Each year, Brevard Music Center’s Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium is the site of a free concert that starts at 7:00 p.m. on a Sunday evening and does not finish until well after 10:00 p.m. It is the finals for the concerto competition. The four winners return two weeks later to perform at the Jan and Beattie Wood Concerto Concert.
The final competition this year featured thirteen young student musicians, each performing a single movement (or in one case a short concerto). A collaborative pianist plays a piano reduction of the orchestral accompaniment for both the preliminaries (judged by the BMC faculty) and the finals (judged this year by Jere Flint, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra cellist and conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra). At the “Soloists of Tomorrow” July 29 concert, the four winners will perform their concertos again, but this time accompanied by the BMC Orchestra.
There were four finalists in the piano section of the competition: Tong Wang playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Alexandra Lee playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and two pianists who chose Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1: Akira Kaku and Maria Parrini. Handicapping from the bleachers, I chose Ms. Parrini due to her superior musicianship, and the judge agreed with me. For me it was a close call: Mr. Kaku had very strong technique and Ms. Lee produced a superb cadenza. I was grateful to have been able to hear all four.
There were two brass players in the finals, and both elected to play interesting twentieth-century concertos. Austin Larson, French hornist, played Paul Dukas’s very difficult “Villanelle.” Originally written as a Paris Conservatory test piece for horn and piano, it was later orchestrated. Brad Hogarth, trumpet, was the section winner with his performance of Henri Tomasi’s Concerto for Trumpet, one of the best-known works of this French composer and conductor (Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française and later Opera de Monte Carlo).
Three woodwind players were finalists: Taylor Marino performing Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, Julian Velasco performing Glazounov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra, and Rebecca Swain performing Lowell Liebermann’s Flute Concerto. In this woodwind competition, Taylor Marino was the standout and obvious winner with his performance of the Nielsen concerto, a work that was written for a Danish clarinetist who suffered from bipolar disorder, which may explain the fact that the piece alternates between two key signatures and uses a snare drum to indicate conflict. Mr. Marino has the requisite versatility to perform this piece with distinction. He made his upper register brassy or mellow, as required, and displayed a tonal beauty in his low register that made my mouth water.
Two violinists, a violist and a cellist competed for the fourth winner’s honors. Unji Hong played the Sibelius Violin Concerto, John Shin the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Dan Fellows the William Walton Viola Concerto and Blake Johnson chose the final movement of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto. As with the piano competition, it was hard to choose a winner among these fine players. I would have given the nod to Ms. Hong but the judge did not agree. When the soloists take the stage on July 29, it will be Blake Johnson worthily representing the strings.
The evening provided a marathon display of thirteen talented young musicians ready to begin careers in front of an orchestra, and it would have been hard to argue with the judge’s decisions, no matter which four he declared to be the winners. The Jan and Beattie Wood Concerto Concert (3:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 29) will be a fascinating program with concertos by Edward Elgar, Johannes Brahms, Carl Nielsen and Henri Tomasi. While Blake Johnson, Maria Parrini, Taylor Marino, and Brad Hogarth may have been declared winners, so are all thirteen young finalists and so also are all patrons of the Brevard Music Center who choose to attend on July 29.