: “Karl has a unique and compelling vision to make classical music relevant to new audiences. He is doing outstanding work with contemporary music, and he has a very engaging conducting style. He has clear potential for an excellent career.”


About the Heinz Unger Award

  • The Heinz Unger Award, administered by the Ontario Arts Council, was established in 1967 by the York Concert Society. It honours Dr. Heinz Unger, one of the society’s founders and a prominent member of Canada’s music community, following his distinguished career in Europe.
  • The award recognizes excellence in conducting, dedication to Canadian repertoire and musicians, and commitment to fostering appreciation of orchestral music.
  • This year’s award jury consisted of Edmond Agopian (Edmonton), Catherine Dallaire (Québec City) and Martin MacDonald (Toronto).
  • Previous laureates include Earl Lee (2017), Nicolas Ellis (2015) and Martin MacDonald (2013). See the full list of previous laureates.