[Click any photo to enlarge. All Photos courtesy of Young Texas Artists and Susan Love Fitts Communications.]
The title of Thomas Wolfe’s well-known novel declares, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but perhaps you really can. I can’t recall just how many years I have had the honor of reviewing the YOUNG TEXAS ARTISTS Music Competition’s Annual Finalist’s Concert & Awards program at Conroe’s elegant Crighton Theatre. The event is an official State of Texas Music Contest, and when I inserted “Young Texas Artists” into the little search box at my own website (www.ThePeoplesCritic.com) it pulled up a report titled, “Audience the Real Winner at E.Y.T.A. Final Competition,” that I had written fifteen years ago in March of 2003. I’m happy to report that the audience at this month’s competition was a winner once again, having been present for performances by eight of our state’s most accomplished young classical musicians.
Spearheading the event once again is the driving force of Conroe’s treasured, Susie Pokorski, in her role as President and CEO of The YTA Committee. Prestigious judges for the competition included longtime Julliard faculty member, Daniel Cataneo, piano soloist and master class clinician; John Ellis, Associate Dean of the University of Michigan; Music educator and renowned double bass player, Larry Hutchinson, who recently retired from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Popular flute soloist and recording artist, Brian Luce, Professor of Flute at the University of Arizona; and Roger Pines, who serves as dramaturg-literary adviser for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Emcee for the evening’s program was Houston-based writer, Eric Skelly, who also co-hosts (with St. John Flynn), “The Opera Cheat Sheet” podcast. Now a familiar face for this annual event, and serving once again this year as YTA Artistic Director, is accomplished music educator, lecturer and conductor, Emelyne Bingham, who has led such orchestras as Nashville Symphony, Toledo Symphony, and Buffalo Philharmonic, in addition to conducting for recordings of the orchestras for New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera.
But with $20,000.00 in prize money in the offing, let us move on to the real stars of the evening: the contestants in each of the four categories, Strings, Voice, Piano, and the fourth category comprising Winds, Brass & Percussion.
The first performer, Justin Douté, competed in that latter category playing an enormous marimba that seemed to take up half the stage. Talk about “a tough act to follow,” this was it! Unlike its metallic cousin, the xylophone, the marimba bars are made of wood, and when struck by the musician’s mallets produce more resonant and lower-pitched tones. It is a unique and fascinating sound, especially in the extraordinarily talented hands Mr. Douté, sometimes holding 3 mallets in each hand. His performance of the very beautiful, and varied complexities of Keiko Abe’s 1937 composition, “Prism Rhapsody for Marimba & Orchestra,” was essentially an athletic event, and truly astonishing to witness. It would ultimately win him not only the Gold Medal and $3,000 First Prize in that category, but the evening’s $3,000 Grand Prize as well.
Winning the Silver Medal and $1,000 Second Prize in that category was saxophonist, Jae-Hyun Ryoo, for his performance of Florent Schmitt’s rambling composition, “Légende, Op. 66,” which, while it was a fine demonstration of Mr. Ryoo’s technical fluency on the instrument, certainly did not give the audience a tune to hum on the way home.
First up in the STRINGS category was lovely Jaqueline Audas, performing the “Presto in moto perpetuo” from Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto, Op. 14.” Dressed in a strapless, crimson gown with glittering neckline, her slender and graceful arms brought lashing immediacy to the work’s brisk opening passages. Her racing dexterity and virtuosity would win her $1,000 as the Silver Medalist in that category. Then, wearing an elegant black gown topped with rhinestone highlights, and winning the $3,000 Gold Medal, would be Yena Lee for her relentless attack, precision fingering, fierce intensity and non-stop power in performing the “Burlesque: Allegro con brio” from the Shostakovich “Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77.”
In the PIANO category, Hyunsuk Kim captured the Silver Medalist’s $1000 prize with a performance of the “Moderato” from Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.” It moved smoothly from the ominous and pounding power of the opening passages, through the lush warmth of those that followed, in what seemed to be a well-planned journey toward a majestic musical destination during the intoxicating beauty of a rapturous performance. Not to be outdone, Dongni Xie would bring haunting beauty to her performance of George Gershwin’s “Allegro” from the “Piano Concerto in F.” Wearing gold and glistening high-heeled shoes, and yet another lovely crimson gown, her skillful rendition of the romantic, playful and prancing moments of a work full of unexpected twists and turns would reward her with the $3,000 Prize and Gold Medal.
In a strapless black gown of layered satin, soprano Sydney Anderson performed two selections in the VOICE category, offering first the desperate longing of Ned Rorem’s “Take Me Back,” from Our Town. She followed showing coloratura skill with the merry and much more pleasing “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” and then winning the Gold Medalist’s $3000 Prize.
Also performing two selections in the Voice category would be lovely soprano, Catherine Goode, dressed in a floor length gown of marble-like swirling black and dark teal. Opening with a selection from Mozart’s, “Le nozze di Figaro,” she concluded with a passionate performance of Leonard Bernstein’s, “Glitter and Be Gay,” from Candide. With her fine voice, graceful gestures and authoritative stage presence, it was theatrical, dramatic, and appropriately glittering and gay. She would not only win the $1,000 Silver Medal, but also the special Audience Choice Award of an additional $1,000. Clearly, she had helped to make this YTA audience a big winner like those that have gone before it. BRAVO!