School of Music

After half a decade the annual President’s Concert continues to uphold a tradition of celebrating student excellence in the University of Arizona School of Music. The 50th anniversary will feature the 2023-2024 Concerto Competition winners.

Much of what is taught in the school inspects tradition, how the practice and performance of music maintains those traditions, and the importance throughout history of redefining established methods for the sake of lending to new modes of thought. The four student soloists of the President’s Concerts have selected pieces of music for the evening that represent a wide array of historical traditions and musical aesthetics.

Three Songs by Richard Strauss
Clarissa Christina Smith, soprano

Bassoon Concerto by Daniel Schnyder
Kenny Kriha, bassoon

Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Andrew D. Nix

Piano Concerto, Op. 13 by Benjamin Britten
Shih-Han Su, piano

The Process

Each year four competitions are held to select winners from the performance areas of voice, winds/percussion, strings, and keyboard. Guest judges from outside the University, who are performers and practitioners themselves, are brought in to evaluate performances from numerous students in each area who have prepared demanding and virtuosic pieces of music written for a soloist to perform with an orchestral ensemble. 

In the end of the final round, one student from each area is awarded a cash prize and the distinct honor of performing in the President’s Concert with the Arizona Symphony, the School of Music’s flagship orchestra. 

“Having the opportunity to perform a concerto movement or vocal selections with orchestra is not an easy opportunity to come by, but it is something all aspiring performers dream of,” said Dr. Thomas Cockrell, director of orchestral activities and conductor of the Arizona Symphony. 

Each soloist rehearses with the symphony six to seven times before performing in the President’s Concert twice.

Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 | 7:30p
Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024 | 3:00 pm
Crowder Hall

$25 Admission: Purchase tickets

Clarissa Christina Smith

Clarissa Christina Smith, a soprano and Tucson-native, is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts under the guidance of Dr. Kristin Dauphinais and performing selections by the German composer Richard Strauss in the President’s Concert. 

“Having the chance to sing some of my most cherished songs among my colleagues is an incredibly humbling experience. I consider myself fortunate to live and create music alongside some of the most supportive and talented individuals. This opportunity is a dream come true, affirming that the hard work and dedication I’ve invested throughout my studies are recognized. It feels like my path is unfolding to reveal even more exciting opportunities.”

Kenny Kriha

Kenny Kriha, a bassoonist pursuing their Bachelor of Music with Dr. Marissa Olegario, was selected as finalist of the winds and percussion competition. They are an ardent supporter of new music by living composers and will be performing the United States premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s Bassoon Concerto. 

“This piece is not like many other concerti, especially ones written for bassoon. The music draws upon Latin themes, Choro grooves, and includes lots and lots of notes. This piece is sure to push most orchestras out of their comfort zones, but for a great purpose, as this piece is very rewarding to perform.”

Andrew Nix

Andrew Nix

Violinist Andrew Nix will be performing a classical violin concerto, the first movement of Mozart’s Fourth. The section of the concerto known as a cadenza is a moment for the soloist to perform unaccompanied and display their ability, and this time Nix will perform a self-composed cadenza in place of Mozart’s own, a practice that was common at the time of the of the concerto’s conception. Nix, also a Tucson native, represents the string area as a senior Bachelor of Music student studying with Professor Timothy Kantor

Winning as a finalist in the string concerto competition and being selected to play in the President’s Concert ultimately contributes to Nix’s primary goal “which is to eventually win an audition for principal or concertmaster of a professional orchestra,” both highly coveted positions by violinists.

Shih-Han Su

Shih-Han Su

The final student on the program is pianist and Doctor of Musical Arts candidate Shih-Han Su, a student of Dr. Daniel Linder, performing the piano concerto by the 20-century English composer Benjamin Britten. Shih-Han is one of the School of Music’s most active pianists, often performing in collaborative projects or with the University of Arizona Opera Theatre, but for her performing the Britten Concerto “represents a milestone in my musical journey, showcasing my ability to navigate highly energetic and technically demanding pieces. I appreciate the privilege of introducing this concerto to the audience, given its rarity in live performances.” 

Playing the competition-winning piece with an orchestra will offer unique challenges but also showcase the electrifying energy ingrained into the music by a capable composer who utilizes the full spectrum of timbres and characters of the symphonic ensemble. 

The President’s Concert brings attention to the hard work of these four soloists, the student performers of the Arizona Symphony, and the mentorship provided by many of the School of Music faculty. Enjoy and celebrate their achievements this weekend, starting Saturday, Feb. 3.