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Musicians showcase their skills in Annual Symphony Orchestra Concerto and Aria Competition

The boundaries of instrumental and vocal performance were put to the test in Katzen Arts Center last weekend

American University musicians took to the stage in Katzen Arts Center for the preliminary round of the American University Symphony Orchestra Concerto and Aria Competition on Feb. 3.

After an introduction by Symphonic Band Director Matthew Brown, contestants showcased their musical abilities on stage at the Abramson Family Recital Hall as a panel of judges watched closely. Those selected to advance in the competition would play again for the final round the following day.

“Tonight is really one of the peaks of American University’s music department,” Matthew Lipka, a competing senior, said. “It’s the big night … we bring all our best and brightest out.”

Lipka, a clarinetist, was the seventh musician to take the stage, with a performance of Bernard Henrik Crusell’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2. 

“It kind of hits all at once,” Lipka said, describing the pressure of the competition. Fortunately, he said, he’s well versed in the piece he decided to play.

The selection of instruments used by competing musicians included strings such as the violin, viola and cello. The competition also included woodwinds like the alto saxophone, flute and clarinet, as well as the trombone and piano. 

Senior Analisse Kirby performed two aria pieces, and Mary Gottlieb and Matthew Van Hoose served as collaborative pianists, and delivered complementary chords to the melodies at center stage.

The competitor’s selections had plenty of variety. Slow, calm ballads contrasted with fast and frenzied pieces. 

Senior Madeleine Corrigan played one of the more intense pieces of the evening, with an energetic cello performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto in E Minor. It’s a piece Corrigan said she’s been working up to for four years, ever since it was recommended by a music professor she met while first touring the University. 

“It’s very physically intense,” Corrigan said.

Whether it was the fast-paced swells of Shostakovich or the draw of a slower piece, the audience was completely silent for each performance of the competition, with rapturous applause each time a musician concluded. 

After the last performance, the Katzen lobby was buzzing with excitement as the eleven competitors met family and friends, ate pizza and waited in anticipation while the judges deliberated. 

According to closing remarks by Brown, the deliberations could take more than an hour, but the excitement in the air outside the recital hall was palpable and there were smiles all around.

“Tonight is really all about how tight-knit and talented and prolific our music department here at AU is,” Corrigan says. “We’re really small but important.” 

This article was edited by Marina Zaczkiewicz, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Sydney Kornmeyer.

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