Community School Spotlight: Lal Besir

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

How did you start singing?
I’ve been singing pretty much all of my life. When I was younger, I was really extroverted. I would sing in front of people and I would do concerts. I started taking voice lessons with Debbie Lewis when I was doing a lot of musical theater. I sang with 5-Star Theatricals, and I would do theater productions with them as well as perform in their kids’ program. I fell in love with performing; I was obsessed! I just continued doing it and I wanted to grow. I discovered classical opera when I started studying at the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts.

What music do you like to sing?
I love singing classical opera. I’ve kind of stopped with my musical theater singing, but classical music—I love arias. I perform masses with my choir each year during school. I love anything in a higher range, anything challenging.

Has there been a composer that’s found a place in your heart?
Bach, Schubert—I’m working on a piece by him—Bach’s Ave Maria is gorgeous too. And just for fun, Taylor Swift, a hundred percent.

You’ve sung in all kinds of groups; do you have a preference of singing in groups or alone?
I love the harmonizing of a choir. I love how that can sound and give you goosebumps. I think that’s amazing. But I love singing individually because I feel [that enables] you to improve your own technique and figure out what you enjoy. Singing is just really important to me.

Would you talk a little bit about how you came to Colburn?
I believe I started two years ago in 2020. Jim Walker is friends with my dad, who’s a musician and a composer. Jim is a flutist, and he teaches at Colburn and recommended that I begin this journey, and I’m really grateful for that.

How has your experience been here at Colburn?
It’s amazing. I have the best teachers, and from every lesson, I’m improving. I’ve joined the Colburn Concert Choir here too. The people are really nice—everyone sounds amazing and there’s so much talent surrounding me. I just want to keep growing with them.

Would you talk about what it’s like studying with each of your teachers?
Michael Stevens is my vocal teacher; I love him so much. I think he’s one of my favorite teachers just in general, including school, and he is just so diverse and knows so much. He’s so fun, and he  makes me want to keep improving. He’s just a really great teacher. I started studying music theory with Kathy Sawada in 2022, and it feels so good to get her satisfaction—I care about her opinion so much. I’m always wanting to impress her. She’s really sweet too. And then Adrian Dunn the Choral Director is just so fun! Everybody loves him and I love him. He is really upbeat, and he includes everybody. He treats his class like a college-level course. We can just speak out loud, and so it’s so interesting.

Is there anything you’re really looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to improving with my music theory, and singing-wise, improving my technique because my voice is changing. I really want to figure out my favorite genres, as well as what I enjoy singing to start building my repertoire a bit more. I definitely want to perform at the Friday Night Recitals.

What do you hope for your musical future?
I would really like to continue singing classical opera and continue improving my technique. I would like to continue studying [voice] in college, maybe Colburn, maybe Juilliard. And then I want to start entering competitions. I really want to begin doing more performances because that was hard to do at times during COVID. So this year I want to focus on performing. My dad and I were thinking about making something—recording covers of pieces, making an album—for college, but it would also just be for us.

The Herbert Zipper Scholars program offers highly motivated, deserving students the opportunity to engage in comprehensive music education at Colburn, one of the nation’s premier arts organizations. Herbert Zipper Scholars receive instruction in music theory, private lessons, and ensemble participation, among many other academic and performance opportunities. 

Conservatory Student Sam Glicklich Performs at the Festival Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot

It’s hard to imagine more idyllic settings for live performance than the stunning wineries, abbey, and historic chapel that were home to this year’s Festival Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot, held every summer in Burgundy, France. Helmed by Colburn’s Artist-in-Residence Jean-Yves Thibaudet and festival Co-Artistic Director Gautier Capuçon, this weeklong festival boasts international stars and the very best wine that Burgundy has to offer. Each evening, guests enjoy a wine tasting featuring upwards of 20 different regional labels, with the winemakers themselves often pouring. Then on to a concert, perhaps in a sprawling garden or cobblestone courtyard, featuring superstars from around the world. The evening concludes with a truly spectacular dinner prepared by some of the world’s finest chefs, and, of course, more wine. It’s a special festival, to be sure.

This year, it was made even more special by Colburn Conservatory student Sam Glicklich who was the Festival’s Young Talent scholarship recipient, and invited guest artist. Sam performed on three programs throughout the week as a soloist, as well as with Gautier Capuçon and with two vocalists. His performances were simply outstanding, met with immense appreciation from the sophisticated audience. The proverbial cherry on top of this incredible week for Sam was turning 22 and hearing 200 people sing Happy Birthday to him in the expansive dining room of the Château du Clos de Vougeot. Even he admits, it will be very hard to top that celebration or the entire experience.

Everyone has been so incredible and so generous with their time and their talents. It’s a completely unique community, and you can tell how much people love and care about this Festival. It’s really magical to be a part of it. I feel so honored just to be here! Conservatory student Sam Glicklich

Sam is a student of Fabio Bidini and is mentored by Jean-Yves Thibaudet as Colburn’s Artist-in-Residence. Now in its fourteenth year, the Festival has welcomed leading artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Menahem Pressler, Lisa Batiashvilli, and many others. The prestigious Young Talent scholarship is awarded to college-age students studying music and is generously supported by individual donors and the annual wine auction held after the closing concert of each Festival. Colburn is immensely grateful to Jean-Yves Thibaudet for his tireless advocacy for our students and for his personal commitment to their artistic development.

Congratulations to Sam on a memorable, remarkable, and thrilling week.

Student Accomplishments, July 2022

Conservatory, Austin Brown, flute, won Associate Principal Flute for the Pittsburgh Symphony .

Conservatory, Ben Cornavaca, percussion, won a fellowship with the New World Symphony.

Music Academy, Nikka Gershman-Pepper, flute, one of 12 musicians worldwide to be selected to perform in the Vienna Konzerthaus in June 2023 as a Classicalia competition finalist.

Conservatory, Forrest Johnston, trumpet, won Assistant Principal/Second Trumpet with the Naples Phil.

Conservatory, Vivian Kukiel, violin, won the International Stepping Stone at the Canadian Music Competition.

Conservatory, Davi Martinelli de Lira, percussion, won first place in the Sphinx Competition.

Conservatory, Justin Ochoa, percussion, won a fellowship with the LA Phil.

Conservatory, Jenny Marasti, percussion, won a fellowship with the New World Symphony.

Colburn School Appoints Acclaimed Violist Tatjana Masurenko to Faculty

The Colburn School is pleased to announce that Tatjana Masurenko, one of today’s foremost violists and pedagogues, will join the Colburn School faculty, beginning July 2022. Masurenko will teach viola and coach chamber music in the Colburn School’s renowned full scholarship diploma- and degree-granting Conservatory of Music as well as its Music Academy for gifted pre-college musicians.

The Conservatory of Music and Music Academy are among the most important and selective global performance training programs for classical musicians. Graduates pursue careers at the highest levels of accomplishment as soloists, chamber musicians, orchestral musicians, conductors, and teachers. The small program size and unique resident faculty model create a tailored educational experience, allowing each student to reach their fullest potential.

“Teaching excellence has been a hallmark of the Colburn School since our founding.” stated Colburn School President and CEO, Sel Kardan. “Following an extensive international search, we are delighted to have Tatjana Masurenko, one of the world’s greatest violists, join our artist faculty of virtuoso performers and pedagogues.”

Conservatory Dean Lee Cioppa added: “It is a tremendous pleasure to welcome Tatjana Masurenko to the Colburn School. She models extraordinary artistry as a soloist and chamber musician, as well as a dedication to teaching and fostering future generations of transformative artists. Her presence on the faculty will enrich not just her students, but the entire Colburn School community.”

“To join the Colburn School is to be a part of a passionate and nurturing community,” says Masurenko. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I cannot wait to work with the school’s exceptional students and collaborate alongside the school’s esteemed faculty.”

Tatjana Masurenko is one of the leading viola players of our time. Her distinctive style is shaped by her expressive playing and her thorough and intensive musical studies. Dedicated to promoting young musicians, she has been professor of viola at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy” Leipzig since 2002, and in the same position at the Haute Ecole de Musique de Lausanne in Sion, Switzerland, since 2019. She gives master classes in Europe and America and is artistic director of the International Viola Camp in Iznik (Turkey).

Masurenko grew up in a family of Russian academics and jazz musicians. Her musical path began in St. Petersburg where she was able to benefit from the traditional St Petersburg school with the best teachers of her time. She continued her musical studies in Germany with Kim Kashkashian and Nobuko Imai. Her search for new forms of expression on the viola and new techniques and tonal concepts were encouraged and influenced by encounters with figures including Boris Pergamenschikow, György Kurtág, Brigitte Fassbaender and Herbert Blomstedt.

For some years now, Tatjana Masurenko’s major objective in her musical career has been the further development of the viola as a solo instrument which also explains her commitment to contemporary music. She has given numerous first performances of new compositions, many of which are dedicated to her and originated on her initiative. She has worked with composers such as the recently deceased Gladys Krenek, Moritz von Gagern, Dimitri Terzakis, Wolfgang Rihm, Hans-Christian Bartel, Luca Lombardi and Nejat Başeğmezler. She is also intensively dedicated to historical performance practice and especially to 19th century playing and the romantic repertoire.

Many of Masurenko’s students have built successful careers and travel the world as soloists, professors, principal violists in major orchestras and as chamber musicians.

Her teaching style is built on the St. Petersburg tradition of the 19th/early 20th century and merges with the new ideas and sensibilities of the 20th/21st century, especially in the interpretation of Baroque and Classical music.

Student Accomplishments, June 2022

Community School, Esteban Lindo Benevides, string bass, received scholarship admission to Peabody Conservatory.

Community School, Kristina Brick, piano, received an honorable mention in category I of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Romantic/Impressionistic Competition. She also was a Southern California Junior Bach Festival Region IV winner.

Conservatory, Isabella Brown, violin, received an honorable mention by the 2022 Yamaha Young Performing Artists program.

Community School, Ryan Chun, piano, Southern California Junior Bach Festival, medal winner.

Community School, Lillian Feng, piano, took first place in category II of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Romantic/Impressionistic Competition. She also was a Southern California Junior Bach Festival Region IV winner.

Community School, Giovane Quartet (Andres Engleman, violin, Scarlett Chen, violin, Irene Choung, cello, and Yiting Han, piano), a part of the Ed and Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute of the Community, competed in the Fischoff Competition.

Community School, Sophia Glicklich, piano, is a medal winner at the Southern California Junior Bach Festival and received the Music Teachers’ Association of California Certificate of Merit and earned state honors by passing advanced level.

Conservatory, Victor Díaz Guerra, clarinet, won Principal Clarinet of the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, Spain.

Community School, Elysia Han, viola, advanced to compete in the California American Strings Teachers Association state competition after securing the second position in the Bowed Strings Solo Competition Junior I level.

Community School, Elizabeth Johnstone, piano, winner of Southern California Junior Bach Festival regional competition.

Music Academy, Angeline Kiang, cello, won the Pinehurst Bronze Medal with a cash prize in the Stulberg International String Competition and will give a performance with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra.

Community School, Trevor King, trumpet, was accepted with a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music. Also offered scholarships at New England Conservatory and Arizona State University.

Community School, Olivia Larco, piano, was accepted as a Lang Lang Scholar, a mentorship program for talented young pianists 16 and younger.

Community School, Skyler Lee, violin, was a finalist in the Henry Schwab Violin and Viola Competition.

Conservatory, Ángel Martín Mora, clarinet, is a 2022 Yamaha Young Performing Artists winner.

Conservatory, Gerbrich Meijer, clarinet, received the Buffet Special Prize at the Nielsen International Clarinet Competition.

Community School, Narayan Neti, piano, Music Teachers’ Association of California, certificate of merit, passed level 5 and awarded state honors.

Community School, Amanda Nova, piano, placed second in the Sonata Festival (Category IV), Music Teachers’ Association of California, Los Angeles Branch.

Community School, NTH Trio (Holly Lacey, violin, Nathaniel Yue, cello, and Qiao (Tiger) Zhang, piano) were semi-finalists in the Junior String Division of the Fischoff Competition. The NTH Trio part of the Ed and Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute of the Community School.

Music Academy, The Olive Trio (Anaïs Feller, violin; Mira Kardan, cello; Daniel Wang, piano) takes the gold medal in the Junior String Division at the Fischoff Competition.

Conservatory, Max Opferkuch, clarinet, won second clarinet in the San Diego Symphony.

Community School, Leilani Patao, voice, received a scholarship Award from Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation for Musical Theater Performance and acceptance and scholarship to NYU-Tish where she will go to pursue musical theater performance and composition.

Community School, Lucas Peters, piano, took second place in category III of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Romantic/Impressionistic Competition.

Community School, Aviv Pilipski, viola, advanced to compete in the California American Strings Teachers Association state competition after securing the first position in the Bowed Strings Solo Competition, Junior I level.

Community School, Emmanuel Ree, piano, placed second in the Sonata Festival (Category II), Music Teachers’ Association of California, Los Angeles Branch.

Conservatory, Arin Sarkissian, flute, won Principal Flute of the Victoria Symphony and won first place in the San Diego Flute Guild Young Artist Competition. Arin also is a 2022 Yamaha Young Performing Artists winner.

Conservatory, Sonarsix Sextet (Martha Chan, flute; Victor Díaz Guerra, clarinet; Eder Rivera Acosta, oboe; Christopher Chung, bassoon; Elizabeth Linares Montero, horn; Bogang Hwang, piano; received the bronze medal in the Senior Wind Division at the Fischoff Competition.

Community School, Kaito le Tenoux, piano, is a Southern California Junior Bach Festival region IV winner and took third place in the category II of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Romantic/Impressionistic Competition.

Community School, Ashot Ter-Martirosyan, piano, is Grand (London) prize winner’s rectal at The Edgar’s Room at Albert’s Hall in London, England.

Conservatory, Chi Ting, flute, won third place in the San Diego Flute Guild Young Artist Competition.

Community School, Cassidy Walther, cello, took first place in the 9th/10th Grade Division Kiwanis String Competition.

Community School, GengJin Edward Wu, piano, won second prize in the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Sonata/Sonatina Competition.

Community School, Evan Xiong, piano, winner of Southern California Junior Bach Festival regional competition.

Community School, Iris Xiong, piano, Southern California Junior Bach Festival regional winner.

Community School, Gavin Yang, violin, winner of Southern California Junior Bach Festival for All Branch String Regional 2022.

Community School, Simon Yao, piano, won the Glendale Music Teachers’ Association of California Concerto Competition and will be performing with orchestra on Sunday, June 5.

Community School, Jayden Yeung, violin, Performed Bruch Concerto 3rd movement with Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra in Segerstrom Hall.

Community School, Echo Zhang, piano, took third prize at the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Concerto Competition South.

Community School, Tiger Zhang, piano, won the Glendale Music Teachers’ Association of California Concerto Competition and will be performing with orchestra on Sunday, June 5.

Community School, Iris Zhou, piano, Music Teachers’ Association of California, certificate of merit, passed level 4 and awarded state honors.

Community School, Isabella Zhou, violin, took first prize winner for Music Teachers’ Association of California, Glendale Branch Concerto Competition, and will be performing the Bach Concerto in A Minor with the orchestra on June 5. She is also the winner of the Southern California Junior Bach Festival for All Branch String Regional 2022.

Tap Fest Guest Artists and Curators Share Their Love of Tap

Colburn celebrates the dance genre of tap at Tap Fest this weekend when guest artists Sam Weber, Joseph Wiggan, and Josette Wiggan take the stage in a curated performance by Colburn faculty, Johnnie Hobbs III and Denise Scheerer. Tap students and enthusiasts are also invited to attend five master classes being held on Sunday, March 6.

Colburn loves tap, and we asked our Tap Fest performers to share their own reasons for why the genre of tap is so special to them.

Sam Weber
Tap dance was my first dance experience and, at the same time, my first experience of making music, because tap is both a dance and a musical form. I started when I was three and felt totally committed to tap dance by the time I was five! I’ve done other kinds of dance, theater dance and ballet, to name just two, and my connection to every form was primarily musical. For that reason, tap has always felt the most natural to me; it’s “home.” Sam Weber, Tap Fest Guest Artist
Joseph Wiggan
Tap dance is special to me because it is an oral tradition rooted in African culture. Tap dance is 100% dance and 100% music at all times. Joseph Wiggan, Tap Fest Guest Artist
Josette Wiggan-Freund
The fact that tap dance today is a continuum of a legacy that inspires both the partaker and the onlooker alike. That the levity and weight of its history carve out space for true freedom and escape. That it breaks all barriers, connects and heals, and through transcendence, is the sum total of joy at its highest level. Josette Wiggan, Tap Fest Guest Artist
Johnnie Hobbs III
What is special about the tap dance form to me is its unconditional love for anybody that puts on its shoes and explores its history with genuine curiosity. Tap dance demands respect for its part in American dance culture. In turn, it will show you the world. Johnnie Hobbs III, Tap Fest Co-Curator, Colburn Faculty–Tap Dance Instructor
Denise Scheerer headshot
Tap dance is a unique art form that combines music and dance. Excellent tap dancers can not only play their rhythms accurately, but present the dance visually. The dancer becomes the musician. Denise Scheerer, Tap Fest Co-Curator, Colburn Faculty–Chair, Tap and Musical Theater

Colburn Students Win Awards in the YoungArts 2022 National Arts Competition

The Community School of Performing Arts is proud to announce the selection of our students in the YoungArts 2022 National Arts Competition. This year, eleven Community School students and three Music Academy students have been selected for this prestigious honor.

Every year thousands of performing, visual and literary artists age 15-18 apply to YoungArts through their national competition. Finalists attend National YoungArts Week to collaborate with peers and develop their crafts with internationally recognized leaders in their fields. Finalists in their senior year are further eligible for nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts—one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.

All award winners—including Finalist, Merit and Honorable Mention award levels—receive mentorship and financial awards; gain access to a lifetime of creative, professional development, and funding opportunities; and become part of an uplifting, inter-generational community that helps artists connect, create, and collaborate.

Congratulations to both these students and their respective teachers on this remarkable achievement!


Evan Dexter, Jazz Trombone *
Fengyang Ju, Oboe +
Noah Jung, Clarinet +

Honorable Mention

Abigail Hong, Oboe *
Angeline Kiang, Cello +
Jack Lieberman, Jazz Alto Saxophone *
Duy Minh Max Nguyen, Jazz Percussion *
William Schwartzman, Jazz Piano *
Adam Zilberman, Jazz Baritone Saxophone *


Evan Dexter, Jazz Composition *
Brenda Greggio, Jazz Piano *
Apsara Kasiraman, Composition *
Cosmo Lieberman, Jazz Alto Saxophone *
Leilani Patao, Popular Voice & Singer-Songwriter *
William Schwartzman, Jazz Composition *
Luciano Soriano, Jazz Trombone *

* Community School of Performing Arts student
+ Music Academy student

Natalie Loughran Takes First Prize at the December 2021 Primrose International Viola Competition

Colburn spoke with violist Natalie Loughran who won first place in last month’s prestigious 2021 Primrose International Viola Competition about her music development and experience at the weeklong competition.

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

Would you tell us a little bit about yourself, such as where you’re from and your education?
I grew up outside of Philadelphia in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and then moved to Princeton, New Jersey during high school; so I’m kind of from both places. I started on violin at the age of five, four or five, I believe, with Suzuki instructor named Gerry Rice. And I was with her actually for about 10 years and she was the one who influenced me to switch to the lovely instrument of viola. She’s a violist herself, so she knew that I didn’t have the eight hours a day of practicing in me to be a violinist. And she introduced [the viola] to me, and I really fell in love with the instrument—just the gorgeous sound. And honestly this week [of the Primrose competition], it showed a lot about the temperament of a lot of violists and how we’re such a loving, warm community. I’m very happy to have done [the competition].

And then I did a lot of Philadelphia pre-college programs such as Philadelphia Youth Orchestra and Temple Music Prep, and then I started Juilliard. I went into the New York scene in my undergrad. I started in 2016 with Roger Tapping, and he was just an incredible teacher. He has a smaller studio at Julliard, but really unique players. And he really just encourages everyone to find their own voice, which I really admire. I’ve really gained so much from him in the past six years. Then at my masters, I stayed with Roger, but split between him and Misha Amory. It’s really just been such a joy to work with two of the most incredible quartet violists in American history. It’s pretty exciting; it’s been such an incredible journey so far.

You’ve touched on some of this, but would you go back into your five-year-old mind to think about what it was that drew you to music and ultimately what led you to make that definitive decision to make the transition to viola?
Yes—both my parents are actually classical musicians. My mom is a cellist and my dad’s a conductor, so I really grew up [around music]; we watched family videos a few weeks ago and I saw my sister and I listening to music all the time and dancing around ourselves. And it was really just a part of us growing up, which I’m very appreciative of—I think that at such a young age, it really sticks with you. They started me on violin. I think I started on piano first, which did not last long. I still can’t play, which I wish I could. It’s hard to remember exactly how it worked, but I remember them telling me that I really couldn’t put the violin down.

My teacher was pretty strict about having a controlled practice hour in the day where I was monitored to make sure I was doing the right things. I wanted to walk around and fool around with it, but wasn’t necessarily allowed, which I think was a good thing. She really encouraged a stable technique from the beginning, which I think has really helped me. Even recently throughout the past years, I haven’t had to think about that so much, which I’m grateful for. I really just loved it from the beginning. And then switching to the viola; it’s hard [to recall]. I also don’t necessarily remember what it was like when I was 11 years old…but I do remember loving the sound. I was practicing violin and didn’t love all the screeching that I was having all the time. So the C-string, it was just an awesome trade for me. The depth and the soul of a viola is unparalleled, I think.

What is your favorite genre or time period of music that you like to perform?
Oh, that’s a good question. Well, I think Brahms has had a special place in my heart for a very long time. My teacher, Roger Tapping, just wrote a whole article about this and his love for Brahms, which I think has really rubbed off on me. Just how well he [Brahms] knows how to write for the viola, especially in the quartets, quintets, and sextets. Just the incredible viola parts, but also the clarinet sonatas that were transcribed by Brahms for viola I think work beautifully. And not to mention also his symphonies and things like that that I really love to play. But this summer, I really dipped my toe into more contemporary music, which I haven’t done before, at the Yellow Barn Summer Music Festival. Now I have a whole new love for this different genre that I haven’t had before, which I really appreciate. So it’s been fun to explore that.

You’ve spoken about music, but what else do you enjoy investing your time and energy into?
Over the past few years, I’ve been really into yoga. I’ve had quite a bit of back, shoulder, and neck pain from playing viola. That’s one of the downsides of this incredible instrument is that it comes with a few injury prone things. And I also play quite a large viola. It’s about an inch more than most people play, which adds weight. So I’ve gotten into yoga to help really decompress mentally and focus my attention to my breath, which is also so important in being a musician. Also physically, I find yoga very helpful because it stretches and also strengthens at the same time. I feel like it’s all encompassing and kind of what I needed; it’s helped me quite a bit.

Congratulations on your Primrose International Viola Competition win! What led you to audition for the competition?
Competitions have been on my mind over the past few years. I’ve done a few, and to be honest, they’re not always my favorite thing to do just because of, I mean, it’s competitive—it’s stressful and honestly, a little bit of it can be a grueling thing to go through. And it’s hard to have something that’s so personal, being judged right in front of you; it’s not a natural thing. I feel that every competition that I’ve done, I’ve come out a better violist. Maybe it’s just because I push myself more, but also the feedback from a lot of different people is/has been hard, but very helpful.

And this competition specifically was such a warm environment of violists, I’m even getting messages from people who I haven’t met that were also competing that were [saying], you sounded beautiful, congratulations…It’s nice to have that support, and I had a good amount of friends too that were there from Julliard. Two of the others who placed second and third are good friends. It was a nice environment to be in—and I also now can say that because I won. So it’s a little bit easier for me to say that; I definitely acknowledge that not everyone is feeling that way.

Leading up to the competition, how did you prepare for it?
It was kind of a bumpy road of feeling like I was very confident in how I was preparing and then some weeks felt terrible, and I would think, I’m not going to go. It was quite a bumpy road, but I started by preparing—there was the Walton Viola Competition at Julliard that was at the beginning of the semester. So I really got my Walton up to where I wanted it, kind of early on, which was good I think because then I could bring it back in a fresh new way after that. Then after the [Walton Viola] Competition, I scheduled my graduation recital a week before the Primrose Competition, which I’ve never done before, and I was kicking myself because I [knew] this was so much to try to do in two weeks. But I had videos of my performing, and you learn so much by listening to yourself perform. So I listened back and just having the feeling of playing all of my repertoire through for people in a formal way was a great way for me to prepare.

How was the weeklong experience for Primrose?
Definitely by the finals, I was pretty exhausted. I had never done three big rounds in a week before, and it was a good amount of repertoire, though not too much. But to have so much pressure on you, three times in one week is quite a lot. But as I said before, I think going through that you come out a better musician technically and even with thicker skin. Overall it was exhausting, but very rewarding.

When you were announced as a finalist, what was the first thing you thought or did?
It’s funny; my boyfriend was actually there with me and he’s a violinist, which was really nice to have that support. But I wasn’t so happy with how I played in the semi-finals, and I was beating myself up over that and he thought I played beautifully. So we actually made a bet about me getting into the finals, and he won because I got in. The bet was that I had to go golf with him Sunday morning. So that was the first thing that I thought about and was, oh gosh, like yay finals, but now I have to golf Sunday morning, which turned out to be very lovely. But I think I was also very excited to play Walton with an orchestra. I’ve never actually played with a large orchestra like that before; it was a difficult experience, but I had so much fun.

What does winning the Primrose Competition mean to you?
It’s been honestly very surreal. I knew that this was obviously what I was striving for and I’m so happy, but it’s like, whoa; I wake up and I’m is this real life? It’s been something that I’ve strived for probably as long as I’ve known about the competition. And it really gives me the confidence to go in the direction I’ve been wanting to go in. I feel that this helps me and guides me along to do whatever I work hard to do or what I want to do. That’s not the best way of putting that, but I feel like this gives me the fuel to strive harder to achieve more things and really just pour my passion into this art form that we do.

What does the legacy of William Primrose mean to you?
Oh, it means so much. He was really just one of the best violists in the history of violas. And I read a little bit about his teaching style and his playing style and obviously listened to incredible recordings that he’s made. His legacy means so much—I think as violists, we wouldn’t be where we are now with this important solo instrument if it weren’t for him. And Lionel Tertis and many other violists of that generation really were the first ones to be, this is a beautiful instrument and it needs to be heard alone. I’m eternally grateful for that, definitely.

In addition to the cash prize, you also received invitations to perform at the 2022 American Viola Society Festival & 47th International Viola Congress in June and then an invitation to participate in the semi-finals of the Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh International Competition in May. Besides those two invitations, what else is on the horizon for you?
It’s funny; I’ve been so much a planner my whole life. What am I going to audition for next? Where am I going next? And it’s grounded me definitely a lot and validated what I’m doing, but I’ve tried within these past few months to get away from that a little bit; I’m trying to go with the flow and see what happens. This [Primrose] was really the last thing that I have had planned. So now, for me the next step is going with the flow and getting back a little bit of what’s going to happen next, but I think there’s something to be said about spontaneity and just seeing what happens with my life and my career. And I’m really excited for that to happen.

Do you have any advice or recommendations for someone preparing for a competition, specifically a music competition?
As much as the technical work we have to do and all the hours of practicing we have to put in, I think the most important thing is staying true to your own musical voice. And trying to express that in the best way possible and having that really be on the forefront of your mind, because it’s easy to get caught up in, oh, I messed up this note or this didn’t go as well as I thought, but I think the biggest thing that will shine through is your voice and how you feel about what you’re doing. So, yes, that’s been the biggest thing for me.

Winter Countdown 2021: Students Share Fall Reflections

As part of our Winter Countdown 2021 series, we reached out to some of our students to reflect on their semester experiences and hopes for the spring semester.

Dance Academy student Samuel C. Portillo, ballet, is in his first year with Trudl Zipper Dance Institute.

As the fall semester comes to a close, would you reflect back on the past few months and share a particular memorable moment or personal triumph?
This semester here at Colburn has been an amazing experience. I felt like I have grown a lot as a person and a dancer while I have been here, and I have had many good memories made so far. A particularly memorable moment for me this semester was when the Dance Academy went to see Alonzo King LINES Ballet at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The performance was breathtaking, and a performance that I will always remember.

What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?
I am personally looking forward to performing Jerome Robbins’ The Goldberg Variations in the spring semester. I can’t wait for the opportunity to perform a piece such as this!

How are you spending your winter break?
Over winter break, I will be going back home to Colorado to spend Christmas and the New Year with my family and friends that live there. I will be resting, watching movies, and getting my wisdom teeth removed, haha!

Yirou Ronnie Zhang, violin, is in her third year at the Music Academy, following three years with the Community School.

As the fall semester comes to a close, would you reflect back on the past few months and share a particular memorable moment or personal triumph?
This past semester was even crazier than I thought. While balancing my practicing, recordings, college essays, and academic school work, the unique pandemic precautions atmosphere was also something that had always been hanging over my head. I am beyond grateful, of course, that we can safely return to in person studies. Without face-to-face interactions with my peers and teachers, I would not have the strength to cope through these challenges.

Over the past semester, my biggest accomplishment would be completing my college applications. Many friends of mine had also undergone this process, and I am extremely proud of every one of us. For myself, though, I wished I could do better for my prescreening videos. I could have been more persistent with goals that I set for myself and also have more fun with the music itself.

What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?
In the spring semester, I look forward to the new round of challenges that comes with live auditions. Preparing repertoire for that will be even more difficult because of the nature of live performances and exhaustion from traveling. I am sure, however, that things I have learned about my repertoire as well as myself during this past semester will be a great help in this process. I will also treasure with my heart the support and advice from all my teachers.

Another event I am excited for is the senior concert. I hope I will have a chance to perform then, because it would be significant for me as a violinist and as a person. That performance would mark the end of my high school experience and help me dive into more challenges in the upcoming school year.

How are you spending your winter break?
For winter break, I will stay in the Los Angeles area with my parents. I will enjoy time alone with myself and my family. I will have to keep working on my live audition repertoire so that they are prepared enough for recordings and performances once the spring semester starts. During these three weeks, I will sure miss Colburn—my friends, teachers, classes, and the campus. I will be grateful for all the time I spend at home, while at the same time be very excited for the new semester!

Conservatory of Music student John Fawcett, violin, is in his fourth year at Colburn.

As the fall semester comes to a close, would you reflect back on the past few months and share a particular memorable moment or personal triumph?
In October, I was extremely happy to be hired as Concertmaster for a new promising orchestra here in Los Angeles, called the “California Young Artists Symphony.” It’s not the LA Phil, but through the organization, in which we have just had our inaugural concert, I have met so many more wonderful people and musicians from the larger artistic community in Los Angeles. It has helped me form a more accurate picture of what the music scene looks like here and how our art is best used to contribute to the community in creating an organization like this. I look forward to several more concerts with this community, and to see it grow in what is likely to be a beautiful addition to the arts in classical music here in Los Angeles and beyond.

Aside from this opportunity I have been given, I have finished with applications to study within masters programs throughout the United States. The process of recording, applying, and reaching out to teachers, etc.… took certainly a lot of preparation, and I feel that I was able to grow significantly as a player. I feel generally happy with how I am sounding, as perhaps I am getting closer to my own conceptualization of how I would like to sound on my instrument. I have a whole world of thanks to give to my teacher here [at Colburn], Robert Lipsett, for challenging me to be at my best so that I may accomplish these goals in my playing.

What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?
One of the best things that I can do for my own future is to put a lot of time and effort into my own craft as a violinist, and I certainly intend to work a lot in this regard so that I can reach my potential as a violinist. I would also like to start thinking about my future career; I plan to apply for the Concert Artists Guild, in which the final recipients receive Concert Management. As I would certainly be incredibly honored to receive an award, my goal is simply to add to my experiences in whatever way possible. Tying into career building and professional studies, I am much looking forward to giving recitals here at the Colburn School, as is required for students throughout their time studying. I have been thinking about my program and am certainly motivated not only to share what I have to say through my music in this regard next semester, but also to come up with an engaging program for everyone that displays a wide variety of musical ideas.

How are you spending your winter break?
This break, I will be going back home to Central Oregon to spend time with my family, my two rambunctious dogs (they need exercise!!), and friends that I have not seen in too long. I will also be heading to New York with several wonderful colleagues here at the Colburn School, as we will be participating in the annual New York String Orchestra Seminar that takes place over the holidays with the violinist superstar, Jaime Laredo. But aside from this very exciting obligation and visiting my home, I also would like to spend time playing the piano and composing over the break.

National Fortissima Program Inspires and Empowers Young Women of Color

Fortissima is an artistic and leadership development program for high school age young women from underrepresented minorities in classical music. Fortissima’s innovative leadership curriculum, paired with rigorous artistic development and one-on-one mentorship, is designed to inspire, equip, and empower young women of color to pursue careers in the field. As described by one of this year’s participants, “Fortissima offers the chance for underrepresented young musicians to grow and thrive in a healthy environment. The fact that Fortissima helped us to gain lifelong mentors and make long-lasting connections with esteemed musicians of color shows the value that Fortissima brings to the next generation of classical music.”

In 2021, Fortissima evolved from a local pilot to a national program to expand its reach and impact. Last fall, we announced the appointment of music director Jannina Norpoth, as well as five distinguished mentors (Jennifer Arnold, Monica Ellis, Karla Donehew Perez, Stephanie Matthews, and Angelica Hairston) who would work virtually with accepted students for six months leading up to a residential intensive on the Colburn campus. Earlier this summer, we announced the 10 young women who would make up the inaugural national cohort. They were chosen from a competitive pool of applicants recruited from programs all over the country and were selected based on their level of artistic excellence.

From May to October, students had monthly one-on-one virtual meetings with their mentors where they set their own agendas and goals based on their specific needs and aspirations. In an anonymous survey of students after the experience, one student said, “My mentor meetings were extremely helpful in getting me to realize what I want for the next few years of my life and what I need to do to prioritize my goals and values towards college and my career beyond that.” Another said, “I really connected with my mentor and learned a lot from her! I am glad to have our relationship continue beyond the program. We talked about a range of topics from community service, to career pathways, to financial advice, to real-life experiences.”

From October 30 through November 6, 2021, all 10 selected participants came to Los Angeles to participate in a residential intensive on the Colburn campus. During the intensive, students observed rehearsals and performances of the LA Philharmonic, the Sphinx Virtuosi, the LA Opera, and the Colburn Orchestra. They received training and workshops on conservatory admissions in which they met with Colburn’s Conservatory Dean Lee Cioppa and Manager of Admissions Lauren Woodward; career pathways in the arts where they heard from several of the program mentors as well as other accomplished women of color in the field; tools and personal branding for professional musicians in a workshop facilitated by Colburn alumna Gina Luciani; citizen artistry from a panel of women who have created and led groundbreaking community arts projects on stages, in kitchens, and concert halls throughout the nation; donor relations where they heard from our Vice President of Advancement Nina Zhou and got real-life practice in a donor dinner; yoga for musicians led by Leah Gallegos of Las Cafeteras and The People’s Yoga in East LA; and mindfulness and self-care in a workshop by Charlotte Nguyen of Get Free!; and so much more. Students received daily chamber music coaching from program music director, Jannina Norpoth, as well as visiting mentors and guest artists including composer Jessie Montgomery, who coached her piece “Peace,” which was a part of the final concert program.

Here is what one of the participants had to say about their time in the program and in the residential intensive: “Fortissima opened my eyes to the wonderful things I could take on with my craft of playing the violin. I was able to feel so welcome, as I was not the only person of color—which is usually the norm back at home where I perform. I was able to gain valuable advice from so many mentors on how to take on the world and its problems, on how to take care of myself as a musician, and what I can do in the future with my talent.”

Another said, “Fortissima has changed my life and my outlook on my career by helping me realize how much change I can make with my craft. Listening to the stories of all the amazing artists, and even the program’s core concept, has shown me the power I have to make a difference with music.”

We are very proud of this year’s cohort and are excited to open up applications for next year very soon! We will also be launching alumni initiatives early next year and look forward to remaining engaged with this year’s cohort of students and mentors in the years to come. As one of the young women beautifully stated during the final concert, “The Future is Fortissima!”