On Sunday, Feb. 14, the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra (LSO) Concerto Competition winners’ performances began streaming. The concert — still available for viewing on the Lawrence Vimeo account, accessible through the events calendar — featured the winners’ final performances as well as discussions of each of their pieces with Associate Professor of Violin Samantha George.
First in the concert’s lineup was freshman pianist Johnathan Bass playing the allegro con brio movement of Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor,” which tied for second place with senior Hung Phi Nguyen’s entry. In his discussion with George, Bass shared that the process of preparation for the competition was challenging but illuminating as he pushed his limits as a musician. Bass confessed he had originally wanted to perform Beethoven’s fourth concerto, which George described as more “dramatic and angular” compared to the serenity of the third, but his teacher, Proessor of Music Michael Mizrahi, encouraged him to pursue the third until it eventually grew on him and quickly became a rewarding experience. Bass added that his experience in other styles of piano performance, such as jazz, have helped him become a more spontaneous musician even within classical music, making him more comfortable making decisions or adjustments on the fly. He then commented that the two diverging genres are much more intertwined than they first appear, as the skills they build can so often complement each other.
Nguyen, another pianist, then followed with Mendelssohn’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor,” performing the first molto allegro con fuoco movement. He shared that, surprisingly, this was his first experience with a Mendelssohn concerto, and that is part of what drew him in and made the piece so interesting. One of the things he said made the piece compelling to play was the transition from the “fast and fierce” overall feel of the allegro con fuoco movement to the second more elegant theme also present, giving him a chance to showcase his range as a performer.
In addition to preparing for his excellent LSO performance, Nguyen has also been diligently recording and applying for graduate schools in piano performance. Naturally, this process looks different than usual because of the pandemic, now requiring meticulous recordings and selections of audition materials instead of travelling to in-person auditions. This can certainly be a somewhat painstaking endeavor, one which Nguyen shared took him about three days to complete, re-recording his hour-long selection about three times each per day.
Finally, first place entry and sophomore violist Alana Melvin shared her rendition of York Bowen’s first movement of “Concerto in C Minor.” As Bowen was a pianist and violist himself in the late romantic period, Melvin commented that the composer was a perfect fit for her. She also added that Bowen allegedly preferred the rich sound of the viola over the violin, making him a prolific composer for violists when few were putting the instrument center stage.
Outside of the LSO competition, Melvin expressed a love for chamber music; she plays in a quartet that is currently on a brief break for the term as well as a viola duo with friend, sophomore Kiara Didier. Someday, she says she hopes to play in a chamber group professionally.
In lieu of a full orchestra, each concerto entry was accompanied by an orchestral reduction played by Elizabeth Vaughn ‘15. She is currently based in Chicago and had also recorded tracks for Melvin’s audition.
For Lawrentians who missed out last weekend, the full performance recordings as well as interviews are still available. The participants spent months preparing, and the virtual concert is certainly an apt celebration of that work.