TUCSON, AZ – Harpist Claire Thai, age 18, won first place and $1,000 in the 2017 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra. Violinist Jacqueline Rodenbeck, age 10, won second place and $500. Pianist Jessica Zhang, age 15, won third place and $250.
Rodenbeck will perform the first movement of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole with SASO on March 10 and 11, the piece she played in the competition. She began her violin studies just before she turned five. In 2016 she was accepted to the Heifetz Institute Program for the Exceptionally Gifted in Virginia as their youngest participant and returned the following year. In 2017 she won third place in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition and won prizes three of the past four years in the Civic Orchestra of Tucson’s Young Artists’ Competition. “I close my eyes and I can feel the music,” she said. She is in the fourth grade at Casas Christian School and studies violin with Anna Gendler.
Traditionally the first-place winner is invited to solo with SASO but this year’s winner had a scheduling conflict. Harpist Thai is both an award-winning musician and scientist. In 2017 she took first place in the International Portuguese Harp Competition and performed a solo recital in Hong Kong for the World Harp Congress, an honor only given to top performers around the globe. She’s competed twice in the International Science and Engineering Fair and received a Governor’s Award for Innovation from the Arizona Technology Council for her discoveries in chemistry and environmental engineering. She’s a home-schooled senior who studies harp with Christine Vivona and Carrol McLaughlin. For the SASO competition she played the third movement of Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. Thai has been a member of the Young Composers Project for seven years and her piece, Prism, was featured in the 2015 Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s Celebrate the Future concert.
To win the third-place prize, pianist Zhang performed the first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. She is 15, a student at Hamilton High School in Chandler and studies piano with Fei Xu.
SASO’s ninth annual youth competition attracted entrants from Chandler, Gilbert, Marana, Oro Valley, Sierra Vista and Tucson. The judges included several SASO musicians. “Every year we are amazed at the depth of talent that these young musicians display,” said Tim Secomb, vice president of the orchestra and member of the selection committee. “It’s quite a challenge to narrow the field and select the winners.”
The SASO concerto competition is designed to recognize and support outstanding young high school musicians, encouraging them to polish performance skills and build real-life experience. It is named in honor of longtime arts patron Dorothy Vanek, who is SASO’s season sponsor for the 11th consecutive year.
Rodenbeck will perform with SASO on Saturday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the DesertView Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke, and on Sunday, March 11 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N. Paseo Del Norte in northwest Tucson. The program also includes Tucson guitarist Pete Fine performing his Concerto No. 2 for Electric Guitar and Orchestra. Soprano Christi Amonson returns to SASO to solo in Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Poulenc’s Gloria with the 45-voice SASO Chorus.
The SASO youth concerto competition is open to Arizona high school students who play any orchestral instrument, including piano. Younger students are also accepted with a recommendation from their teacher. Previous first-place winners are pianist Nicholas Turner, violinist Tiffany Chang, violinist Bobae Johnson, cellist Benjamin Nead, pianist Joyce Yang, cellist Sara Page, cellist Nicholas Mariscal and pianist Rebecca Shiao. Four are Tucsonans. Chang is from Chandler. Johnson and Yang are from Phoenix.
Founded in 1979, SASO has grown into a vital community resource that unites performers and audiences through a mutual love of music. The orchestra presents a wide range of compositions, including world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and popular classics. SASO brings together student, amateur and professional musicians with exceptional soloists, composers and conductors. Under the baton of Music Director Linus Lerner, this local community orchestra has twice traveled to China, performed three times in Oaxaca, Mexico, once in Brazil and for the past two summers at the San Luis Potosí Opera Festival in Mexico. SASO presents five programs each season in two or more locations. For more information, visit www.sasomusic.org or call (520) 308-6226.