Santa Clara senior students to serenade this coming Saturday
February 28, 2019
Four Santa Clara senior students will take center stage this Saturday night as winners of the Music Department’s 2018-19 Concerto and Aria Competition.
The March 2 performance, titled “Mission Excellence,” will feature the soloists alongside the University Orchestra at their annual winter concert. Ashley Ahn will play the Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 2; Anne Hsia will be featured in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1; PJ Hummelt will be performing the Horn Concerto by Santa Clara orchestra conductor John Kennedy; and Garrett Woodford-Berry will be the soloist in Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Auditions for the competition, which occurred in November of last year, are open to any student at the university, no matter their major. Each year’s competition varies and may result in anywhere from one to several winners. Hsia, Hummelt and Woodford-Berry won the same competition in 2017. Students are not allowed to compete two years in a row.
“It becomes very evident when we do the competition [auditions] who has been preparing for a long time,” Kennedy said. “The solo repertoire that people have won with, they’re really difficult pieces and they take months of familiarity, not just weeks. Those students who have dedicated themselves to learning such difficult repertoire over a sustained period and having the technique to actually play the pieces well was very obvious to the judges.”
The judges are always two people outside of the university who are familiar with music, whom Kennedy advises by answering questions about the players’ ability and dedication. Twelve students auditioned in total.
In a unique circumstance, this year’s winners are all members of the University Orchestra during the academic year. Several soloists will participate in the playing of other pieces in this concert, in addition to their respective concertos.
Ahn didn’t decide to audition for the competition until two weeks before the audition due date. She decided to give it a try for the first time with the Wieniawski piece, which she has been practicing with her violin teacher at Santa Clara, Motoko Toba, since early junior year.
“I really liked how it sounded,” Ahn said. “I love it when pieces have a slow, melodic line to it and then it goes into this very difficult, technical part of the piece. It also incorporated a lot of bowing techniques that I wanted to work on throughout the year.”
According to Kennedy, Wieniawski was a virtuoso violinist, meaning he only wrote music for violin, which was known to be difficult and showy.
“It’s another example of a student learning something for their instrument that’s really at the highest level,” he said.
Hsia, who is the orchestra’s principal violist, decided to play the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto after Hummelt recommended it.
“Two years ago, Garrett, PJ and I all soloed together [in the competition] and since we’re only allowed to audition every other year if we win, we were like, ‘What are we going to play in two years?’” Hsia said. “That’s why I’m playing that piece now, due to our musicianship camaraderie.”
She started practicing the piece fall of junior year, when she studied abroad in Australia.
“I brought the music with me and I went through the hassle of finding a practice room in the university,” Hsia said. “It was rough because I had to convince them that I was really serious.” She describes the concerto as a very passionate and powerful piece.
“There’s a lot of moods and different emotions,” Hsia said. “I feel like I’m not super emotional, but through this piece I explore different realms and it takes you somewhere, like a novel.”
Hsia started playing the piano at age 5, but described it as a “ love-hate relationship” throughout her youth. She started violin when she was in fourth grade, and picked up viola in high school.
Hummelt was first introduced to Kennedy’s Horn Concerto in spring 2017.
“When the concerto competition came up again this year, I wanted to play it because I thought it would be fun to play something by a living composer, especially one who I’d get to work so closely with,” Hummelt said. He has been practicing the piece since late summer 2018.
“It’s thrilling to me that he’s doing it,” Kennedy said. “The solo is very hard, and he’s the first student musician to have learned it. It’s an incredible accomplishment for him to play it as well as he’s doing.”
According to Woodford-Berry, the Elgar Cello Concerto is one of his favorite pieces. Kennedy described it as a meditative piece that is a “wonderful contrast” to the other pieces being performed due to its emotional depth.
Woodford-Berry is proud to play in the competition as a senior, calling it a good ending to his music experience at Santa Clara.
He noted that it feels different from winning as a sophomore student, in that he’s more confident to play the music the way he thinks it ought to be played.
“What I find sort of extraordinary about all of these players is that they have majors in other fields and yet they play at a level that is first-class,” Kennedy said. “As a whole, the [senior class] is the most talented that I’ve seen at my time here. This group has set a standard that we hope will inspire others.”
Contact Erin Fox at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.