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Laurie Niles

Sphinx Competition Day 2: Violist Paul Laraia wins Senior Division, schedule changed

February 5, 2011 at 5:25 AM

The Sphinx Competition jury announced today that violist Paul Laraia, 21, of Boston, is the winner in the Senior Division, for contestants ages 18 through 26.

Paul Laraia The jury was to have picked three finalists from among the nine semi-finalists who played on Thursday, but after long deliberations Thursday night they concluded that Paul was the only candidate that reached threshold of musical excellence required for the field, said Sphinx representative Alison Piech. The 2011 Sphinx Competition Jury includes Richard Aaron, Kazem Abdullah, Sanford Allen, Danielle Belen, Pamela Frank, Michael Tree and Astrid Schween.

"(The jurors) just thought (the other candidates) needed more work, and that is where we come in," Piech said. Part of the Sphinx mission is to provide the tools that young minority musicians need to succeed: access to instruments, summer programs, master classes, scholarships. "Because of our connections in the field, we are able to put them in touch with those who can help them."

As a result of this decision, the schedule for the competition was turned upside-down, a development which the young musicians handled with grace. Friday was to have seen the conclusion of the Junior Division of the competition (for contestants under age 18), with finalists giving an Honors Recital and a winner named at the end. 

Instead, the Junior Division finalists (Violinists Annelle Gregory and Alexandra Switala and bassist Xavier Foley) will have to wait until Sunday to perform and be placed.

On Friday, three contestants from the Senior Division, violinist Maia Cabeza, 18, of Philadelphia; violist Michael Casimir, 19, of Philadelphia, and cellist Josue Gonzalez, 23, of Cleveland were named recipients of "Senior Achievement Awards" (a $2,500 cash prize each) and competed for one "Gold Achievement Award" ($1,500 cash prize). Maia played the last movement of the Wieniawski Concerto, Michael played the second movement of the Walton Concerto and Josue played the third movement of the Lalo Concerto for Cello in D minor. The Gold Achievement Award went to violist Michael Casimir.

Senior Division winner Paul Laraia will received a $10,000 cash prize, solo appearances with major orchestras, and professional CD through Naxos label. He also will perform with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra at the Finals Concert 2 p.m. Sunday at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. The junior division finalists will also perform and be ranked, and the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Michael Morgan, will play a new piece by composer Roberto Sierra.

We will feature a interview with Paul Laraia this weekend.

If there was some disappointment hanging in the air, there was also a great deal of energy for Friday's concert, as hundreds of schoolchildren filled the plush orange seats in the University of Michigan's Rackham Auditorium and the 40-some members of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra gathered on stage. The orchestra includes Black and Latino musicians from all over the United States (including member Samuel Thompson, Internet friend for six years whom I finally met for the first time in person!)




Sphinx Orchestra

There were rough moments in this concert, but there were other moments worth remembering. The kids were noisy and raucous until the concert began, and yet they fell into a hush, listening to Josue Gonzalez's cello. What did they think, hearing the quirky rhythms of the Walton Concerto for the first time, played by Michael Casimir? And they bubbled over at Maia Cabeza's bouncy ending for the Wieniawski.

At least one message of the Sphinx Competition seems to be to keep moving forward and striving, whatever the barriers, whatever the setbacks. Keep performing, keep learning what an audience sees and hears. Learn to make it happen, learn to fool-proof your technique against nerves and mistakes. As composer Roberto Sierra told the contestants later in the day at a panel discussion, "The only people who get nowhere are the people who get off the road." Find your road, stay on it.



From elise stanley
Posted on February 5, 2011 at 11:10 AM

[had my gripe (on the nature of 'Senior') - but it wasn't fair on the outstanding players... so I deleted it... ] 


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