Desert Vista student 1st violinist to win Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition

Desert Vista High School student Bobae Johnson knows a thing or two about winning a competition, but for her it’s not a sport she’s playing — it’s music.

She’s won the Arizona ASTA (American String Teachers Association) State Competition junior and senior, the Phoenix Youth Symphony Young Musicians Competition Senior Upper Strings Division, she was the strings winner of the AMEA (Arizona Music Educators Association) All-State Solo and Ensemble competition, and recently Johnson became the first violinist to win the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra (SASO).

“I just love music in general, especially getting to play it,” she said. “There are a lot of things you can do with music like orchestra, chamber and solos. There are so many opportunities and they’re all really amazing.”

Through these different competitions Johnson has been able to take advantage of all the different opportunities. She’s performed at Gammage Auditorium during the All-State Festival and at the Musical Instrument Museum as part of the Arizona Musicfest Young Musicians Concert Series. She’s studied at Innsbrook Institute, the Bowdoin International Music Festival and Le Festival Domaine Forget Music Festival. She has also performed in master classes with Elizabeth Wallfisch, Patrice Fontanarosa, the Emerson String Quartet, the Shanghai String Quartet, and Frank Huang.

From the latest win Johnson received $1,000 and a chance to perform with the SASO during three concerts in April.

“I’m really excited to get to play with their orchestra for a concert series,” she said. “This piece has such a cool orchestra part that it’s such a cool experience to play this piece with a professional orchestra.”

Johnson will perform the same piece she played during the competition, Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, III movement.

The Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition is open to any high school student. The students select their own piece to perform for the judges. A prize is given to first, second and third place musicians.

“It’s a chance for us to hear some of what the very talented high schoolers are doing,” said Tim Secomb, SASO vice president. “It’s a chance for their musical development. It’s very fun for us to get completely new people to come and perform with the orchestra. It’s a way for us to learn about what’s going on among other people and for them to learn about us as well.”

The violinist will perform with SASO on Friday, April 10 at Green Valley Presbyterian Church, 2800 S. Camino del Sol in Green Valley; Saturday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the DesertView Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke and on Sunday, April 12 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo Del Norte in northwest Tucson.

Johnson has been playing the violin for six years and currently studies with Dr. Jonathan Swartz at Arizona State University.

Johnson’s advice to other musicians is to give it all you’ve got.

“Always go for it,” she said. “The worst that can happen is you don’t win. Winning and losing isn’t what it’s about. You can get a lot more experience from competition. I feel like that’s more important than anything else. Getting to share your music with other people is so great.”

For more information on SASO and upcoming performances, visit

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