YTA Finalists Take the Stage in Concert March 14
CONROE, TX – Talented classical musicians from around the globe will perform in Conroe’s Crighton Theatre Saturday, March 14 when Young Texas Artists Music Competition (YTA) presents its Finalists’ Concert and Awards.
“Our concerts, always unforgettable, are the culmination of everything we work toward,” YTA President and CEO Susie Pokorski said. “For the outstanding young artists who perform, the concerts provide an invaluable opportunity for growth. And for our audiences, there’s something powerful and uplifting about seeing and hearing these immensely talented classical musicians.”
YTA is the only classical music competition in Texas offering four performance divisions: Voice; Piano; Strings; and Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp, and Guitar. Contestants vie for a share of $20,000 in monetary prizes, along with career mentoring and performance opportunities.
This year’s concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. March 14 at Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main St., in downtown Conroe. The top two finalists from each category will perform, and gold and silver medals will be awarded for each division. YTA also will present the Grand Prize and Audience Choice Award.
The concert is one of two spectacular YTA events taking place that evening. YTA’s Bach, Beethoven & Barbecue gala begins at 5:00 p.m. with a reception and live music, followed by dinner, dancing and an auction at 5:45 p.m. Following the concert, at around 9:45 p.m., the gala festivities continue with more live Texas music, desserts, and champagne toasts. All gala activities take place in the YTA’s Grand Pavilion, a few steps from Crighton Theatre.
“I’m so proud that these amazing events take place in our community,” said Gala Co-Chair Allyson Ayton of Lake Conroe, who is heading up the gala team this year with Co-Chair Terry Husbands Giles of Conroe. “One thing I’ve noticed is once people come to the concert and gala and take in all of the fun, the gorgeous music, and the excitement, they almost always make a point of returning the following year.”
YTA offers combination gala-concert tickets, along with the option of simply attending the concert. In addition, the preliminary rounds of the YTA competition are free and open to the public. The lineup includes Strings division preliminaries at 9:00 a.m. Thursday, March 12; Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp, and Guitar at 9:00 a.m. Friday, March 13; Voice at 2:30 p.m. March 13; and Piano at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, March 14. These rounds will all take place at the Crighton Theatre. The competition is open to classical artists ages 18-32 (20-32 for Voice) who are Texas residents or affiliated with a Texas music school.
“Everything about our competition is designed to help emerging classical artists launch their careers, from the experience of performing to the prize package to the thoughtful critiques the artists receive from our judges—of whom all are leaders in their fields,” YTA Artistic Director Emelyne Bingham said.
Returning to the concert this year is crowd favorite Jade Simmons, an emerging artist expert, well-known concert pianist and one-of-a-kind personality. Simmons will serve as mistress of ceremonies and interview the competition finalists onstage. One of the factors that draws world-class emerging artists to this competition is the panel of judges, which comprises respected leaders in their musical genres. The 2020 judges include the following:
Jeremy Benson, flutist, is a faculty member with the David L. Walters Department of Music at Jacksonville State University, where he is an Associate Professor of Flute Studies, Director of Orchestral Studies and Conductor of the JSU Civic Symphony and the Jacksonville Opera Theatre Orchestra. Benson also is an active soloist and chamber musician and is the principal flutist in the Gadsden Symphony Orchestra in Alabama. He has served on juries for numerous national and international flute competitions and master classes.
Elizabeth Buccheri, pianist, is the former Head of Music for the Opera Program at the Aspen Music Festival and School and is an accompanist, pianist coach, and recitalist. She has recorded extensively and was responsible for musical preparation on London Records’ issue of Verdi’s Otello, with Sir Georg Solti conducting. For this work, Buccheri became the first American musician to receive the Solti Foundation Award. She also has given master classes at Eastman School of Music, The Juilliard School and the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University along with music academies in Europe.
Melissa Givens, soprano, is a faculty member at Pomona College and regularly performs repertoire from the Baroque era through the 21st-century. She was a featured artist with Grammy-winning virtuoso choir, Conspirare: A Company of Voices, during its tours of Craig Hella Johnson’s oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard. Additional performances include George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children, and the premiere of Die Schöne Mullerin Report by Tom Flaherty, with Pomona College faculty and guest artists, as well as Mahler’s Symphony #4 (chamber version) with the Greenbriar Consortium.
Jose Mendez, pianist, received his first music instruction from his father and by the age of 7 was performing on Spanish television and radio stations. He made his solo debut at the age of 11 and gained international recognition when he performed Liszt’s first piano concerto at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Since then, he has concertized extensively around the globe. Mendez has given numerous master classes and also worked as an assistant teacher at the Perlman Music Program. In the summers, he is the Artistic Director and on the faculty of the Gijon International Piano Festival in Gijon, Spain.
Maria Schleuning, violinist, has been a member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra since 1994 and has been a featured soloist with numerous U.S. orchestras. She has been a member of the Voices of Change Modern Music Ensemble since 1996 and Artistic Director since 2009. Schleuning is an active chamber musician, and she has served as a faculty member and performer at several American music festivals. In addition, she serves as Principal Second Violin of the New York Women’s Ensemble and Principal Second Violin of the Classical Tahoe Orchestra, where she was a guest concertmaster in 2014.Like the judges, YTA “alumni” represent a long list of esteemed institutions, including distinguished music schools, orchestras and opera companies around the globe.
Some have received additional industry recognition, too. In 2019, soprano Jessica E. Jones, a 2012 YTA contestant, won a Grammy for “Best Opera Recording.” Pianist Kenny Broberg, YTA’s 2013 Silver Medalist, was the Silver Medalist in the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Broberg said his experience with YTA contributed to future success. “It opened opportunities to meet presenters, to play with some different orchestras, and to make connections with people who are in the business in a way I didn’t have before,” Broberg said. “I’m performing very consistently now and basically living the life of a concert pianist.”
The YTA always is looking for area families to host out-of-town contestants in their homes during the competition. Volunteering is a rewarding experience that often leads to long-term friendships with the musicians. For more information, email David Hwa at email@example.com.
Tickets to YTA’s gala and the concert are going quickly. Both are available online at youngtexasartists.org.
Young Texas Artists sponsors and supporters this year include Houston Public Media, Lynda and Dan Kain, Annette and Ken Hallock, Carol and Dr. Douglas Aycock, and the Conroe Visitors Bureau.
For sponsorship information, contact Susie Pokorski, President/CEO of Young Texas Artists, at 936-756-7017 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
An official music competition of the State of Texas, Young Texas Artists has, since its founding in 1983, encouraged excellence in young musicians, inspired their audiences and helped further the careers of thousands of classical musicians. It is one of the few competitions in the country that features four divisions: Voice; Piano; Strings; and Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp and Guitar. This Texas competition for Texas artists has helped produce many distinguished professionals who have gone on to join orchestras, opera companies, universities and music schools around the world. The Young Texas Artists Music Competition is a member of the Greater Conroe Arts Alliance, the Conroe/Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce, and the Texas Cultural Trust and Texans for the Arts. For more information, visit youngtexasartists.org.