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Student musicians shine in the 2016 Concert of Soloists

Samantha Yim
Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

January 26, 2016

Performing at a high level in an ensemble takes years of practice. It is an even greater challenge, however, to play as a soloist in front of a large audience while being accompanied by a 100-piece orchestra made up entirely of fellow students.  

For more than 30 years, the winners of the Concert of Soloists competition have risen to this same opportunity, as they perform a concerto or virtuosic piece in front of hundreds at ASU Gammage and strive to deliver a compelling performance.

The annual Concert of Soloists competition is made up of several rounds. First, participants compete at the studio level. Then those finalists move on to their area round, and last, the chosen few perform during the finals recital, which most recently took place Nov. 10, 2015. During this finals recital, the performers are judged by a panel of School of Music faculty, who select the winners to perform for the final Concert of Soloists with the ASU Symphony Orchestra, which is coming up this year on Feb. 1, 2016.

“This annual concert is a wonderful opportunity that showcases the four winning student soloists being backed by our ASU Symphony Orchestra, which is led by our graduate orchestral conducting students,” says Jason Caslor, associate director of bands and orchestras. “It is truly a student-driven production.”

While the concert will begin with Caslor conducting Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus Overture,” the rest of the concert will feature student soloists being directed almost exclusively by student conductors. The three guest conductors for the event are Mark Alpizar, Trae Blanco and Cullan Lucas. All three are currently in the Doctor of Musical Arts in Conducting program.

The winners for this year’s Concert of Soloists Competition are Michelle Broadbent, Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance student; Darren Cueva, Doctor of Musical Arts in Double Bass Performance student; Michael Lewis, Master of Music in Collaborative Piano student, and Yoon Jung “Samantha” Yim, Master of Music in Flute Performance student.

Michelle Broadbent
Broadbent, a soprano, will perform the exquisite “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” “In one of our first voice lessons, Michelle brought in one of her favorite pieces to sing, Samuel Barber’s ‘Knoxville: Summer of 1915,’” says Gordon Hawkins, assistant professor of voice. “It is all too appropriate that this beautiful piece is what Michelle will perform in the Concert of Soloists.”

“Barber's sweeping melodic lines give wings to James Agee’s text, creating a beautifully transcending experience for the listener,” says Broadbent. 
Broadbent is delighted and honored to be one of the winners. She is particularly looking forward to singing in ASU Gammage and to collaborating with the ASU Symphony Orchestra.

“A challenge with this performance will be finding that sense of ensemble between the equally important roles of soloist and orchestra, while still keeping the magic of the moment in spontaneous music making. Cullan Lucas, who will conduct this piece, will be the glue that keeps us all together.”

Darren Cueva
Cueva was faced with an extra challenge in the competition, since double bass is not usually considered a solo instrument.

“Winning this solo competition at such a large and competitive school has really validated what I am doing,” says Cueva. “Although not usually associated with solo playing, for the last several decades many fantastic bass players have expanded the repertoire and proved what the bass is capable of. One of these leaders has been my teacher Catalin Rotaru, and I hope that I can follow in his footsteps.”

At the concert, Cueva will perform two movements from the “Concerto per Franco Petracchi” by Virgilio Mortari, which was written for Petracchi, one of the leading pedagogues and bass performers of the 20th century. The last movement, which has a recognizable melody, is based on “La Campanella” from Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 2.

“Darren is a very gifted and hardworking musician, who has made quite a significant amount of progress during his studies here at ASU,” says Catalin Rotaru, associate professor of double bass. “Winning this competition will have a significant impact on his self-esteem, which is a very important component in the life of a musician, and especially a soloist.”

Michael Lewis
Lewis is thrilled to be playing in the Concert of Soloists, as it has been over 6 years since he has performed with an orchestra.

“This past summer, I stumbled across the ‘Concerto for Piano and Orchestra’ by Robert Muczynski by accident,” says Lewis. “On first hearing I was immediately struck by Muczynski’s unique style of storytelling through music. He is able to seamlessly depict at one moment eccentric pomposity, then a violent and swift pursuit, and then ingenuous tranquility. The wide array of characters in this concerto is where I think this piece gets its charm. I invite the audience to come up with their own stories as they listen to this incredibly imaginative work.” 

Lewis is looking forward to bringing this unique work to life, as well as to the challenge and excitement of working with a large ensemble again.

“Michael’s preparation and interpretation of this dynamic work is a result of his passion, inspiration and hard work alone, as I have only shared with him a few technical tips and phrasing possibilities,” says Russell Ryan, professor of practice in collaborative piano. “I feel very fortunate to mentor young, talented and dedicated artists such as Michael, and enjoy witnessing the creative processes in their encounter with such powerful music.”

Yoon Jung “Samantha” Yim
As a first-year master’s student coming back home to Arizona for graduate study, Yim worked with Magda Schwerzmann, the sabbatical leave replacement for Elizabeth Buck, professor of flute, to prepare for the competition.

“Schwerzmann, who is Swiss along with the composer Frank Martin, immediately sensed how to work with Samantha in bringing ‘Ballade for Flute and Orchestra’ alive for performance,” says Buck. “By focusing on the music and communicating personality and style through sound colors and dynamics, Samantha is on her way to mastering the art of performance.”

This performance is especially exciting for Yim as this is her very first time playing as a soloist with an orchestra.

“I am honored to have been chosen as a winner of this year’s concerto competition,” says Yim. “Every performance is a learning experience, whether or not it goes as expected, so I hope to gain insight from this opportunity for future performances.”

“The Ballade is one of my favorite pieces of flute repertoire. It is virtuosic and technically demanding in not only the level of technique but its capacity to show the musical intensity of the flute without limit.”

Brice Johnson
In addition to the soloist competition, an annual composition contest encourages composition students to submit their original pieces for a chance to have them performed by a full orchestra. The winner this year was “Zámbiza,” written by Brice Johnson, a Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition student.

“I was thrilled to hear that ‘Zámbiza’ was chosen as the composition for the Concert of Soloists competition this year,” says Johnson. “This piece is very dear to me and a deep reflection of a major experience in my life.”

Brice wrote his piece after visiting the Zámbiza city province in Quito, Ecuador, on a humanitarian trip.

“The resilience of the people who lived there under very adverse conditions was the stimulus for Brice’s new composition for orchestra,” says Rodney Rogers, professor of music theory and composition.

While it will not be performed on this program, a future performance or recording project of Zámbiza is currently being discussed.

The jury who selected these fine young artists was comprised of Christopher Creviston, associate professor of saxophone; Amanda DeMaris, clinical assistant professor of voice; Laura Emmery, assistant professor of music theory; Thomas Landschoot, professor of cello; Caio Pagano, Regents’ professor of piano; Sandy Stauffer, professor of music education, and Jason Caslor.

This concert is free and open to the public will take place at ASU Gammage. For more information, go to

Media Contact:
Heather Beaman
School of Music Communications Liaison