Twelve string musicians competed in the Michigan American String Teachers Association Solo Competition Nov. 18 in the Conrad Recital Hall at Hillsdale College.
“The biannual event was created by the American String Teachers Association to promote excellence and incentives for the highly gifted young string players and teachers in America ages 18 – 23,” Professor of Music and the MASTA Solo Competition Chair Melissa Knecht said. “The MASTA Solo Competition is for Michigan residents, Michigan teachers or those students who study with a Michigan teacher.”
Knecht said the competition has two rounds. The first round is an online submission process in which participants submit two contrasting memorized pieces.
Next, a panel of judges invites a limited group of the top participants to compete in the final round. The final round consists of a live performance of the chosen string players.
“This year we had more applicants than in past years, therefore, the final round was larger than usual,” Knecht said. “There were so many highly qualified students coming to Hillsdale and taking advantage of our wonderful facilities.”
Ben Penzner, a violist, won the gold award first prize of $1000 and a featured performance at the Michigan Music Conference in Grand Rapids. Isabella Amador, a violinist, won the silver award and second prize of $500. Alon Hayut, who plays the cello, won the audience favorite award and received $100.
Amador is a junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in violin performance. This was her first year competing in the MASTA Solo Competition.
“I had a wonderful experience,” Amador said. “The people involved with organizing the competition did a great job and were quite welcoming; also, the comments from the jury gave me new insight on how to phrase and interpret music for audiences to enjoy.”
After finding out she had won second place, Amador said she was excited and surprised.
“I just wanted to do the competition to gain performance experience, so I didn’t plan on receiving any sort of award,” Amador said.
Knecht said there were not any Hillsdale College students who competed in the final round this year. However, she said two years ago, Hillsdale College had one student in the final round and four years ago, Hillsdale College had a top prize winner.
James Holleman, professor and music department chair, said he is hopeful that Hillsdale students will have the opportunity to compete in the final round in the years to come.
“We have some young, really strong players right now, so I imagine we’re going to get into these final rounds” he said.
The competition has been in operation for 38 years. Knecht said she has been the competition chair for the last three years.
“I enjoy working with young string players who love music and are serious about their string playing and work extremely hard to achieve their performance expectations,” Knecht said.
Katherine Rick, adjunct piano instructor and staff accompanist, along with Brad Blackham, artist and piano instructor, accompanied several of the string players.
Rick said she accompanied four performers, including audience favorite, Hayut.
“I always enjoy coming into a rehearsal with the other person having really fully learned their part,” Rick said. “We just ran through their pieces once and then went to the performance, so coming in with the finished product like that is kind of exhilarating, but fun.”
In addition to her performance with Hayut, Rick said she accompanied two concertos for viola and another performance of “Variations on a Rococo Theme” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
“I really enjoyed the Béla Bartók viola concerto mostly because it’s a great piece but also the attitude of the performer was just really, really great,” Rick said. “It was a fabulous performance, and he was very appreciative about collaborating.”
Holleman said hosting the final round was a great opportunity for visiting players, teachers, and guests to see the facilities Hillsdale has to offer.
“It shows the strength of our piano area and the quality of the instruments we have,” Holleman said. “It makes more people aware of the music facilities, the department, what’s going on here, and then that gets spread by word of mouth. It’s all good exposure.”
Hillsdale College has hosted the final round twice in the competition’s history.
“Hillsdale College has an unusually strong music department for its size,” Knecht said.“It is our hope that the college will get the recognition it deserves for building a music department that serves not only the college but the music community at large.”