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Forte: Concerto Competition highlights young musicians

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Music finds a way. Like a nose-tempting aroma from a pot on the stove that cannot help but waft beyond the kitchen, music and music-making have continued through the COVID-19 pandemic, finding ways to be heard and enjoyed, even if not in person.

On Jan. 9, the Yakima Youth Symphony Orchestra held its annual Concerto Competition. It is a highlight of the season with the hopeful culmination for the winners to perform as soloists with the full youth symphony. Normally a live event, this season, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students participated via video recordings. Top honors went to Joshua Merrill, grade 12, in the Senior Division performing Krommer’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, and Lilian Gu, grade seven, in the Intermediate Division performing Accolay’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor.

Merrill and Gu are members of the YYSO. They have been attending weekly rehearsals via Zoom since September. While not the same as rehearsing in person, the opportunity to come together with other student musicians, to focus deeply on particular pieces and enjoy seminars and master classes has been appreciated.

Merrill, a past concerto competition participant, signed up this season in order to focus on learning a solo piece while there are otherwise few opportunities for musicians. Music is a significant part of his life; he also plays tenor saxophone and piano.

Gu, a first-time participant, was inspired to sign up as she was learning her first concerto and because her older brother was participating. She also plays trumpet and piano.

Preparation for the competition is a lengthy process that begins with the selection of a piece of music, proceeds through four to six months of individual practice followed by rehearsals with an accompanist (in non-COVID-19 times), and concludes with an adjudicated performance. It is a big commitment, but well worth it according to Merrill and Gu for the experience and the opportunity to receive helpful feedback. They encourage others to participate in future competitions.

For information about the youth symphony and the annual concerto competition, visit and click on the youth symphony affiliate tab. Interested student musicians may audition to join YYSO or the Yakima Ensemble for Strings for the spring semester now underway via rolling admission.

• Yakima Symphony Orchestra members write this weekly column for SCENE. Learn more about the Yakima Symphony Orchestra at

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