Sauder Concert Hall was filled with ambient noise, increasing gradually as more and more people flowed into the room.It was time for the 62nd annual Concerto-Aria Competition.
Through this competition, music students are given the opportunity to prepare an instrumental concerto or a sung aria — pieces written specifically to be accompanied by an orchestra. Students are adjudicated by an outside panel of judges, who chose four winners to perform with the Goshen College Symphony Orchestra (GCSO), currently directed by Brian Mast, music center executive director.
This year’s winners included Augusta Nafziger, a junior writing and music major; Hannah Lehman, a sophomore music and secondary education major; Isaac Fisher, a junior mathematics and secondary education major; and Caroline Greaser, a junior graphic design and music major.
Soprano Augusta Nafziger’s opening performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Glitter and Be Gay” began in an unexpected fashion. Within the first few measures, she was sobbing emphatically. A few seconds later, she was grinning. The aria was a rollercoaster of emotions; Nafziger portrayed a capricious, pearl-donning prostitute while belting out high Es and D flats with an effortless, operatic vigor.
Next up was pianist Hannah Lehman. As the orchestra played the opening section of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C Minor, Lehman had some time to herself. She sat still on the piano bench, her hands gently clasped in her lap. Unwavering. Determined.
That’s how she looked, at least, although afterwards she admitted that she was terrified. Not a soul in the audience could tell. Her fingers twittered effortlessly across the keys, while her face remained stoic, as if to say “I do this all the time.”
Lehman was followed by tuba player Isaac Fisher. The sounds of his tuba fluttered gloriously throughout Bruce Broughton’s Tuba Concerto, mvt. II. It is rare to hear such speed and accuracy on such a large instrument.
After the performance, I asked Fisher how one practices sixteenth notes on a tuba.
“Slowly,” he responded. “Very slowly.”
As he played, you could see the edges of a smile from behind his mouthpiece.
The final performer was Caroline Greaser, a violinist. As she walked out on stage, she wore a kindly, timid expression. After taking a moment to compose herself, she finally glanced over to Mast to signal that she was ready. Her piece, Vieuxtemps’s Violin Concerto No. 5, usually spans around 20 minutes.
Once the performance started, she was locked in. Her body swayed as if compelled by the fast-moving, unceasing violin, with hands trembling ever so slightly to achieve vibrato on the sustained notes.
The performers came out and bowed together at the end of the concert, receiving a long, well-deserved applause. As they emerged into the lobby, they were greeted with flowers and congratulations.
The 62nd annual Concerto-Aria competition was truly a night to remember.