Nearly 70 talented classical musicians from Texas and around the world competed in the Young Texas Artists Music Competition at the Crighton Theatre in downtown Conroe March 10-12.
This Young Texas Artists (YTA) program is for classical musicians ages 18-30 (and Voice contestants ages 20-32) who are Texas residents or affiliated with a Texas music school. The artists competed in one of four performance divisions: Piano; Strings; Voice; and Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp and Guitar. Finalists in each division vied for a share of $40,000 in monetary prizes, along with career mentoring and performance opportunities.
Artistic Director: Emelyne Bingham.
YTA President/CEO: Susie Moore Pokorski.
The musicians: This year’s 67 contestants included musicians from Canada, China, Colombia, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan and Uzbekistan, along with Texas.
Master of Ceremonies: St. John Flynn, a writer, speaker, and arts and culture consultant. Flynn, a former Arts and Culture Director for Houston Public Media, also conducted the finalists’ onstage interviews.
Guest of Honor: Baritone Michael Mayes, YTA’s 2002 Gold Medalist in Voice and an acclaimed international opera singer.
Grand Prize winner: French-Russian violinist Clara Saitkoulov, who accepted her award from Susie Pokorski and Young Texas Artists Co-Founder Jim Pokorski.
Saitkoulov also won the Gold Medal in Strings with her performance of Karol Szymanowski’s “Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35.” The Gold Medal was presented by two of the competition judges, Bradley Mansell, a cellist with the Nashville Symphony and an award-winning educator, and violinist Maria Schleuning, a member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Voices of Change Modern Music Ensemble.
Saitkoulov, who was born in Paris, has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the United States. She is a winner of the KF Wieniawski competition held in New York, the Manhattan International Competition, the New York International Artists Association, the Eastern Music Festival Competition, the LMDC Records Competition (France) and the CIMES Competition for best sound recording (Slovenia).
The violinist is pursuing her master’s degree at Rice University under the guidance of Professor Cho-Liang Lin. In 2021, she became the first Rice graduate student to play the 1687 “Kubelik” Stradivarius violin, on loan to Rice from Peter Naimoli. Prior to attending Rice, Saitkoulov studied at the Paris National Conservatory of Music and completed her undergraduate violin studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich.
During the YTA awards presentation, Saitkoulov received a Texas flag provided by Texas State Sen. Bandon Creighton. The flag was flown over the state Capitol building on March 2, Texas Independence Day.
Gold Medal-Piano Division: Seolyeong Jeong, who performed Guido Agosti’s arrangement of “The Firebird Suite,” by Igor Stravinsky. The Gold Medal was presented by YTA competition judge Miyoko Lotto, a pianist on the faculty at New York University, the Manhattan School of Music and the Perlman Music Program, along with Bingham, YTA’s artistic director. Mayes presented the Audience Choice Award.
Jeong, a native of South Korea, is an active soloist and chamber musician. She has won top prizes at international and national competitions, including First Prize at the Connecticut Young Artist Competition, Third Prize and the “Award for the Best Performance of a 20th-Century Composition” at the New York Piano Festival & Competition, Grand Prize at the Korean Liszt Competition, Grand Prize and the “Award by Minister of Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of South Korea” at the Sungjung Music Competition, First Prize at the Samick-Seiler Piano Competition and First Prize in the Ewha-Kyunghyang Competition.
The pianist graduated summa cum laude from Seoul National University and earned both a Master of Music degree and a Master of Musical Arts from Yale School of Music at Yale University. She is now a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University under the guidance of Dr. Jon Kimura Parker, with full scholarship, fellowship and teaching assistantship.
Audience Choice Award: Seolyeong Jeong.
Gold Medal-Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp and Guitar Division: Bassoonist Brigit Fitzgerald of The University of Texas at Austin, who performed “Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra Allegro molto” by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Fitzgerald accepted the award from competition judge Brian Luce, a Professor of Flute at The University of Arizona and a Yamaha Performing Artist, and Bingham.
Fitzgerald has been the principal bassoonist with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra since 2021. She is the winner of the 2021 National Bassoon Meet Up Artistry Competition and the International Bassoon Tango Competition and was the substitute bassoonist for the New World Symphony in 2018-19.
She is pursuing her Doctor of Musical Arts in bassoon performance at The University of Texas at Austin, where she also works as a teaching assistant. She received her bachelor’s degree in bassoon performance and mathematics from Vanderbilt University, where she minored in scientific computing, and has a master’s degree in bassoon performance from The University of Texas at Austin. Fitzgerald has traveled to France to study chamber music with members of the Berlin Philharmonic and to Colombia where she taught and performed with the Vanderbilt Wind Symphony.
Gold Medal-Voice Division: Bronwyn White, who sang two arias: Douglas Moore’s “Gold is a fine thing” from The Ballad of Baby Doe and “Gualtier Maldè!… Caro nome” from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi. Her award presenters were competition judge Roger Pines, a prolific reviewer and broadcaster in the opera world who recently completed his 26-year tenure at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and YTA major sponsor Carol Aycock.
White, also YTA’s 2019 Silver Medalist in Voice, will be featured in two new recordings: as the soprano soloist in “Plant Sounds” with performance artist Christie Blizard and in a newly recorded non-fungible token release of Día de Muertos with Verdigris Ensemble. She has won numerous music awards and has been featured as a soloist with orchestras throughout Texas, along with the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra in China, the Atlantic Music Festival Orchestra, the New York Opera Exchange and Orchestra, the Purchase Symphony Orchestra and the Anchorage Concert Chorus and Orchestra.
White holds an Artist Diploma from Texas Christian University, a Master of Music from the State University of New York – Purchase and a Bachelor of Music from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She also is a graduate of the Hattie Mae Lesley Apprentice Artist program at Fort Worth Opera and the Festival Artist program at Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre.
Silver Medalists: Josh Liu, violin, Strings Division, The University of Texas at Austin; Guobi “Malcolm” Liu, Piano Division, The University of Kansas; William Yeh, flute, Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp and Guitar Division, Rice University; and Sarah Dyer, contralto, Voice Division, University of Houston.
Each Gold Medalist received $5,000; Silver Medalists received $3,000; the YTA Grand Prize winner received an additional $5,000; and the Audience Choice Award winner received an additional $3,000. The Grand Prize winner also will be invited to perform with the Texas Medical Center Orchestra. Finalists are often invited to perform with other Texas arts organizations, including the Allen Philharmonic Orchestra & Symphony Chorus, Conroe Symphony Orchestra and the Woodlands Symphony Orchestra, as well.
YTA’s sponsors this year include the City of Conroe, Carol and Dr. Douglas Aycock, Annette and Ken Hallock, Lana and Bill Hazlett, Jeff and Daray Heard/UBS Financial Services Inc., Lynda ad Dan Kain, Myra and Ron Liston, Margaret Adams Madeley and two anonymous donors.
About Young Texas Artists:
Young Texas Artists, founded in 1983, is a one-of-a-kind nonprofit presenter of music competitions and events, career development programs and cultural enrichment outreach. The nationally acclaimed Young Texas Artists Music Competition and the YTA Career Development Program provide professional guidance, mentoring and highly sought performance experience. An Official Music Competition of the State of Texas, it is one of the few competitions in the nation with four performance divisions: Voice; Piano; Strings; and Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp and Guitar. The YTA contest is open to classical artists, ages 18-30 (20-32 for Voice), who are Texas residents or affiliated with a Texas music school. Over the years, Young Texas Artists has helped produce many distinguished professionals who have gone on to join orchestras, opera companies, universities and music schools around the world. youngtexasartists.org
Young Texas Artists is a member of the Greater Conroe Arts Alliance, the Conroe/Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Cultural Trust and Texans for the Arts.
Young Texas Artists, Inc. is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization founded and headquartered in Conroe, Montgomery County.