Matthew Smoke sits in a small practice room upstairs in the Music Building at Fresno State, waiting for his turn to perform a viola concerto. Nearly a year of practice has come to this moment.
Smoke is just one of many instrumental and vocal students in the music department at Fresno State who were participating in the annual concerto competition. The competition was held last Thursday and Friday, with the finalists performing their full pieces on the second day.
The first round of competitions was closed to the public. Two judges from outside of the department were hired to be judges. The judges included Meryl J. Wamhoff, director of bands at Santa Rosa Junior College, and Ambroise Aubrun, violin professor at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara.
On the second day, the finalists performed their full works and the judge panel chose two musicians. One will perform with the Fresno State Wind Orchestra and the other with the Symphony Orchestra. For more than ten years, students have competed just to be given that chance.
“It’s a lot more fair and gives the students an opportunity to prepare. Then if you compete in the competition and win it, you are already prepared for the concert, so usually the results are much better,” said Thomas Loewenheim, head of strings and conductor of the University Orchestra.
Loewenheim said that the competition, while it serves as a way to raise the quality of the department, also helps students get ready for life after college. Auditioning is how musicians are typically hired.
“It has lots of reasons and lots of implementations, but it’s very important for each one of the students, and it’s a wonderful showcase,” Loewenheim said.
One of those students is Smoke, a music as a liberal art major and finalist who performed “Viola Concerto” by William Walton alongside six other students.
“Really there’s only like four or five major viola concertos compared to 20, 30 violin concertos that people play in standard repertoire,” Smoke said.
Keegan Bamford, a cello performance major and one of the winners of the competition, performed the “Cello Concerto No. 2” by David Popper.
“I found this concerto many years ago actually, just searching on YouTube, and Dr. Loewenheim a few years later said, ‘Hey, you should perform this concerto,’ and I said yes,” Bamford said.
Bamford, along with the other winner, percussionist Sean Clark, will perform their concertos with the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and the Fresno State Wind Orchestra, respectively.
It was the third time Bamford participated in the competition. He said he felt more prepared this time around.
“It’s really such an incredible event, and some years more people participate and some years a little bit less. But, overall, I feel to a little bit of a higher level,” Loewenheim said.