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The room is hushed. The door glides open, revealing two people walking out onto the stage. Eyes remain on their forms as the two settle in. A single note is then played repeatedly, ultimately dissolving into the stillness of the recital hall. One musician nods to the other, and it begins.
For the audience, it was a showcase of dazzling melodies played by skilled young musicians with bright futures ahead of them.
For the musicians, it was more than a performance — it was a chance to win the opportunity to play with some of the best. The winner of the competition earned the right to play not only alongside the Festival Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Carlos Spierer, but also as a soloist with the Akademisches Orchester in Leipzig, Germany at the famous Gewandhaus.
“I think the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Young Artist Competition is a great part of the Texas Music Festival,” clarinetist David Cook said. “It provides a strong incentive for all of the Orchestra Fellows to prepare at their highest levels of technique and expression. Opportunities to perform as soloist with an orchestra are somewhat scarce for aspiring musicians; this competition provides that chance and can draw great performances out of everybody.”
Winning wasn’t their only goal. What made these musicians truly stand out was the fact that they prioritized enjoying the experience while delivering a meaningful performance.
“My main aim was to have fun in my performance,” said cellist Oliver Scott, who is currently studying in Singapore on a full scholarship. “Winning was of secondary importance to me. Being able to make my audience happy is what motivates me.”
For oboist and Baldwin Wallace graduate Ian Woodworth, the competition was also a reminder of why he started playing 11 years ago.
“The oboe has a limited range of both volume and pitch when compared to other instruments in the competition, which not only sets me apart, but also poses a challenge for the performance,” Woodworth said. “It is an uncommon instrument to win a concerto competition, especially because of our limited selection of repertoire. This fact alone motivates me to showcase the music to the best of my ability.”
Despite the amount of work that went into this competition, the winners were humble.
“Nothing sets me apart from the other musicians,” said second place winner Oliver Scott. “All the musicians here are equally talented; some just got lucky on the day, and I was one of them. I am just so happy to have been a finalist, so second place is wonderful news for me.”
First place went to harpist Caitlin Mehrtens, who said she was taken aback by the win.
“It’s the first big competition I’ve won in a long time,” Mehrtens said. “It feels affirming and just exciting. I’m really, really grateful to be here.”
Mehrtens said that she not only had her Oberlin Conservatory teacher Yolanda Kondonassis to thank, but also her parents.
“Since they’re musicians, they have been really supportive in getting me where I need to be,” Mehrtens said. “I grew up around the Philadelphia area. I played piano forever. My parents told me I couldn’t play another instrument unless I kept taking piano lessons all through high school so that’s been really valuable.”
All of the participants have big plans for the future.
David Cook, who already holds several degrees in performance, music education, and chamber music, will attend the University of Oklahoma as a student of Dr. Suzanne Tirk. There, he will pursue his doctor of musical arts degree in clarinet performance as well as the master of music degree in music theory with a graduate teaching assistantship.
Eleanor Dunbar has worked with many renowned performers such as Paul Kantor, Andres Diaz and Ken Aiso. She is currently studying with professor Emanuel Borok as a sophomore at Southern Methodist University.
William Karns, a two-time recipient of the Colburn Pledge Foundation Music Scholarship, is currently studying double bass performance at Baylor University with Dr. Sandor Ostlund.
Caitlin Mehrtens is in her final year of her undergraduate work at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she has been pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Harp Performance. She is contemplating adding a fifth year with another major and then going on to graduate school or attempting the audition circuit.
Liu Minglun started studying on a full scholarship to Shanghai Music Middle School at the age of nine and plans to continue working in order to obtain his master’s degree. He plans to audition for concert master in orchestra.
Oliver Scott is currently a full-scholarship student of Li Wei Qin at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore. He plans to come to the United States to pursue a master’s in music.
Cornelia Sommer holds a Bachelor of Music in Bassoon Performance from Indiana University. She will be pursuing her master’s at Yale University, where she will study bassoon with Frank Morelli.
Ian Woodworth will begin graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University to pursue a master’s in music this fall, under the tutelage of Cynthia DeAlmeida, Principal Oboe of the Pittsburgh Symphony. He also plans to continue taking auditions for professional orchestras.
Mehrtens will perform with the Festival Orchestra at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands on Friday, June 13 at 8 p.m. and at the Moores Opera House on Saturday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m. She was also invited to appear as a soloist with the Akademisches Orchester in Leipzig, Germany at the famed Gewandhaus on October 13.