Oregon violinist wins initial CSO young artist competition


And then there was one.

Violinist Kiarra Saito-Beckman, a 15-year-old musician from Bend, Ore., won the first-ever PepsiCo Young Artist of the Year Competition, organized by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

Saito-Beckman performed the first movement of Wieniswski's Violin Concerto in F-sharp minor, and her interpretation was enough for the three judges to award her top prize.

Second place went to 17-year-old clarinetist Barret Ham, of Macon, Ga. He wowed the audience at Memminger Auditorium Sunday afternoon with a rendition of the third movement of Carl Maria von Weber's Concerto No. 2.

Third place was secured by 15-year-old pianist Tristan Murphy, of New York City. Murphy played the opening movement of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concert No. 2. He was named Audience Favorite at the end of the concert.

All of the soloists performed with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Rossi.

The three finalists were part of a larger group of six semi-finalists who were selected from 88 video audition submissions. The three other musicians were Katherine Woo, 15, of Greer; Eric Tsai, 17, of Birmingham, Ala.; and Na eun Kim, 17, of Bridgewater, N.J.

The judges were Ellen Dressler Moryl, founder and artistic director emeritus of Piccolo Spoleto Festival and former director of cultural affairs for the City of Charleston; Yiorgos Vassilandonakis, assistant professor of composition and music theory at the College of Charleston; and Benjamin Sung, assistant professor of violin at Florida State University.

"All three finalists were flawless on their instruments, and quite comfortable tackling their chosen repertoire and performing with an orchestra," Vassilandonakis said. "The judges decision was unanimous but very difficult. We looked for individuality, presentation and stage presence, ability to adapt to and interact with the orchestra, and ultimately, musical personality, maturity and future promise."

The young artist competition was open to musicians age 14-18 and gave participants a chance to perform with a large ensemble of professional musicians. Saito-Beckman pocketed $1,000 in prize money for her first-place award, Ham got $500 for second-place and Murphy won $300.

The competition, made possible by a grant from PepsiCo, is meant to expand the symphony's education outreach efforts, shine a spotlight on young talent and cultivate future audiences.