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International competition brings Potsdam’s best young pianists

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POTSDAM — Three young pianists left the stage at Hosmer Hall, SUNY Potsdam, with cash prizes Sunday, following the final round of the Julia Crane International Piano Competition and Festival.

The competition happens every two years and invites young pianists from all over the country and Canada to perform, according to Paul Wyse, artistic director of the competition. This was the sixth year of the competition.

Approximately 50 applicants sent in CDs of their recorded talent, but only 12 made it into the competition. That number narrowed to seven who performed in a semi-finals round Saturday night.

“The level of competitor gets higher and higher every year and we’re so lucky here in Potsdam to have the strongest level of player in North America, if not the world, for this age group,” Mr. Wyse said.

The three finalists all had to perform a Mozart concerto with the Orchestra of Northern New York.

Sixteen-year-old Elbert Y. Gong, Belle Mead, NJ, took home the $3,000 first place prize along with the Audience Prize of $250, which was voted by the audience, and the Peer Jury Prize of $100, which was voted by the competitors that didn’t make it to the final round.

Mr. Gong said that it was his first time playing with an orchestra, so he practiced for months to prepare.

“It was stressful,” he said. “But I really enjoyed the Mozart. It was a great experience.”

Carter M. C. Johnson, 16, of Campbell River, British Columbia, was awarded the $2,000 second place prize. He said that despite it being a competition, the atmosphere was very welcoming and comfortable.

“The competitors were all very friendly,” he said. “I’m so blessed to be in the final round.”

Evelyn Mo, 14, of Oak Hill, VA, has performed six times with various orchestras. She took home $1,000 for third place.

“It was really great meeting people from all different places that are so good and passionate about piano,” she said.

It was the first year the competition’s finalists were able to play with the Orchestra of Northern New York.

“It’s a rare and incredible experience for kids of this age to even have the opportunity to play with an orchestra,” Mr. Wyse said. “The opportunity with the orchestra really attracts some of the best kids that we could hope for and we’re just so lucky to have them come here, play for us and share with us everything that they have to offer.”

Music director and conductor of the Orchestra of Northern New York Kenneth Andrews said each finalist only had 25 minutes to practice with the orchestra before performing Sunday night.

“That’s what professionals get,” he said. “These three kids had such a mature sense of this chamber music and artistry at so young an age. Usually there’s such an impetuousness at that age, but these three had a high artistic level.”


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