$20,000 Cash in Conroe

Talent but no hot pink ties: Young Texas Artists Music Competition is serious business with western flair

Talent but no hot pink ties: Young Texas Artists Music Competition is serious business with western flair

Suffused with genteel 1930s southern charm, the picturesque downtown Conroe enclave that embraces the restored Crighton Theatre has yet to meet a stranger. But don't let the neighborly spirit fool you. At the 28th Annual Young Texas Artists Music Competition Saturday night, townsfolk who filled the grand old theater were as dedicated to their Bach, Beethoven or anything classical music as to their barbecue.

When pre-party co-chairs Shirley and Lee Pruitt and friends arrived on the scene in Mozart-themed costumes — think Colonial white lofty wigs, ruffled shirts and long overcoats, alongside Western threads, furs, leathers, boots, even a whimsical piano purse — the musicale was set to blend serious business with cowboy pleasure. 

As master of ceremonies, YTA alum and Classical 91.7 KUHA FM radio host Chris Johnson said, the competition is the single most anticipated event on the area's art calendar. 

Itzkoff should have been awarded a total of $6,000 in cash prizes. But as he strolled on stage donning a dark suit accessorized with a hot pink tie and not the obligatory tuxedo, his reward was adjusted: $5,500.

 The emerging talent had spent three days in preliminaries, during which a panel of judges pored through 50 auditions — narrowed down from over 70 local, national and international applications — to eight finalists in four categories: Piano; strings; voice; and wind, brass, percussion, harp and guitar.

Winners were crowned in each division, an overall top dog and an audience favorite. Adjudicating the competition were Cleveland Institute of Music violin faculty Joan Kwuon, Manhattan School of Music piano professor Miyoko Lotto, North Carolina Opera general director Eric Mitchko and clarinetist and Houston Chamber Choir executive director Becky Tobin

The judges were dead on.

The youngest of the entrants, cellist Coleman Itzkoff, took the Entergy Grand Prize. The 19-year-old's interpretation of Elgar's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E Minor stood out as the irrefutable winner. That he played with clear sound, gorgeous deliberate articulation and a vast palette of tonal colors was a testament to his training as a sophomore at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, studying under the tutelage of Desmond Hoebig.

It was evident that Itzkoff had parsed through the harmonic and melodic language and layered meaning and affect to render his Elgar mature, playful and mesmerizing. Every note had a rhyme and reason, and the audience followed right along for the musical ride, oohing and aahing with every technical and musical feat.  

Itzkoff should have been awarded a total of $6,000 in cash prizes. But as he strolled on stage donning a dark suit accessorized with a hot pink tie and not the obligatory tuxedo, his reward was adjusted: $5,500 plus formal wear for his upcoming performances with the Allen Philharmonic Orchestra and the Montgomery County Choral Society.

Rules are rules. The shoes that matched the lacquer of his cello which he had purchased at a Conroe thrift shop over the weekend, those he could keep.

"I will invest the award in a new bow, "Itzkoff said. "I have been borrowing my grandfather's, and this new bow will allow me to get the fullest sound out of my instrument."

Flutist Gina Choi procured the gold medal in the wind, brass and percussion division with Carl Nielsen's Flute Concerto. From Orange County, Calif., Choi is finishing her masters degree at Shepherd also, studying with Leone Buyse. She plans on taking auditions — which she described as an American Idol-experience without the fame — to land a spot in an orchestra.

 "I am a big fan of Houston, " Choi said. "It's about time the music scene started looking to the South for talent rather than the East Coast."

 "I am a big fan of Houston, " Choi said. "It's about time the music scene started looking to the South for talent rather than the East Coast."

Pianist Wanting Zhao, an apprentice of José Feghali at Texas Christian University, was the Audience Choice Award Winner in addition to securing first-place in her category. Her performance of Beethoven's Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo from his Piano Concerto No. 5 earned her $4,000 and a solo engagement with the Conroe Symphony

Character first, opera divo second: That's why baritone James D. Rodriguez scooped gold in the voice division. When he sung Rossini's "Medaglie incomparabile" from Il Viaggio a Reims, Rodriguez took many risks which rendered his aria witty and hilarious, the appropriate tenor for opera buffa.

Silver winners were cellist Lachezar Kostov, baritone Noel Bouley, percussionist Matthew Moore and pianist Hui-Shan Chin, receiving a $1,000 cash award each.

News_Young Texas Artist Competition_March 2012_Coleman Itzkoff
The youngest of the entrants, cellist Coleman Itzkoff, took the Entergy Grand Prize. Photo by Dave Clements/DWC Photography
News_Young Texas Artist Competition_March 2012_gala_Shirley Pruitt_Lee Pruitt
Pre-party co-chairs Shirley and Lee Pruitt. Photo by Alan Montgomery
News_Young Texas Artist Competition_March 2012_Gina Choi
Flutist Gina Choi procured the gold medal in the wind, brass and percussion division with Carl Nielsen's Flute Concerto. Photo by Alan Montgomery
News_Young Texas Artist Competition_March 2012_Wanting Zhao
Pianist Wanting Zhao, an apprentice of José Feghali at Texas Christian University, was the Audience Choice Award Winner in addition to securing first-place in her category. Photo by Dave Clements/DWC Photography
News_Young Texas Artist Competition_March 2012_James D. Rodriguez
Baritone James D. Rodriguez scooped gold in the voice division. Photo by Dave Clements/DWC Photography