Musical Excellence Marks Young Texas Artists Competition

On the East Coast the Broadway musicians were on strike. Here on the Gulf Coast the Houston Symphony was confronting a musician’s walkout. But in Montgomery County’s crown jewel Crighton Theatre, it was music, music, music, all the way in this month’s finals of the 19th annual Young Texas Artists Music Competition!

Presented by the Montgomery County Performing Arts Society, the sold out event was sponsored by Entergy Corporation and hosted by renowned Houston radio announcer, Bob Stevenson, of KUHF-FM radio. An illustrious panel of judges included Carolyn Bridger (Professor of Piano / Chamber Music – Florida State University), Margaret Dehning, (Professor of Voice – Chapman University), David Hattner (New York based conductor and clarinetist), American composer, Michael Kurek, and finally, world renowned violin soloist, concert artist, and Professor Emeritus (Stanford University), Andor Toth, who has worked with such luminaries as Arturo Toscanini and Sir Neville Mariner.

The eight finalists, all of whom were winners by virtue of reaching the last round of competition, were required to be Texas residents or full time students of Music in the state. They each competed for awards in one of four categories.

In the Strings Division the runner-up, handsome violinist Rodrigo Puskas (Masters candidate – Meadows School of Music, Dallas), received a 500.00 prize. Masterful technique and a flair for the dramatic highlighted his performance of the Finale from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Before the night was over, Puskas would also win the voting as “Audience Choice” for an additional 500.00 prize. Meanwhile, Alexander Friedhoff (Music Masters – Rice University Shepherd School of Music), with intense concentration and star quality good looks, won the thousand-dollar string division First Prize with his skillful and very serious performance of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidre, a piece the young performer described as “deeply religious” and reflecting “sorrow for sins.”

In the instrumental division titled “Other,” the 500.00 runner-up award went to classical guitarist, Milen Parashkevov (Doctor of Musical Arts candidate – Texas Tech) for his delicately romantic performance of Manuel Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional. Relaxed and yet fully focused, Parashkevov’s lush dark hair and meticulously groomed beard, gave him the appearance of a young Pavarotti. He gave the audience the best laugh of the night when Mr. Stevenson, (perhaps making the same assumption many of us would with a name like Parashkevov) asked him about the impact of Russia on his art. The young guitarist looked puzzled for a moment and then replied, “But I’m not from Russia!” The audience roared. Next, the “Other” Division First Prize of one thousand dollars went to skilled clarinetist, Victor Chavez, Jr. (Baylor University), for his brilliant performance of Giacomo Rossini’s Introduction, Theme and Variations. It is a work of incredible technical difficulty that tackles the full range of the instrument’s possibilities. Chavez appeared every inch a Pied Piper with his loving approach to the instrument.

In the Voice Division, the 500.00 runner-up was soprano, Tara Faircloth (Master of Music/ Voice candidate – U. of Houston), who first performed (with a bit more theatrics than needed to accompany her lovely voice) Handel’s “Neghittosi Or Voi Che Fate?” from Ariodate. Happily, her second selection was joyful perfection with Donizetti’s “Chacun Le Sait” from Daughter of the Regiment. Here, with well-trained voice, and in her elegant scarlet gown, Faircloth’s fun-filled sense of theater was right on target. Winning the thousand-dollar First Prize for voice was soprano, Tawny Seward (Music Masters candidate – U. of North Texas, Denton) who sang “Quando Rapito In Estasi” from Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor, and “The Jewel Song” from Gounod’sFaust. Dressed in a shimmering and elegant bronze colored gown, Seward’s brilliant vocal performance projected a great sense of theater, joy and animation. Her range of dramatic emotion was the near equal of her fine vocal range.

Runner up for the five hundred dollar prize in the Piano Division was Kana Mimaki (Doctor of Music Arts candidate – Rice U.). Mimaki’s long black gown glistened while she demonstrated her virtuosity with crisp and vigorous attack in a complex piece with many musical sharp edges: Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7. Her delicate touch alternated with her great fluid power in this work of great variety. The Piano Division’s thousand-dollar First Prize was then presented to Akiko Koishi who literally dazzled the audience with fierce intensity performing the “Molto Allegro” from American composer John Corigliano’sPiano Concerto. It was an athletic event demonstrating thunderous energy, amazing precision and fiery velocity. It is a piece that defies an audience to anticipate the ever-changing directions the music will take, and Koishi drew the second loud laugh of the evening when she explained she was attracted to the work because the music was “catchy!” But no one was laughing moments later when she won an additional thousand dollars taking home the Grand Prize of the competition.

(The Courier    3.16.04)

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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