From its beginnings as a competition founded by Barbara Cran and Barbara Robinson to allow secondary student musicians an opportunity to perform with an orchestra, the NSW Secondary Schools Concerto Competition is now celebrating its 50th year of young talent and a love of music.
After multiple rounds of competition, the final concert saw the 6 finalists across the two Junior and Senior categories play their solo pieces with the Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic Orchestra. Hosted by ABC Radio host and musician Genevieve Lang, the proceedings were cheerful and exciting, if nerve-wracking to see such young performers in front of the large audience. But each competitor was well cared for, shepherded on and off the stage by conductor Paul Terracini and rewarded with flowers from the previous year’s finalists.
To begin the Junior category was a performance by David Lin of Pablo de Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen Op. 20” on violin. As the youngest finalist, Lin’s performance was lively and incredibly technically impressive as he moved through extreme high notes and dramatic contrasting lows. The following piece was the first movement of “Clarinet Concerto in E Flat Major Op. 74” by Carl Maria von Weber performed by Raymond Wang. Wang had a much more serious playing style with some flourishes as his clean, smooth clarinet floated above the humming orchestra. Then swept in Jade Park in a beautifully glittering red dress to perform the heroic “Trumpet Concerto” by Alexander Aratiunian. After a speedy opening, the piece slowed to an elegant pace with prominent cello accompaniment to Park’s quietly confident trumpet playing.
The first of the Senior performers was a return to the violin for Isabella Sun’s performance of the first movement of “Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major Op. 19” by Sergei Prokofiev. This piece had a markedly different tone to the other selections but Sun’s light-touch playing style was well-matched to the delicate and intense composition. Milo Abrahams followed with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Bassoon Concerto in B Flat Major K191”. Abrahams’s enthusiastic embodiment of the piece added greatly to the piece’s upbeat, bouncing quality with the bassoon strolling along like a spring afternoon. To finish the competition portion of the evening was Gabrielle Zhong performing “Variations on a Rococo Theme Op. 33” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky on cello. The orchestral portion of the piece was largely light and pretty but the solo cello drew the piece into the depths of emotion with an absolutely captivating performance by Zhong. While all performers were remarkably skilled and impressive, the complete synthesis between Zhong and her instrument and the sophistication of her performance resonated even outside of the concert hall.
In celebration of the competition’s 50th anniversary, and to allow adjudicators Andrew Haveron and Shefali Prior to choose the winners, alumni from the competition returned for another concerto with the orchestra. Joining KPO for the third movement of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” was Harry Wagstaff on oboe, replacing Phoebe Xu after already playing the concert within the orchestra on cello, Olivia Hans-Rosenbaum on clarinet, Miriam Alperovich on bassoon, and Andrew London on French horn. With a prominent oboe and clarinet presence in the composition that recalled the upbeat of Abrahams’s earlier performance, this was a gentle, rollicking piece to close out the musical performances of the evening.
Then came the all-important prize ceremony. All finalists received an award in recognition of their achievement in reaching the finals. Additionally, as the competition represents a great opportunity for the musicians to grow their skills and perhaps perform with an orchestra for the first time, KPO supported the award of the KPO Players’ Award for the best performer during the rehearsal period leading up to the finals concert. This was awarded in 2022 to trumpeter Jade Park. Park also took home the Barbara Robinson Award while David Lin was awarded the Barbara Cran Award for their performances at the concert. The final prize for the competition’s overall winner, which included a cash prize, trophy, and opportunity to perform with KPO in 2023, was awarded to bassoonist Milo Abrahams.
Despite the disappointment from finalists who went home without awards this year, the finals concert was an enlivening experience to see the passion, dedication, and talent present in young musicians from across the state. Each of the finalists performed with impressive skill and a unique style that make them all names to watch out for in future programs.
NSW Secondary Schools Concerto Competition 2022 was performed at the Concourse Concert Hall on June 25th
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