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Three winners named in School of Music’s Soloists’ Competition

Maureen Brabec, a graduate student in the College of Fine Arts, performs a soprano solo at the 2020 Boston University Orchestra Concerto Competition in CFA Tuesday. PERRY SOSI/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Boston University Orchestra held their 2020 Soloists’ Competition at the Tsai Performance Center Tuesday evening. Three of the eight participants were selected to perform a concerto with the BU Symphony Orchestra at their performance April 24.

Jacky Ho-Yin Li, Chengcheng Ma and Tianhong Yang were announced as the competition’s winners Wednesday afternoon.

Participants’ specialties varied, with performances from string instruments such as the violin and viola to woodwind instruments such as the clarinet and singers. 

Field professionals David Angus, a music director at Boston Lyric Opera, Ya-Fei Chuang and Paul Katz, both teachers at the New England Conservatory, judged the competition. 

The main purpose of the competition is to give students enrolled in the School of Music the opportunity to perform a solo with an orchestra behind them, according to Cami Sylvia, a staff assistant at the College of Fine Arts’ School of Music.

Daniel Dona, a lecturer in music for CFA, said each department in the School of Music selected students to participate in this final competition. Dona said he values the time and effort students put into their preparation for this competition and that he enjoys watching it pay off.

I think it’s great how well our students play and how hard they work. For all of them, it serves as a combination of months and even years of work to get to this point,” Dona said. “It’s really exciting to see them compete and then see who will come out as the three winners.” 

Dona also said there is already one winner selected by the composition department for the April 24 concert. Consequently, there will be three soloists performances and one performance of the winning piece in the composition category.

“One of the three winners is also selected to play with the Boston Pops Orchestra at BU in May during the graduation weekend,” Dona said.

Ji Hye Choi, a violin performer and post-graduate student at CFA, opened Tuesday’s competition. He said this competition was a unique experience for him specifically because of how professional it felt.

“In the professional world, it’s rare. We have a really small [number of] opportunities to play with an orchestra,” Choi said. “It’s a very special experience and I think it’s kind of a stepping stone to be a professional musician before going to the outside world.”

Choi said the competition is also unique in the sense that it provides students with the opportunity to access what would normally be an expensive experience for free.

“Usually if you want to play with an orchestra, if you’re not at the top level, people pay more to play with the orchestra,” Choi said. “It’s pretty expensive, but this is free and it’s really good.” 

Maureen Brabec, a graduate student in CFA, performed as a soprano singer in the competition and said she enjoyed the experience, as it allowed her to tell a story to a large audience.

“I felt good. I had fun. I just took it as an opportunity to tell the story that’s happening in the area. I don’t really have room to feel nervous,” Brabec said. “One of the advantages of being a singer is that we have words. We get to tell a story with those very concrete things — words.”

Brabec said participating in this competition serves as a networking opportunity, specifically considering the prestige of many of the judges and their organizations. Brabec also said the competition offers students the practice they need to perform professionally.

“It’s just always good to practice performing,” Brabec said. “The mental preparation itself is a skill that has to be practiced, so that you can get good at it, so you get out of your own way and can go out and perform all the things that you’ve been practicing.” 

Yuhao Dong, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said before the competition he was looking forward to seeing the expertise of the student performers.

“I am generally interested in orchestra and I was invited by a friend,” Dong said. “I expect them to perform better than I do. I do have prior experience performing, but just as a hobby, so they should do a better job than regular aficionado.”

Yuqi Qian, a junior in CFA, said she appreciates that the competition serves as not only entertainment for her and a friend, but also an award-earning opportunity for students.

“We both wanted to see especially the piano concerto, because we both play piano,” Qian said. “I think [the performers] are all the best, whatever instrument, not just piano … It’s nice to see that other musicians can have the chance to challenge themselves and win an award.”

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