Report by Sarah Korneisel
The final round of the 2016 ICA High School Competition was held on Thursday, August 4 at 2:00 p.m. Thirty young clarinetists from across the globe submitted digital auditions for the preliminary round. From these, judges Angela Soren (Louisville, Kentucky), Alucia Scalzo (New York City) and Michael Rowlett (University of Mississippi) selected six finalists. For the final round, judges John Sadak (Wake Forest University), Cecilia Kang (Furman University) and Timothy Phillips (Troy University) heard each of the finalists as they performed three required pieces: Hommage à J.S. Bach and Hommage à M. de Falla by Béla Kovács (b. 1937) and Henri Rabaud’s (1873-1949) Solo de Concours, Opus 10.
The event began with an introduction by event coordinator John Warren (Kennesaw State University), who introduced each contestant and announced the winners. The award for first place was $1,000 and the opportunity to perform as part of the ICA Competition Winners Concert. The second place winner received $750 and the third place winner was awarded $500. Pianist Melissa Livengood (Salt Lake City, Utah) accompanied the contestants as they performed the Rabaud, expertly and sensitively following each of their unique interpretations.
The first student to perform was Besnik Abrashi (Flower Mound, Texas). Abrashi’s impressive control and technical abilities were evident throughout his performance. Keeping a consistently warm and rich tone and accentuating the melodic line even in the most technically challenging passages, the performer committed to the energetic flourishes of the second piece, conveyed emotion in the lamenting tone of the final piece, and finished his performance with a flair of impressive finger work and fluidity.
Next up was Maria Gomes (Santa Comba Dão, Portugal), whose expressive performance moved and engaged the audience. The only contestant to perform from memory, Gomes’s beautifully refined tone and sensitivity to character and timbral changes shone through in each piece as she skillfully demonstrated her deep emotional understanding of the music to all in attendance.
Justin Best (West Palm Beach, Florida) was next to perform. Best’s impressive attention to detail and nuance was evident as he drew emotion and meaning from each note. Best ensured that every tone’s function in the piece as a whole was conveyed effectively to the audience and his ornamentation was truly exceptional.
Alisha Zamore’s (Atlanta, Georgia) stylistically sound performance followed. Staying true to the stylistic traits of each composer and time period represented, Zamore’s astutely refined performance of the first piece contrasted with her more daring and flexible interpretation of the second. The subtlety and nuance in her playing and the direction in her phrasing made this a great performance.
Next, António Lopes (Vila Real, Portugal) performed the required repertoire. His impressive palette of timbres and characters was enthralling, from the delicate and graceful lines in the upper register juxtaposed with the strong and insistent lower melody of the first piece to the second’s light and bouncy utterances and exclamatory fanfares. He played with a sweet tone and expressive ornamentation, maintained a great core to his sound in all registers and dynamics and really sang through the instrument.
Last to perform was Ellé Crowhurst (Springfield, Virginia; currently residing in Sofia, Bulgaria). Crowhurst captivated the audience with her flowing and lyrical interpretation of the first piece. Her strong and beautiful tone maintained its clarity and focus even at the extremes of her impressively wide dynamic range. Crowhurst’s excellent sense of timing was revealed as her cascading runs fell naturally and effortlessly.
Each presenting their own unique and compelling interpretation of the repertoire, the participants performed beautifully and demonstrated a high level of musical maturity and commitment. Hearing such a high level of musicianship from these young performers was truly an inspiration.
After much consideration and deliberation on the part of the judges, first place was awarded to António Lopes, second place was awarded to Maria Gomes, and third place was awarded to Ellé Crowhurst. Alisha Zamore was given an Honorable Mention. Lopes will perform on the ICA Competition Winners Concert at 4:30 pm on Saturday, August 6, 2016 at Swarthout Recital Hall, and all the winners will receive their awards that evening at 7:30 pm at the ICA Awards Presentation.Sarah Korneisel is a Graduate Enrichment Fellow at The Ohio State University, where she is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Clarinet Performance under the tutelage of Dr. Caroline Hartig.