Not wasting any time, Conservatory Music in the Mountains will launch its own recital sequence Monday.
At 7 p.m. in Roshong Recital Hall on the Fort Lewis College campus, student finalists will compete for a chance to perform with the Festival Orchestra on July 29. The Conservatory Concerto Competition is only a decade old. The late, esteemed Arkady Fomin established it in 1997 with a donation from the Ballantine family for prize winners and the promise of a Festival Orchestra appearance. After Fomin’s untimely death in 2014, the competition vanished for a year, but it was revived by Matt Albert, interim Conservatory director, and continues this summer under the leadership of Festival and Conservatory Artistic Director Greg Hustis. Albert, who is now chairman of the Department of Chamber Music at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, returns this summer on the Conservatory faculty and will perform in chamber concerts as well as narrate the family concert July 25.
Here’s how the Conservatory Competition works: At the time of application, aspiring soloists submit a video for prescreening by Conservatory faculty. Each student musician performs a single movement of a concerto from memory, usually with piano accompaniment from an orchestral transcription. The Conservatory faculty selects semifinalists, who then perform with live accompanied by a faculty member using the piano transcription.
Finalists are chosen and perform for a live audience and the Conservatory faculty plus Hustis and Festival Music Director and Conductor Guillermo Figueroa. The official judges select the grand prize winner who will perform with the Festival Orchestra. Audience members are invited to vote for a popular choice award.
Last year, saxophonist Keaton Garrett from Arlington, Texas, won the competition by playing a movement from David Ott’s 2008 Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Because it was a relatively new work and not in the standard repertoire, there were several challenges. Festival Librarian Diane Wylie had to scramble to get orchestral scores delivered on time for rehearsal. And festival musicians had to become quick studies for the day of rehearsal and performance. Professionals through and through, the musicians and Garrett delivered a stirring performance.
It’s more likely that competitors this year will be drawing from standard repertoire – concerti by Mozart, Beethoven or Elgar, for example. The competition in Roshong Recital Hall is an intimate affair, well worth attending. It’s thrilling to hear the field, be part of the selection and then attend the big concert in the Festival Tent.
Tickets for the competition recital are $25. Tickets for the July 29 Festival Tent concert are $46 and $52.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.