Young artists show off talent

Charleston’s longstanding interest in the arts is not only due to the Spoleto Festival, but to local institutions and programs that showcase young talent.

The Young Artists Series — a partnership between the Piccolo Spoleto Festival and the College of Charleston — gives accomplished students, many of whom already are professionals, a chance to wow local audiences.

Enrique Graf, artist-in-residence for piano at the College of Charleston and a teacher at the Charleston Academy of Music, puts together the lineup for the series after hearing students perform during the school year. The cast includes freshmen to recent graduates.

“Other schools have exams and juries, but for me, Spoleto is when I can see what they have accomplished during the year,” Graf said.

After their festival concerts, some of the performers will travel to England, Italy and Graf’s homeland of Uruguay to gain even more professional experience.

Pianist Chee-Hang See said he loves to play for an audience after practicing a piece for so long.

“I’ve been working on a piece by Liszt since August,” he said. “Some locals have already heard it, but it’s great to also play it for people not from Charleston and get feedback from the audience.”

Lately, Charleston music fans have had a taste of local piano prodigy Micah McLaurin, who has been racking up competition wins.

At 17, McLaurin is more accomplished than most his age and many years older.

“He has been an example for the college students,” Graf said. “I think that since Micah came around, he made everybody work harder.”

McLaurin, who studies with Graf through the Charleston Academy of Music, is one of the students who will enter the college’s two-year Artist Certificate Program next year.

The program — which emphasizes performance and competition — provides a fast track for young students who have already proven successful on their respective instruments.

Graf, an accomplished concert pianist, said he sees a lot of himself in his students, though he admits that many of them are more accomplished than he was at their age. A few of the performers in the series are only freshmen, so audiences have chance to follow their progress.

Amy Brueckman is a Newhouse School graduate student.