All the right notes
By Marilou Carlin
While many college students spend the winter break enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation, students entered in the annual Concerto Competition at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) devote much of their holiday vacation to practicing. With the competition looming just a week after classes resume in January, these talented instrumentalists and singers are preparing for one of the most important moments of their college careers. Aside from the prestige of being named a winner, the contest’s victors will perform with one of the University orchestras in an upcoming concert at Hill Auditorium, an exceptional opportunity to grow and gain experience as a soloist.
Now, less than a month after the 2013 Concerto Competition, the first concert featuring a winning soloist took Wednesday, February 6 at 8 p.m. when Yihua Eva Cao, (photo left) a junior, performed Piano Concerto no. 2 by Camille Saint-Saëns with the University Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Christopher Lees, assistant professor of conducting and associate director of orchestras. The program featured Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 and Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio.
On Thursday, February 28 at 8 p.m., the other undergraduate winner, Nathaniel Pierce, (photo below right) a senior, will perform Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto with the University Symphony Orchestra, which is being paired with Stravinsky’s powerhouse, The Rite of Spring, led by Ken Kiesler, director of university orchestras and professor of conducting. Both concerts, at Hill Auditorium, are free and open to the public.
The graduate division winners of the competition were Zachary Stern, (photo below left) saxophone, who performed Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra by Paul Creston, and Katherine Calcamuggio, (photo on Montage homepage) mezzo-soprano, who sang Mr. Tambourine Man by John Corigliano. Both first year master’s students, they will perform with the USO in the 2013-14 academic year.
“Being selected as a winner of the Concerto Competition is definitely one of the highlights of my college career,” said Stern, echoing the sentiments of all the winners. “It is an enormous honor, especially considering the caliber of everyone else in the competition. It has been one of my goals since coming to Michigan several years ago.
“Musicians and singers are always perfecting their art and craft in hopes of having opportunities to perform,” said Kiesler, “Winning this competition is an achievement, but it’s also an opportunity to grow from an experience that teaches a great many lessons. To collaborate with a conductor and the musicians of the orchestra is a singular experience.”
After the winners were announced on January 10, Kiesler began the process of carefully working out which concerts, and with which orchestras, the winners would perform. The decision is determined by both the difficulty of the piece (with the most challenging works performed by the USO) and by the other repertoire on the concert program. For example, Schumann’s melodic and expressive Cello Concerto was quickly identified as an excellent complement to the heart-thumping thrill of The Rite of Spring.
Nathaniel Pierce said that the Schumann Concerto is a piece that is close to his heart. His experience of playing it, however, is only with piano accompaniment. “Getting to experience how the piece is meant to be performed—with orchestra rather than piano—will strengthen my knowledge of it and inform my interpretation,” he said. “Anytime you play with an orchestra, you realize what is important: projection, and rhythm. You have to be heard, and the orchestra has to be able to follow you. I’m always looking for the opportunity to work on those skills. I just try to soak up as much as I can.”
Marilou Carlin in a writer for the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.