Lawrence Musicians win competition

Deborah Nixon

Seven Lawrence students–three soloists and a string quartet– shared top honors at the Neale-Silva Competition on March 16 in Madison. The honored students were four out of the five winners chosen from fourteen finalists. As part of the prize, the winners will perform in concert in Madison’s Wisconsin Union Theater on April 30, which will be broadcast live statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio’s (WPR) channel of National Public Radio (NPR) News and Classical Music Network.
WPR’s Neale-Silva Competition is open to soloists, duos, trios, quartets and quintets with members between the ages of 17 and 26. All musicians have to live or attend school in Wisconsin. For the past two years, several Lawrence students have been among the winners: percussionist Kyle Traska in 2007 and both saxophonist Sara Kind and percussionist Mike Truesdell in 2006.
This year, the three soloists were pianists Amy Lauters, Will Martin and Michael Smith. Lauters, a freshman from Manhattan, Kan., and Martin, a sophomore from Floosmoor, Ill., both study with Associate Professor Anthony Padilla. For the concert, Lauters will perform a Chopin nocturne, Haydn’s Piano Sonata in C Major, no. 60, and Ravel’s Jeux D’eau. Martin will perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Smith, a sophomore from Davis, Calif., studies with Associate Professor Michael Kim. He will perform the “Fantasia” from J.S. Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and Schumann’s Sonata no. 3 in f minor, op. 14.
Like most competitors, Smith chose his pieces due to their familiarity and technical emphasis. Smith said, “The Bach is a piece I’ve played for a long time…The Schumann is a piece that really brings out my strengths as a performer.”
The string quartet consists of violinists Danielle Simandl and Katie Ekberg ’09 from Marquette, Mich. and New Hope, Minn., violist Sarah Bellmore ’08 from Appleton and cellist Max Hero ’10 from Wauwatosa, Wis. The quartet, coached by Assistant Professor and violinist Wen-Lei Gu, has been playing together since the fall. They will perform Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 8.
In choosing the Shostakovich, Simandl stated, “We continued to have fun playing it throughout fall and winter term. It has cool parts for everyone in the quartet to play!” In preparation, they performed it in recital during fall term.
According to Ekberg, the quartet entered the competition, since “we knew that we wanted to be together as a quartet all year and we knew that we wanted to have a goal to work toward.”
Simandl suggested the Neale-Silva, as she had already decided to enter as a soloist. However, performing as part of a quartet is much different than performing as a soloist, with three other people and parts demanding equal attention. Ekberg adds, “I personally am less nervous performing with my quartet, and I end up being a lot happier after the performance.”
At this point, the winners are beginning think about preparations for the April 30 performance. Simandl says, “We’ll pick up where we left off and get it even better.” Smith, on the other hand, states an additional job: “I need to iron my pants.