Winners of SASO’s 2019 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition Announced

TUCSON, AZ – Students ranging in age from 7 to 18 gathered on January 5th and 6th to perform well-prepared concerto movements for a panel of judges in the 2019 Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition, held by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra. There was no shortage of talent, and the judges faced a difficult decision in determining the winners; however, six young musicians stood out and were awarded prizes.

This year, the competition committee introduced a two-division system. Students ages 14 and under competed in the junior division, and those ages 15-18 were in the senior division, with three winners named for each division.

In the senior division, first prize was awarded to 17-year-old violinist Kai Skaggs, who will receive $1,000 and an invitation to perform with SASO in March. Pianist Minu Kim, age 18, won second place and $500; and 18-year-old violinist Andrew Nix was awarded third prize and $250. In the new junior division, pianist Ayla Moreno, age seven, was named the first place winner, 11-year-old violinist Jacqueline Rodenbeck won second prize, and 12-year-old cellist Naomi Turner won third prize.

Kai Skaggs, senior division first prize winner, is a senior at Canyon del Oro High School. He performed the Finale movement of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto for his winning audition, and will perform the same piece with SASO in March. Skaggs was born in Nagoya, Japan and is currently a senior at Canyon Del Oro High School. He started the violin at age 4 with Dennis Bourret and was a member of the Tucson Junior Strings Orchestra for 10 years. He was also a student of Nokuthula Ngwenyama for 4 years. He currently studies with Timothy Kantor. Under the direction of Toru Tagawa, he is a member of the Canyon Del Oro High School Orchestra and the Tucson Repertory Orchestra. He is also a member and concertmaster of the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Suzette Battan.

Ayla Moreno, junior division first prize winner, is a 7-year-old second grade student who loves music, dancing, science, and drawing. She started playing the piano and violin at the age of 3 and currently studies piano with Dr. Svetlana Arakelova and violin with Dr. Laura Tagawa. Ayla has been invited to perform on violin and piano at various venues in Tucson and Japan, including the Tucson Annual Japanese Festival, Tucson Folk Festival, Tucson Museum of Art, and several churches. In 2017-2018, Ayla won first place at the Merit Scholarship Piano Competition, and has earned medals at the Arizona State Piano Competition for two years in a row. In 2018, Ayla won first place at the Civic Orchestra of Tucson’s Young Artists Competition and performed Berkovich’s Piano Concerto with the orchestra. She also earned Judge’s Honorable Commendation at the Young Artists Competition held by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Ayla performed the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in F Major, K. 37 for her winning audition.

Senior division second prize winner Minu Kim was born in Seoul, Korea and began playing the piano at the age 12. Since then, he has won several competitions including Dong-A Times Competition, South Chungcheong Department of Education Competition, Viva M Competition, TMTA Scholarship Audition. He also participated in a masterclass with Daniel Hsu. In 2017, his family moved to Arizona. Minu’s father, a Korean Army officer, is stationed at Fort Huachuca. When he is not playing the piano, Minu enjoys tennis and ping pong. Kim auditioned with movements 3 and 4 of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Major.

Junior division second prize winner Jacqueline Rodenbeck is no stranger to the SASO youth competition’s award podium. Last year, she won second prize in the overall competition and performed with SASO, their youngest soloist ever. Rodenbeck is 11 years old and is in 6th grade at Casas Christian School. She began her violin studies right when she turned 5. Jacqueline describes her passion, “I close my eyes and I can feel the music.” She was awarded first place in 2016 and second place in 2015 and 2018 in the Civic Orchestra of Tucson Young Artists’ Competition. In 2017 she won third place in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition after which she was featured on KVOA News Channel 4. She currently takes violin lessons with Timothy Kantor. Jacqueline also enjoys math, reading and science, as well as playing with her youngest sister Sophia and her puppy Luna. For her award-winning audition, she performed the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor.

Senior division third place winner, Andrew Nix, is a junior at Rincon University High School and also studies violin with Timothy Kantor. He has been playing the violin for 14 years. Playing in orchestra is by far his favorite thing to do, and recently he has participated in high level ensembles including Arizona All-State and Idyllwild Summer Orchestra. He is also currently co-concertmaster of Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra, and has soloed with the Civic Orchestra of Tucson. Some of his future goals are to audition into the National Youth Orchestra, the New World Symphony, and eventually a prestigious orchestra such as the Chicago Symphony. Nix remarked “The Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition has a reputation as one of the premier solo competitions in Southern Arizona, and I am very honored to have placed as a medalist this year!” He performed the first movement of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor for his audition.

Junior division third place winner Naomi Turner studies cello with Mary Beth Tyndall and performed the first movement of Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto in A minor for her audition. She is home-schooled and is in sixth grade.

The advanced repertoire alone speaks volumes about the participants’ talent and hard work. It was clear to the judges from the overall level of performance that these students are not only gifted musicians but also have already put in years of dedicated practice into their art, guided in no small part by their teachers and parents. It was the rich pool of talent that prompted SASO to establish the junior division this year. Competition panel member Tim Secomb remarked, “In past years of the competition, we have heard some outstanding performances by very young students. So, this year, we added a new division for players up to 14 years old, and the judges were very impressed by the skill and musicality of these younger competitors, as well as by the high-school age students who participated.”

Kai Skaggs will perform with SASO on Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 PM at the DesertView Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke, and on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00 PM at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7575 N Paseo del Norte. The concert’s eclectic repertoire will also include a performance of SASO member and composer Richard White’s Concertino for English Horn performed by the orchestra’s principal oboist Sherry Jameson. Brazilian rising talent Lucas Ferreira will perform Françaix’ Concerto for Clarinet, and the famous Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas will be performed with a special mimed accompaniment by actor Rick Wamer. Tickets for the SaddleBrooke performance are available at, and tickets for the Tucson performance are available at or by calling 520-308-6226.

The SASO concerto competition was established 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 12th consecutive year.

SASO’s tenth annual youth competition attracted entrants from across southern Arizona, including Tucson, Sierra Vista, Marana, Oro Valley, Sahuarita, and Phoenix. The competition was adjudicated by a panel of SASO musicians and educators. Previous first-place winners are harpist Claire Thai, 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.

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SASO’s Story

SaddleBrooke is home to many of our loyal donors and the place where we’ve held our gala celebrations—first a black-tie dinner with music from "Phantom of the Opera" and later our annual StarStruck Gala evenings from 2008 through 2013.
Brazilian-born Linus Lerner, in his first year as music director, challenged the orchestra to learn his native Latin rhythms by playing Villa-Lobos. This proved surprisingly hard to do. We finally got it, but not until the week of the concert.
In December 1995 SASO was the first to present a concert at SaddleBrooke. This was the brainstorm of concertmaster Sam Kreiling. The concert sold out, as did a four-concert series the following year. SASO has performed there ever since.
Turkish maestro Orhan Salliel, after guest-conducting SASO in the fall of 2012, wrote to us, "The time in Tucson I shared with you in SASO for me was so special. I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone's hearts. It was something I do not feel often—never, ever in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it, try to build everything from this power of love for music."
The most colorful performance was a Halloween concert in Nogales—a ghoulish event where the conductor was a clown and all the musicians were in costume.
Composer, pianist and conductor Warren Cohen served as music director for eight seasons, routinely commuting from his home in Phoenix, but one year all the way from Hawaii. His wife, coloratura Carolyn Whitacre, was a favorite soloist.
Our most famous alumnus is Rico Saccani, associate conductor of SASO our inaugural year and piano soloist for the second concert. He later conducted opera companies and orchestras around the world and was music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 2005.
The first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
One spring SASO proved it has animal attraction. When it played at the Reid Park Zoo, some of the critters sang along with the music
Alan Schultz became music director in Year 2 and continued leading SASO for 15 seasons. He frequently conducted from the keyboard—organ or harpsichord. He also composed several works premiered by SASO.
Adam Boyles was the music director for three seasons, bringing bountiful youthful energy and a passion to serve the music. Then the Tucson native moved East to brave the snow and conduct the orchestra at MIT in Boston.
Early audiences had to be loyal followers of this itinerant orchestra, which performed all over the city, frequently in churches. In the 1980s SASO rented the Temple of Music and Art for a concert. The City of Tucson condemned the building the morning of the dress rehearsal and the concert was canceled.
The visionary founders of SASO were Barbara and Bill Chinworth, Scott Bracher and Janet Lombard. Barbara has played with SASO through its entire history, originally in the horn section, now on bass.
The largest event SASO has produced was Berlioz Te Deum, presented at the Tucson Community Center Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers.