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The Michigan American String Teachers Asso­ci­ation Solo Com­pe­tition will be hosted at Hillsdale College. | Courtesy Wikipedia

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.”