Neale-Silva competition winners perform on Wisconsin Public Radio

Amelia Perron

Lawrence musicians had their night in the spotlight at Wisconsin Public Radio’s Neale-Silva Young Artist’s Competition recital — four of the five performers or groups selected from the statewide competition were from Lawrence.
This year’s winners from Lawrence were pianists William Martin, Michael Smith and Amy Lauters and the string quartet of Danielle Simandl and Katie Ekberg, violin, Sarah Bellmore, viola and Max Hero, cello.
The competition, founded by the late UW Madison professor Eduardo Neale-Silva, is intended to support young classical musicians from Wisconsin by offering a select few the opportunity to perform live on WPR and earn a cash prize. The finalists, selected from preliminary recordings, auditioned in Madison in mid-March, and performed Wednesday, Apr. 30 at the Chazen in Madison for a live radio audience.
Not surprisingly, playing on the radio is much different than a run-of-the-mill Harper performance. “As far as playing on the radio is concerned, well, it was nerve-racking,” said Martin, who played Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
“It was pretty weird playing for a small audience and knowing a ton more people were listening who couldn’t see you,” explained Simandl, whose quartet played Shostakovich’s “String Quartet no. 8.”
Added Ekberg, “This made it much more exciting. We also could hear the announcers talking before and after our performances.”
Simandl’s observations were echoed by Smith, who performed Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue,” and the first movement of Schumann’s “Sonata no. 3 in f minor, op. 14.”
“What struck me most about playing was the pressure and exhilaration of not being able to see my audience,” Smith noted. “Anyone could be listening, and I wanted all my listeners to enjoy my music, even if they weren’t classical music regulars.”
Both Smith and Simandl quickly realized that a different performance venue would mean a different performance and preparation approach.
“Because our sound was the only thing most of the ‘viewers’ would get to experience,” explained Simandl, “our focus on intonation, tone, articulation, etc. was so intense in the weeks before the performance.”
“It was up to me to capture the audience’s attention for just enough time to keep them tuned in,” said Smith. “I learned that music really just comes down to communication between the audience, the performer, and the composer, and that I always need to strive to engage people and not just myself.”
All the musicians were certainly happy to have won an important competition, but “winning stuff was never the main aim,” said Simandl.
“This whole experience really just came out of the want to push ourselves and learn more chamber music repertoire faster,” she explained.
“We all determined this was just another chance to play this great work and to just have fun on stage!” said Bellmore. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to collaborate with three great musicians on such an amazing piece of musical literature and to have had the chance to experience the rewards of our hard work!”
As for the future, Ekberg speculated, “This really was a good experience for learning how competitions and recitals work.”
With what is known as optimism in the music world, Martin concludes, “I just hope it helps me to steer clear of a managerial position at McDonald’s.