YAKIMA, Wash. -- The annual Yakima Youth Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition took place Jan. 12. Top honors went to high school junior Jocelyn Cruz (piano) performing Grieg’s Concerto for Piano in A minor, op. 16. Honorable mention was awarded to sophomores Jacob Merrill, clarinet, and Joshua Merrill, clarinet, performing Krommer’s Concerto for Two Clarinets in E flat, op. 91.
Adjudicators were YYSO Music Director Bruce Walker and Steven Slusher, Yakima Valley College director of choral/vocal activities. Slusher is an active low brass player and formerly worked as a middle school band director, alumni band director and assistant marching band director.
A concerto is a piece of music for a solo performer, such as a violinist, to perform with a full orchestra. The YYSO Concerto Competition has roots as a piano competition during conductor Carol Alexander’s tenure from 1999-2011.
The competition opened to all instruments, including voice, in the 2011-12 season. Seven to 12 students participate annually in 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, and concludes with a performance in front of adjudicators. Winners perform their pieces with the full youth symphony.
This year’s competition included bassoon, cello, clarinet, oboe, piano and trumpet. It is an experience that is similar to the annual regional solo and ensemble competition in which many area student musicians participate at the end of January or early February, with some advancing to the state-level competition in April.
Performing their piece with a full orchestra is a unique opportunity for the winners of the YYSO Concerto Competition. Once a piece is learned by the soloist, the next step is to develop rapport and communication with a piano accompanist — a musical conversation between two voices.
Progressing to the next step of having a conversation with at least 30 and possibly more than 100 other musicians, as with a soloist performing with full orchestra and chorus, is an enormous undertaking. This is where a conductor steps in to hear all of the voices, support the soloist’s expressive intent and guide the orchestra musicians through their shared conversations.
Soloists of all ages, amateur and professional alike, can speak to the complex and thrilling differences in performing first with piano accompaniment only and then with a stage full of strings, winds, brass, percussion and, sometimes, chorus.
The young musicians participating in a concerto competition have taken an important next step in their musical development. Many, many more similar steps may lead at least one of them on to regular performances with orchestras far and wide.
All of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s soloists throughout each season started with this same important first step. We look forward to watching what comes next for our Valley’s young musicians.
• This column was written by the Yakima Symphony Orchestra staff. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.