"The performers were all very impressive and well-prepared, and they looked great on stage," said judge Julia Bastuscheck, who teaches orchestra at Floyd Dryden and Juneau Douglas High School. "There was an outstanding caliber of talent, with many of the musicians playing well beyond their years."
"It was a really good competition this year," agreed Juneau Symphony Conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett, who also judged the competition along with keyboardist J. Allan MacKinnon. "All of the players chose really good pieces, and they had obviously studied them and worked hard. Their performances went beyond simply playing the notes."
This year's competitors included Franz Felkl, Evan Fritz, T.J. Hovest, Lisa Imamura, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Kera Newman, Kristina Paulick, Ann Robertson, Maggie Ross, Jacob Sanders, Kyle Savikko, Robin Woodby and Colin Zheng.
"Along with how well the piece was played, I looked at stage presence and how each performer presented himself or herself to the audience," said Bastuscheck, who added that she also took the age of the performer and the piece they chose into account. "I looked for a performer who would be a good fit to play with the Symphony."
"What was really important to me was not necessarily how flashy the person played or how technically splashy the piece was, but if the performer showed really solid musical fundamentals," said Wiley Pickett. "This is particularly important to see from a young artist."
And the judges were impressed with what they saw. Though Wiley Pickett says that it was a tough decision to choose the winners, Colin Zheng and Robin Woodby took the Junior Division title with their performance of J.S. Bach's Concerto for Two Violins. In the Senior Division, top honors were shared by Franz Felkl, who played M. Bruch's Concerto No. 1 in G minor for Violin, and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who played M. Bruch's Kol Nidrei on the cello.
"I thought that I did great, and I'm definitely my own biggest critic," said Felkl, who has entered the competition for the past four years, and won two years ago. "Still, I was really surprised to find out that I'd won." The 14-year-old has been playing the violin for 10 years, and practices about 1-1/2 hours per day.
"I thought my performance went okay," said Kreiss-Tomkins, a first-time competitor from Sitka. "I thought there were some good spots, and some places where I could have done better. I wasn't disappointed, but I didn't feel super-buzzed when I left the stage."
The judges were obviously more impressed, and awarded both Kreiss-Tomkins and Franz Felkl the top award. This fall, both young men will perform their separate pieces with the Juneau Symphony in concert.
Felkl, the son of Fred and Roxy Felkl, currently plays in the Juneau Symphony, the Student Symphony and Ursa Major. "My dad signed me up for violin lessons when I was 4-1/2, because I kept dragging a violin out of the closet," he said of his young start in the arts. The violinist now studies with Guo Hua Xia, and is thinking of going to college for a master's degree in music.
Kreiss-Tomkins first became interested in the cello after his parents took him to see the Sitka Summer Music Festival. "I liked the cello the most, and my parents, who have always been really supportive, tracked down a cello and found a 14-year-old musician to teach me," he explained. "She was the only cellist in town."
A year later, that cellist moved, and Kreiss-Tomkins now takes instruction from Roger Schmidt, an Oberlin Conservatory-trained trombonist. "He's a very inspirational guy and very smart," said Kreiss-Tomkins, who will be a junior at Sitka High School this year. "He helps me with the musical elements of what I play."
As for the experience of performing in front of an audience, both young men say that though they were a little nervous, they are glad that they participated. The judges believe that the experience will help them in the future as well.
"The audition experience is different than any other performance experience, and the more you do it, the better off you are," said Wiley Pickett. "It's stressful and it's difficult, but it's a skill like any other."
"Performing in this type of competition really helps to boost confidence," added Bastuscheck. "Any chance a performer gets to play on stage in front of an audience makes that person a better player."