Audience the Real Winner at E.Y.T.A Final Competition

Earlier this month, before a “full house” at the Crighton Theatre, it was time for the exciting finals of the Entergy Young Texas Artists Music Competition. Sponsored by the Montgomery County Performing Arts Society under the chairmanship of Susie Pokorski, this was the 20th Anniversary of the prestigious event, and over $8,000.00 in prize money was at stake for youthful (ages 18-30) competitors in voice, piano, instrument and strings. Other prizes included opportunities to perform with the Conroe Symphony, The Woodlands Symphony, the Montgomery County Choral Society, or the Loredo Philharmonic. But the real winners would be those of us lucky enough to be in attendance for this truly remarkable evening of music.

The distinguished judges included Emelyne Bingham, Assistant Conductor of the Nashville symphony, Richard Gaddes, General Director of The Santa Fe Opera, Miyoko Lotto, Associate Professor of Piano at New York University, Mark Powell, founding Music Director of the American Radio Chamber Orchestra, and Maria Schleuning of the Dallas Symphony. Renowned broadcaster, Dave Ward, news anchor for Houston’s ABC Eyewitness News (KTRK-TV 13), shared his very polished skill at the microphone as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening. There could not have been a better choice.

The first contestant was Jeffrey King, a student from S.M.U.’s Meadows School of the Arts. With energetic grace and intensely focused concentration, he performed Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D major 1st Mvt.” He seemed uninhibited by the work’s many rapid-fire passages; and, with fluid fingers, he made smooth transitions during the extraordinary variations in the piece. He would win the Violin Runner-up Award of $500.

The second contestant was clarinetist, Victor Chavez, a student at Baylor University. He performed Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No.2 in E flat, 3rd Mvt. with considerable skill and sometimes with the seductive movements of a pied piper. His expressive face echoed his joyful enthusiasm for his craft, and he showed great technical ability during the dramatic closing flourishes. He went on to win the Instrumental First Prize of $1,000.

Contestant #3 was vocalist, Joshua Hopkins. A graduate of McGill University, Hopkins resides in Houston where he is a baritone with the Houston Grand Opera. His performance of Gustav Mahler’s amusing “Lob des hohen Verstands—Des Knaben Wunderhorn,” was authoritative, animated, and full of fun. Hopkins rich voice was complemented by his theatrical flair and joyful countenance in this merry, comic offering. I would love to see him do Gilbert & Sullivan. He won the Voice First Prize of $1,000

Pianist, Kana Mimaki, dressed in a glittering gown of elegant purple satin, performed Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp Minor, Op.1, 1st Mvt.” A doctoral candidate at Rice University, there was a remarkable delicacy and purity in her technique while the movements of her arms and torso seemed to be flowing as one with her talented fingers. Her sweet face seemed to reflect her own appreciation of the passion in the music she was interpreting at one moment like a soft summer breeze, and in the next, like rolling thunder. Mr. Ward quipped, “You’ve got to be a real Rock Star to perform Rachmaninoff!” Mimaki’s performance won her the Piano Runner-up Award of $500.

The next contestant was Rodrigo Puskas, a graduate student at S.M.U.’s Meadows School of Music. The handsome violinist performed “Variations on a Theme” by Paganini with an almost gypsy flair. His bow literally danced across the strings during a stunning interpretation of this very romantic and difficult piece. Highly focused, his intense gaze never left his instrument, even when the evening freight train roared past the back of the theater. His focus was rewarded with the $1,000 Violin First Prize, and Mr. Ward apologized for “…the uninvited accompaniment of the Union Pacific Railroad.”

The next vocalist was soprano, Melinda Griswold, a student at North Texas University. Dressed in a vivid red satin gown and elegant jeweled necklace, she brought the thrilling and piercing power of her lovely voice to Massenet’s “Il est doux, il est bon” from “Herodiade.” She would take home the $500 Voice Runner-up Award.

Saxophonist, Daniel Cervantes, student at U. of Houston, played  “Aria” by Eugene Bozza. The soothing and melodic piece was lovely and well performed by Cervantes, but it seemed to lack the musical variety of selections that had gone before it. Never the less, Cervantes was to win the $500 Instrumental Runner-up Award.

Finally, pianist Adam Jackson, a junior at T.C.U., came on stage to perform “Totentanz” by Liszt. He brought gentle precision to the dream-like early passages and was fully equipped for the fiercely demanding velocity in later portions of the piece. He had impressively crisp attack for the musical “fireworks” in what was perhaps the most demanding piece of the night. He was rewarded with the $1000 First Place Piano Award. Honorable Mention piano winners, Ekaterina Ryndina and Galen Dean Peiskee, Jr., entertained beautifully while the judging and Audience Favorite balloting concluded the evening. Then Mr. Jackson learned he had also won the $500 Audience Choice Award, and yet another $1000 with the Grand Prize as Young Texas Artist of 2004.

(The Courier    3.21.03)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at
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