ASU composition, concerto competition winners to perform with symphony orchestra

Collage of portraits of ASU music stduents.

Clockwise from top left: Carlos Zárate, Michelle Pérez, Moyi Liu and Bradley Johnson. Courtesy photos


Each year, the Arizona State University School of Music, Dance and Theatre holds a concerto competition to provide its top performers the rare opportunity to perform in concert with one of the large music ensembles.

In some years, the ASU composition faculty, in collaboration with the large ensemble directors, also offer a composition competition to provide an opportunity for the winning composers to write for orchestra or wind band and have their works performed.

On Oct. 26, the ASU Symphony Orchestra will perform ASU alumnus Carlos Zarate's 2022 winning composition, “Between Transparency and the Invisible.” The concert also includes two 2023 concerto competition winners: Michelle Pérez, a doctoral student in voice performance, performing Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (Op. 24),” and Bradley Johnson, a doctoral student in bassoon performance performing Bernhard Crusell’s “Concertino Pour le Bassoon.”    

The third 2023 concerto competition winner, pianist Moyi Liu, will be presented Feb. 11 and 13 with the ASU Symphony Orchestra, performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on the Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.”       

The jury for the concerto competition includes conducting faculty and representatives from each music performance area in the school — strings, keyboard, voice, winds, brass and percussion/guitar/harp — with the requirement that they do not have a student in the competition. The jury for the composition competition includes composition and conducting faculty.

The winners of each competition are presented during the following year’s performance season with one of the large ensembles.

Here, the competition winners share their experiences of competing, what they learned and more about their upcoming performances.

Question: What was it like winning first place in the competition?

Michelle Pérez: It is many months of rehearsals and preparation in the making. Performing the Barber piece in its entirety is so fulfilling. The piece is a deeply moving text, and when you perform something like that, you have to leave it all on the stage.

Bradley Johnson: Preparing for a competition is very different from performing recitals. Because all of your time is going into one piece, it is necessary to be much more detailed in your approach, as any mistake could be the reason you don’t advance.

Moyi Liu: It was a quite intense and enjoyable experience. My piece is one of my favorite piano and orchestra works. I have participated in several concerto competitions from my hometown, Xi’an, to Shanghai to New York and Tempe, and each experience was different. It is a process of constantly enriching one’s stage experience and making continuous improvements. Participating in this competition was a very important event in my music career.

Carlos Zárate: Winning the 2022 ASU Composition Competition and getting a piece commissioned by the ASU Symphony Orchestra was my biggest accomplishment during my career as an ASU student.

Q: How did you select this specific competition to participate in?

Pérez: I knew that I wanted to compete as soon as I found out about the competition. It takes several months to practice and perfect this type of music, and I welcomed the challenge of a solo work of this size.

Johnson: I put all my energy into this competition. Competitions push me to be a better musician because of the extremely detailed approach that is necessary for competition preparation. I chose my piece because it is flashy and shows the technical abilities of the player but also has extremely lyrical sections where the bassoonist can show their ability to be delicate and lyrical.

Liu: It has been my dream to play a piano concerto with an orchestra. This is my second time participating in our school’s concerto competition. The competition is a stage where I can compete while enjoying the music and make improvements. It encourages the participants to improve themselves.

Q: Have you previously performed a concerto with an orchestra, and if so, what is that like? 

Pérez: This will be my first concerto performance with an orchestra. I am comfortable performing with an orchestra in an operatic setting with costumes, scene partners and scenery, but this is another experience entirely. When you are soloing with the orchestra, it’s just you. It will be one of the highlights of this year's performances for me.

Johnson: This performance is different in that I am collaborating with so many musicians at once, including the conductor, and it is the biggest audience I have performed for. It is also one of my last ASU performances. 

Liu: I have played piano concertos many times in juries and recitals, but my February performance will be the first time I will perform a concerto with an orchestra. A piano concerto is the art of collaboration. Whether during practice, rehearsal or performance, we have more to think about than when playing a solo piece. It could be the door to a new world for me, and this opportunity will be precious.

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