After hearing dazzling performances that romped through several centuries of organ repertoire, a panel of judges awarded first place in Level 1 to Justin DuRant of Columbia, SC, and first place in Level 2 to Colin MacKnight of Montgomery Village, MD, at the exciting conclusion of the 2013 Rodgers North American Classical Organ Competition.
Colin, 20, a third-year student in Paul Jacobs' studio at The Juilliard School, was joined on the winners' podium by classmate Janet Yieh, 20, of Alexandria, VA, who also studies under Paul Jacobs and won the second-place award. Third place went to Matthew Phelps, 34, a member of the faculty of Xavier University and a doctoral student at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, OH, where he is a student of Michael Unger. The prizes came with cash awards of $3,000 for first place, $2,000 for second and $1,000 for third.
In Level 1, the judges gave their highest rating to the performance of Justin, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of South Carolina in Columbia who is double majoring in Pipe Organ Performance and Biomedical Engineering. He is currently a student of Dr. Jared Johnson, organist and choirmaster at Columbia's Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Second place went to Joseph Huang, 16, a sophomore at Carmel High School in Indiana who switched from piano to organ just two years ago. He studies under Dr. Charles Goehring. The third-place winner was Elena Baquerizo, 14, of Miami, who is the home-schooled daughter of two physicians who have six musically talented children. She is a student of Thomas Schuster, first-place winner of the 2011 Rodgers organ competition. The Level 1 prizes were $1,000 for first place, $500 for second and $250 for third.
Rodgers Instruments Corporation established the organ performance competition three years ago for the purpose of encouraging the development of young organists in North America. The competition is a showcase for emerging young performers that supports the study of organ music and gives broader exposure to the modern classical organ. Level 1 is for organists 18 or younger; Level 2 is for those between 19 and 35.
This year's competition instrument was a three-manual Rodgers Infinity 361. The young players took full advantage of the organ's extensive resources, including the use of the Zimbelstern and orchestral voices. Each player was required to perform one work by Bach, but the rest of their programs covered the spectrum from Jean Langlais' "Fête" to a movement from "Taiwanese Suite" by Chelsea Chen.
Public performance is an integral part of the Rodgers organ competition. The final performances were held before a live audience at Rodgers' Hillsboro, Oregon, headquarters. Winners are eligible for opportunities to tour as part of Rodgers' "Emerging Artists" recital series, which is presented in cooperation with Rodgers representatives around the United States who are committed to expanding the audience for organ music and inspiring more young people to study the instrument. Notably, all three of the Level 2 finalists have been featured artists on American Public Media's "Pipedreams" broadcast hosted by Michael Barone.
The competition was juried by three distinguished panel members. Dr. Ina Slater Grapenthin, chair, is a member of faculty at Kutztown University in Kutztown, PA; Professor John Rose of Trinity College in Hartford, CT, is a well-known artist who has toured the U.S. and internationally; and Dr. Robert Tall is a leading proponent of using digital technology to explore new orchestral and expressive performances of classical organ repertoire. He has served as Dean and Convention Coordinator for the 2004 AGO National Convention in Los Angeles and is a highly respected, longtime representative of Rodgers organs.