Musical dreams

Micah McLaurin receives an ovation for his piano performance of Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 with the Cleveland Orchestra.

These three young musicians have something in common: They practice hard and know what it means to give their lives to art.

Just 18, each of these phenomenal young talents has been accepted at dream music schools, something they have worked toward since they were very young and first learning endless scales and runs.

Each is thankful for the support the local music community has given them, both through opportunities to perform and through scholarships, lessons and sage advice.

Micah McLaurin has a resume that many pianists would covet, having already played with the Cleveland Orchestra, Orquesta Filarmonica de Montevideo, Orquesta Juvenil de El Salvador, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, Youth Orchestra of the Lowcountry and South Carolina Philharmonic.

Abigail Kent has studied Celtic harp for five years and is a U.S. National Scottish Harp Champion, having studied with world-renowned teachers such as Kim Robertson and William Jackson. Her musical accomplishments also include conducting and composing, having won two national composition awards.

Nicholas Bentz is a violinist, composer and voice major who has been a member of the Charleston Symphony Youth Orchestra since 2005 and was co-concertmaster of the Youth Orchestra of the Lowcountry (2009-11). He is currently associate concertmaster of the College of Charleston Orchestra. When he’s not performing, he’s studying endless music scores, often deep into the night, and loves the intersection of movies and music.

Micah was homeschooled because it gave him the flexibility he needed for practice and performances. He will be going to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in the fall, a school he never expected to be able to attend. Curtis is highly competitive, and the school admits only enough students for one full orchestra and an opera company. Two of its notable alumni are well-known to Charleston audiences: the late Gian Carlo Menotti, founder of Spoleto Festival USA, and his partner, the late composer Samuel Barber.

Micah was one of eight pianists chosen worldwide to participate in the 2011 Verbier Festival Academy in Switzerland. He won the second prize in the Ettlingen International Competition for Young Pianists in Germany, third prize in the Thomas and Evon Cooper International Piano Competition and first prize in the Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition.

His favorite appearance so far was with the Cleveland Orchestra in 2012, when he performed with conductor Jahja Ling. “That was just so amazing,” Micah said in a phone interview.

He performed Chopin’s Concerto No. 2, a famously difficult piece for piano. “I love anything by Chopin,” Micah said with a certain joy in his voice.

But like all musicians, he envies other styles. “I can’t play jazz. I like it, but I can’t play it. Maybe someday.”

But he can play Lady Gaga and admits to playing her music in off-hours.

Locally, Micah was a student with Marsha Gerber at the Charleston Academy of Music and is a scholarship student of Enrique Graf in the Artist Certificate program at the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston.

“Enrique is just so amazing. He’s opened so many doors for me,” Micah said.

His parents are Karen and David McLaurin of West Ashley

Abigail is a harpist who also has been homeschooled in Mount Pleasant.

As she says, she plays “a gazillion instruments,” but her specialty is the pedal harp. Her audition in England for the Royal Academy of Music in London was so good, the staff told her on the spot that she had been accepted for the undergraduate degree program.

“I was just in shock. In fact, I’m still in shock. I’m going to the best place in the world to study harp.”

The school was founded by Lord Burghersh in 1822 with the help and ideas of French harpist and composer Nicolas Bochsa. It has five harp teachers in addition to visiting professors, and famous alumni include Annie Lennox and Elton John.

Kent said she came home from the audition and knew it was the right decision.

“Harpists tend to cluster in large cities, so it was always going to be one time zone away from home.”

Abigail first heard a Celtic harp at age 6 and knew from that point on that she wanted to, had to, learn to play the instrument.

But because there weren’t any harp teachers in Charleston at the time, she learned the piano because it teaches two-handed playing. Then two years later, she found harpist Judy McCoy and took lessons with her on the lever harp until McCoy told her she needed to move to the pedal harp because that was McCoy’s specialty.

While Abigail kept up with the piano, she ultimately decided she could go further with the harp. Fewer people want to play it.

But when it came to getting into a conservatory, McCoy told her to find a teacher who could help her with the requirements. Abigail wasn’t sure she should specialize in the harp because she had a larger repertoire with the piano, but she made her choice.

“I’ve been driving 650 miles every Monday to work with Jacquelyn Bartlett at UNC School of the Arts.”

She takes an hour and a half lesson, and then gets home by 9 p.m. It’s a schedule she has kept up her senior year.

Abigail is not just content with the harp, though. She is also a composer and goes more for the edgy side of things like contemporary music. When she’s not practicing for performances, though, she lets her hair down with Pink Floyd and The Beatles.

Her broad musical accomplishments include conducting and composing, having won two national composition awards.

In addition, she has won numerous awards on classical piano, cello and harp, including S.C. “All-State” first prizes for Piano Solo and Piano Concerto Competition, cellist in the 2011 S.C. “All-State” Honor Orchestra and cello winner of the 2012 and 2013 Charleston Symphony Orchestra “Share the Stage Contest,” principal harpist for the 2012 S.C. “All-State” Honors Senior Orchestra and a winner of the “Stars of Tomorrow” Contest for the 2012 Boston Harp Festival.

Her parents are Drs. Alexander Kent and Terri Thomas of Mount Pleasant.

Nicholas has just finished at the Charleston County School of the Arts and is looking forward to a summer full of music and then getting ready to go to the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Famous attendees include Carter Brey, a cellist known to Spoleto audiences, and American composer Philip Glass.

Nicholas is a triple threat: He started his career in music at 6 in violin but has since added both music composition and voice to his repertoire.

For the past seven years, he has studied violin under Yuriy Bekker, concertmaster for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Nicholas said that Bekker has taught him a Russian system that hones technique.

Since 2008, he has worked with one of his future teachers and Bekker’s mentor, Herbert Greenberg, through scholarships with the Summer Study Award Program during the Aspen Music Festival. During the summers of 2009, 2011 and 2012, Nicholas performed with the Aspen Opera Theatre Company for the productions of “Don Giovanni,” “Falstaff” and “Sweeney Todd,” respectively. In 2010 and 2011, he performed with the Santa Fe Ballet Company as a member of the Aspen Concert Orchestra. He was chosen as a finalist to compete in the prestigious Dorothy DeLay Fellowship Competition.

But just performing isn’t enough. After he took music composition for five years under Irina Pevzner and then expressed an interest in composing himself, she sent him to study under Dr. Yiorgos Vassilandonakis at the College of Charleston. And then he decided to major in voice at the School of the Arts to learn more about his craft.

He is generous in naming his teachers because he feels they have contributed to the musician he is becoming. And they have given him an interesting musical bent for his age. He loves Gustav Mahler, Erich Korngold and Olivier Messiaen to name a few. Many of his favorites have had their music, or have composed music, for film scores.

As a violinist, he would have most loved to hear Jascha Heifetz. “His ability to blend both the technical perfection and the emotional perfection are just amazing,” Nicholas said.

And while he will listen to what he considers “heart-throbbingly romantic music, I don’t listen to a lot of popular music. In fact, I can’t really name anyone that I listen to.”

The common thread to his career is not that he has cho- sen one path, but that these different aspects are part of his musical worldview.

He’s looking forward to Peabody because he will be double majoring in both musical composition with 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts and one of his mentors in violin, Greenberg. Not bad for someone who turns 19 this week.

His parents are Renee and Montgomery Bentz of West Ashley.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or sharvin101 on Facebook.