Howard Jones began to play the violin at 5. By 14, he had switched to viola. He always loved music and loved to perform. He will compete at the 2012 Naftzger Young Artists Auditions and Music Awards.
Student musicians and vocalists are competing Friday and Saturday for $11,000 in prizes at the 72nd competition in Wichita. Administered by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, 48 undergraduate and graduate students who hail from Kansas or are attending schools in Kansas, Missouri or Oklahoma are vying for top honors. Awards are given in piano, voice and instrumental.
At least two contestants from each division will be selected to perform in the finals on Saturday in a concert that is free and open to the public. Immediately following the live performances, the judges will confer and announce the winners.
Gwendolyn and M.C. Naftzger created the Naftzger Awards in memory of L.S., Ida and Lee Naftzger.
We believe that music is primary in most people’s lives, said John Naftzger, the Naftzger Award creators’ son. “We want to help aspiring youngsters from 18 to 27.”
From Kansas students attending the New England Conservatory to Minnesotans attending Wichita State University, the awards aim to help talented Midwesterners.
Jones, 25, who grew up in Colorado, attends graduate school at WSU. After graduation, he hopes to get a doctorate degree in viola and then teach and perform. Competing for this award has helped strengthen his repertoire and provide incentives for practice.
“I’ve been practicing since the end of last summer,” Jones said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s exciting.”
Rene Lecuona, who has a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music and teaches piano at the University of Iowa School of Music, will judge the pianists. Lecuona also is an internationally known soloist. Along with the participant knowing the piece well, Lecuona looks for someone who goes beyond the rhythms.
“I am looking for someone who is conveying the characterization and emotion of the music,” Lecuona said.
Peter Lightfoot and Aviva Segall also will judge the contest. Lightfoot, a graduate of the Juilliard School and professor of music at Michigan State University, will judge the vocal division. Segall, the music director for the Omaha Area Youth Orchestras, will judge the instrumental section.
“These competitions are wonderful opportunities to demonstrate years of study and bring to a culminating point something that they’ve been working very hard on,” Lecuona said.
Eleven pianists and 11 vocalists were selected to participate in the competition. The largest category of the competition is in the instrumental section, which includes those playing violas, violins, flutes, clarinets, saxophones and trombones. There also is a graduate student who studies marimba and a doctoral candidate who will compete with his euphonium.
Naftzger, 94, is thrilled that the awards that began in 1940 continue to help aspiring musicians.
“I want to continue the awards indefinitely,” he said.