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May 27, 2022

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Young award winners to perform with Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Competition drew on musicians from around the U.S.

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Who would have thought that the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra would be beaming from an electronic billboard in Times Square? Well, believe it or not, that’s what happened in October. The faces of Maestro Salvador Brotons and the three winners of the orchestra’s Young Artist Competition were all smiles at the intersection of Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and 42nd Street.

This bigtime advertisement of Vancouver’s local band came about because its annual Young Artists Competition has expanded to the national level. That’s right. Your orchestra has upped the ante and become a major player in a quest to find the very best young musicians in the nation.

To support this effort, the orchestra has significantly boosted the monetary awards for the top three winners in each category. The bronze medalists receive $1,000. The silver medalists garner $3,000, and the gold medalists take home $5,000 plus the opportunity to solo with the orchestra.

In addition, the panel of judges has stellar credentials. It consists of Brotons, Grammy Award-winning cellist Zuill Bailey, pianist Dr. Igal Kesselman, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra English horn player Pedro Diaz and VSO associate concertmaster Dr. Stephen Shepherd.

The jury selected flutist Nikka Gershman-Pepper as the top performer in the woodwind category, violinist Ezekiel Sokoloff as the winner of the strings division, and David Choi as the keyboard champion. All three will perform with the orchestra this weekend at Skyview Concert Hall.

Information

What: Winners of the Young Artist Competition perform with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, plus Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Online or in person at Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

Cost: $30, or free with a season subscription.

Contact: 360-735-7278 or vancouversymphony.org

Note: Masks are required for all audience members, regardless of vaccination status. Vancouver Symphony Orchestra also requests proof of vaccination status or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event.

Gershman-Pepper lives in Los Angeles and attends the pre-conservatory program of the Colburn Music Academy where she studies flute with Jim Walker. She started piano lessons at the age of 3 but switched to flute when she was 7.

“The flute chose me just like a magic wand,” Gershman-Pepper said.  “Because one morning I woke up and the flute had come to me in a dream. I went to my parents and told them that I wanted a flute. They thought that it was another whim, like, ‘I want a Barbie or a Lego set.’ After weeks of begging and begging, they finally got me a flute. And from the moment I touched it, I felt magic.”

The 14-year-old flutist enjoys practicing while her mother, who is an artist, paints. With the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, she will play the Saverio Mercadante’s Flute Concerto.

“I love the second movement because it is so lyrical,” she said. “It gives the flute a chance to sing an aria, and it gives the flutist a break between the outer movements, which have a lot of technical demands.”

The violin gold medalist, Sokoloff, is a 16-year-old from Salt Lake City. His mother, who used to play the violin in high school, introduced him to the instrument when he was 5.

Currently a student at the Gifted Music School, Sokoloff studies violin with Eugene Watanabe. He is co-concertmaster of the school’s orchestra and practices the violin about five hours a day.

For the concert in Vancouver, Sokoloff will play the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. His talents earned him the opportunity to perform this piece with the Utah Symphony as part of its Salute to Youth concert last November and it has become one of his favorites.

“The opening is so dark and mysterious,” Sokoloff said in describing the Prokofiev concerto. “As it moves along it sounds like it could be the background for a Disney movie because it is very fantastical. Different characters emerge. There are so many different sounds that Prokofiev created with the violin, and the interaction between the violin and the orchestra is fun to hear.”

Gold medalist David Choi grew up in Los Angeles with lots of music at home because both of his parents play piano. He started piano lessons as a 5-year-old even though his mother wanted him to begin later.

Now 14, Choi is a student of HyeJin Kim through the Coburn Community School of Performing Arts. He regularly puts in five hours a day at the keyboard and takes class through Stanford Online High School.

Choi’s appearance with the Vancouver Symphony will be his first time to play with an orchestra. He will play Franz Liszt’s First Piano Concerto.

“Liszt is one of my favorite composers,” Choi said. “Liszt’s concerto sounds complicated and flashy, but I think people should hear how he manages to create beautiful music through it all. Many people think of Liszt as a showman, a pianist who only wanted to show off his technical skills. The music is difficult with a lot of notes and octaves, but it has wonderful melodies and romantic style.”

The concert program also includes Edward Elgar’s “Variations on an Original Theme,” which is popularly known as the “Enigma Variations.” It consists of a theme followed by 14 variations, each of which was titled with initials or the nicknames from Elgar’s family or circle of friends.

The “Enigma Variations” became an immediate hit after its premiere in London in 1899 and has remained a staple of concert halls ever since. The “Nimrod” variation is the most widely known and has been played to mark many somber occasions, such as the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. But most of the variations have a humorous element and should receive a vivid performance by the orchestra and Brotons.

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