And the winners are: Oahu pianists top Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra’s Youth Concerto Competition

  • Aimee Okagawa, 15, lives in Honolulu and is a ninth-grader at Iolani School. She won her age bracket with her performance of the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s First Piano Concerto. (Courtesy photos/Special to West Hawaii today)

  • Ten-year-old Crystal Ferreira, a student of Thomas Yee of Honolulu, lives in Manoa. She won her age bracket with her performance of the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto.

For the first time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra conducted its annual “Madeline Schatz-Harris Youth Concerto Competition” in a virtual setting.

Young woodwind, brass, percussion, and piano players from all over the state submitted video recordings of themselves, as their entry, performing (by memory) one movement of a selected piece from standard orchestral repertoire. Led by Brian Dollinger, the Kamuela Philharmonic’s artistic director and conductor, a panel of judges reviewed the submissions and selected the winners.

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The two winners of this year’s competition are pianists Crystal Ferreira and Aimee Okagawa from Oahu. Each will receive a scholarship award and the opportunity to perform with the Kamuela Philharmonic at an upcoming concert.

“Yet again, the young musicians of Hawaii have impressed me with their poise and performance,” stated Dollinger. “When I talk about this competition with my other orchestras on the mainland, everyone is so impressed by the talent of our two younger age categories. My other orchestra’s competitions focus mainly on high school aged students, so having young music students like Aimee and Crystal to work with is really amazing.”

Joel Gimpel, board president of the Kamuela Philharmonic, said, the judges were impressed with the level of preparedness and performance by all of the students.

“Because 2020 was so very restrictive, their accomplishments stand out even more; they did an outstanding job,” Gimpel said.

“It has been very important to the Orchestra to continue this annual competition for the music students of Hawaii during this pandemic. So many other events, festivals, clinics, competitions have been canceled over the past year that we wanted to ensure this opportunity persevered for the kids,” Dollinger added. “We’re hoping that enough restrictions are changed so that we can bring these young musicians to Hawaii Island to perform with us, but if circumstances hinder us, I do know that I will find an alternative concert opportunity for them to perform with the Philharmonic on stage.”

Ten-year-old Ferreira, a student of Thomas Yee of Honolulu, lives in Manoa and has been playing piano since the age of 4. She won her age bracket with her performance of the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto. She chose the Mendelssohn piece because she loves “the excitement and diversity” of the work, and because so many different techniques are required to perform it.

“I am very fortunate to have Dr. Thomas Yee as my teacher. He is an amazing teacher and motivates me to play and try my very best,” she said. “I am so happy and excited for the future and the many new challenges and experiences I will encounter.”

Okagawa, 15, lives in Honolulu and is a ninth grader at Iolani School. She began playing the piano at the age of 4 and is now studying under Wendy Yamashita of Honolulu. She won her age bracket with her performance of the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s First Piano Concerto.

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The competition honors the orchestra’s founding Artistic Director Madeline Schatz-Harris, who recognized and admired the talent exhibited by many young music students in Hawaii and came up with the idea of holding an annual concerto competition as a showcase for that talent. It was the first youth concerto competition in the state. Taking place on Hawaii Island, but often drawing students from the neighbor islands, the competition is an essential part of the Kamuela Philharmonic’s mission and the focal point for one of its season concerts.

For more information about the “Madeline Schatz-Harris Youth Concerto Competition,” visit the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra website at www.kamuelaphil.org.

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