August 2014 Convention
Chicago, IL

Young Artist Final

Seth Morris

The Young Artist Competition finals were stellar, featuring compelling playing and adventurous programming. The first finalist, Seth Allyn Morris, is principal flutist with the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. He began Oliver Knussen’s Masks for solo flute offstage and entered the room while playing from memory with wild choreography, suggested by Knussen to more fully express the piece’s central conflict. Morris drifted out of the room as the piece wound down, ending offstage. He reentered with pianist Irina Lupines, and the two gave an elegant performance of two movements from C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in E Minor, Wq. 124, before tearing into a virtuosic, riveting performance of André Jolivet’s Chant de Linos, setting the bar high.

The second finalist, Ji Weon Ryu, studies with Carol Wincenc at Juilliard and won first prize at the 2010 NFA High School Competition. She began with Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s Caprice No. 30, displaying beautiful technique, sound, and pacing. Afterward, she teamed up with Lupines for the first two movements from J.S. Bach’s Sonata in E Major, BWV 1035, offering a lovely shift in style and color. Next came Kazuo Fukushima’s Mei, a haunting work for solo flute based upon a Japanese belief that the flute can communicate with the dead. Ryu’s playing here was pure poetry, unlike what we often expect of young players. Lupines then reemerged for Paul Taffanel’s Fantaisie on Themes from Der Freischütz, which glowed from beginning to end with lyricism and panache.

Finally, Benjamin Smolen, principal flutist of the Pacific Symphony, took the stage with pianist Jennifer Hsiao, and the pair played the first movement of C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in G major (“Hamburger”), complete with graceful ornamentation. Next came a beautifully placid rendition of Smolen’s transcription of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 for alto flute and piano, expertly followed by the rollicking finale from Robert Beaser’s Variations for flute and piano. The two then played another of Smolen’s transcriptions, Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 3, for alto flute and piano, before ending with a joint transcription from him and his former teacher, Paula Robison, of Debussy’s glorious L’isle joyeause. Like their predecessors, Smolen and Hsiao played excellently throughout their program, placing a premium on beauty and sensitivity.

Morris ended up taking first prize, followed by Smolen and then Ryu. In truth, however, all are young artists of the highest caliber, and we can expect to hear a great deal more beautiful music from them.

Jeremy Benson (Competition Coordinator), Benjamin Smolen, Seth Morris, and Ji Weon Ryu

—Timothy Hagen

photos by Alice Dade and Brian Covington