​Concerto Winners Reflect on Success

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
A person enjoying a musical performance can imagine the bliss a musician must feel getting lost in the music and entertaining a rapt audience.
Maybe bliss is too strong a word.
“A lot of fear,” replies violinist Ben Garrett, 15, in response to the question of what it feels like to perform music on stage.
The other musicians around the table voice their agreement, even though they are each standout performers, winners of the 2018 Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival (SSMF).
Of course, performing has its joys, said Yónder Muñoz, 23, who lives in San Jose, Costa Rica, and attends the University of Costa Rica.
“In my country, you can be playing music or collecting coffee, that’s the most common work, or be working on a farm or something like that,” the percussionist said. “I feel very blessed when I’m playing; I think there are a lot of people that can’t do this. When I play I try to focus and share my happiness to be here.”
For Lucas Zeiter, 21, a native of Las Vegas and student at the University of Washington, playing the bassoon for audiences is a tremendous alternative.
“I went into college doing behavioral neuroscience and then I realized how much I hated that and how much I loved performing and playing and sharing music with people,” Zeiter said. “I’m really humbled by where we’re at, but I think as musicians we just want to continue to push ourselves to get better.”
Joining Garrett, Muñoz and Zeiter as winners of the Concerto Competition are Izumi Amemiya, 19, a student at the University of Indiana; Qiang Fu, 26, from the University of Oklahoma; and Sylvan Zhang, 15, a student at Stillwater High School in Oklahoma, who started playing violin when he has five-years-old.
More than 60 performers participated in this year’s Concerto Competition, which is an annual part of the SSMF. The contestants competed individually in two rounds judged by SSMF faculty, with the six winners performing with the Festival Orchestra on July 19.
All but Zhang sat down in the SSMF office the day prior to the orchestra performance to talk to about their passion for and dedication to music.
Amemiya, an oboe player and native of Honolulu, started playing piano around the age of 7, but picked up the oboe in middle school.
“I wasn’t really serious about it until I started auditioning for college, but when I got into college I changed my major to performance. I realized that playing the oboe means a lot to me and I just wanted to see how far I can push myself,” she said.
All of the winners have a laundry list of accomplishments, a few of which include Amemiya acting as principal oboist of Indiana University’s concert band, Zeiter performing with the Seattle Symphony, and Garrett winning the Greater Houston Youth Orchestra concerto competition.
To get as good as these Concerto winners requires practicing hours per day. Garrett said he practices two to three hours each day during the school year in Madison, Ala., but five to six hours a day on weekends and in the summer.
The SSMF is considered a premiere orchestra and chamber music festival, which draws musicians from around the world.
Fu, a native of Inner Mongolia, moved to the States about three years ago. He said he feels more appreciated in the U.S.
“It’s not that popular in China,” the violinist said. “Before I came here, I didn’t practice that much orchestra and chamber music.”
Fu competed in the Concerto Competition with the piece, Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 22 by Henryk Wieniawski.
Muñoz notes that one of his professors at the University of Costa Rica encouraged him to attend SSMF.
“It’s exciting to be here,” he said, “being at a festival that every musician in Costa Rica knows about and playing with good musicians and faculty.”
Muñoz, whose grandfather and parents are professional musicians, said he plans to play professionally. Others at the table say they’d also like to play for living, but Garrett, who also has interests in robotics and math, said he’s undecided.
As winners of the Concerto Competition, each received scholarships for next year’s SSMF.
Walter Nance and Mayna Avent Nance established the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition in 2007 to honor Mayna’s older sister, who died the same year. Jacqueline was a school teacher in California and longtime employee at a children’s museum in Nashville.