Stetson Music Students Compete, Perform Virtually

Montage of three portraits

Stetson University School of Music students are taking the stage and performing to a virtual audience during the fall semester. Viewers can watch recorded competitions and other performances on the School of Music’s YouTube channel, including the 2020 Christmas Candlelight concert on Friday, Dec. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

Zaria Graves

Student virtuosos recently performed during the Concerto and Giffin competitions. Both contests are annual Stetson traditions and opportunities for music majors to hone their skills and compete in front of a panel of judges. This year, the students recorded their performances in advance and judges rated and scored the student performances virtually.

Elené Okruashvili

The Concerto Competition is open to juniors and seniors who have passed their sophomore decision. Two winners were selected out of 21 contestants by Stetson University alumnae judges Hassan Anderson, MM, Marcin Arendt, DMA, and Jenna Siladie, MM. The champions are School of Music juniors Zaria Graves, viola performance major and French minor, and Elené Okruashvili, piano performance major. Honorable mentions include junior Ruvit Bracho Marquez, violin performance major; soprano and voice performance senior Miranda Graham; and junior Rachel Nolasco, flute performance major.

Winners will perform with the Stetson University Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Anthony Hose, ARCM, associate professor of music and orchestra at Stetson.

Anthony Hose

“The Concerto Competition is a valuable ingredient for Stetson University School of Music students to have on their resume, which reflects a high-level of achieved proficiency and shows that they took part in this competition as a winner or participant,” said Hose.

Violist Graves performed the first movement of William Walton’s “Concerto for Viola and Orchestra” and pianist Okruashvili played the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19.”

“The competition is important because it provides an opportunity to perform entire movements of pieces and a chance to play with an orchestra, which isn’t readily available to most musicians,” said Graves.

“The Concerto Competition enables students to experience the competitive atmosphere of the music world and practice under the pressure of being judged by professional musicians,” said Okruashvili. “The competition also provides students with a chance to play with an orchestra as a soloist and experience that aspect of a performance.”

The Giffin Competition, named for retired professor Harold “Prof” Giffin, requires students to perform two compositions in contrasting languages, including one art song and either one aria from an opera/oratorio or an additional art song.

Karen Coker-Merritt

“The Giffin Competition is important because it identifies an exceptional junior in voice performance by providing them with a financial award and prestige,” said event organizer Karen Coker-Merritt, DMA, assistant professor of music at Stetson.

The Giffin Competition was originally scheduled to occur during Spring 2020 when the music students were juniors, but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The competition was rescheduled for Fall 2020 after they had become seniors.

Adam Benton

Bass-baritone and voice performance senior Adam Benton took first place out of 11 contestants. Mezzo-soprano and voice performance senior Ally Fahey received second place and tenor and voice performance senior Anthony Capizzi was third. Judges were Stetson alumna Maria Zouves, MM, her husband Sherill Milnes, DMA, and Jeffrey Springer, DMA.

Benton won a School of Music scholarship for his award-winning performance. His musical selections included “Non più andrai (Le Nozze di Figaro)” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and “Fünf Lieder, Op. 105, No. 5 Verrat” by Johannes Brahms.

portrait beside piano
Russell Franks

“When I found out that I was the first-place winner, I was stunned and inundated with emotions ranging from incredulity to pride and fulfillment,” said Benton. “The world of opera and musical theatre is quite competitive. Watching your performance live and receiving detailed comments from professional judges during the Giffin Competition helps singers realize what they need to work on to improve and graduate to the next level of their musicianship.”

“The competition allows students the opportunity to present their work in a controlled, competitive atmosphere,” said Russell Franks, MM, director of Stetson Opera Theatre, who was the master of ceremonies.

-Sandra Carr