Culture Club: Rising Stars Unveiled

by LAURA SMITH, Marketing Manager, Birch Creek Music Performance Center

The annual Birch Creek Concerto Competition is a crucial aspect of the Symphony program at Birch Creek Music Performance Center. Through it, young musicians have had the opportunity to perform a concerto as soloists with a full symphony orchestra – and thus experience what it’s like to be a professional musician and help them prepare for their future careers – for more than 20 years. 

The competition takes place during the second week of the two-week Symphony session, when a jury of four or five faculty members judges the participants and selects winners based on their preparation, musicianship and readiness to perform as soloists with a 90-piece orchestra. 

“Typically, the concertmaster, the conductor and some of our faculty members are listening to these auditions,” said Ricardo Castañeda, program director of Birch Creek’s Symphony section. “It’s really an audition, but [also] a competition, because in the end, we pick two winners to perform with the orchestra the following year.”

Castañeda said that Birch Creek’s approach to the concerto competition is distinctive, focusing on more than just competing against other participants. 

“Our main goal is to teach students the different skills it takes to be a professional musician, so [it’s] a competition, yes – it is a competition – but our main goal of our competition is to teach kids to prepare and to audition. To deal with nerves, to deal with preparation, to deal with stepping in front of a jury and playing. All those things,” Castañeda said. 

Jane Story steals the spotlight with her mesmerizing performance during the Rising Stars: 2021 Concerto Competition Winners concert, leaving the audience and orchestra in awe of her talent.

“It was extremely meaningful to play in front of a full orchestra for the first time at Birch Creek,” said Bea Sjostrom, winner of the 2021 Concerto Competition. “It felt especially personal and important because I knew that everyone in the orchestra on stage behind me was cheering me on and wanted me to succeed and to do my absolute best. 

“The skills I gained through this experience were really valuable. I’m now more skilled in professionalism on stage, and in working through performance anxiety when playing in front of a large group. Both of these were things that I got through working with the professionals in the Birch Creek Symphony Orchestra.” 

Winners also learn crucial techniques for communicating meaningfully with a conductor and individual players while playing a solo. 

Past competition winners have gone on to have prosperous music-industry careers, including Alan Snow, associate concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra; Mary Elizabeth Bowden, a thriving trumpet soloist and chamber musician; and Zac Hammond, principal oboist of the Utah Symphony. 

Castañeda also highlighted what a gratifying experience it is for audience members who follow the students’ journey after their concerto-competition performance and get to witness the trajectory of their careers. 

“For somebody who likes classical music, and who likes to see the future of classical music in the country, I think coming to the opening concert of the Symphony session is important because it really is spotlighting some of the future professional musicians in the country,” Castañeda said. “And it’s no exaggeration because we have quite a few already who have gone on to successful careers in music.” 

This year’s performance, Rising Stars: 2022 Clampitt Concerto Competition Winners, will take place Thursday, July 6, 7 pm, inside Birch Creek’s historical Dutton Concert Barn. Titles will include Walton’s Viola Concerto, Hindemith’s Viola Concerto ‘Der Schwanendreher’ and Mussorgsky/Ravel’s Pictures at an Exhibition

The Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes to Culture Club, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations that seeks to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.

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