The Utah Symphony's annual Salute to Youth concert remains, in its 46th year, the Beehive State's premiere showcase for young talent.
Sponsored by the Deseret Morning News, the program provides a unique opportunity for concertgoers to see firsthand that classical music is alive, well and thriving in Utah. And it offers a valuable and unforgettable experience for young artists, many of whom are eager to pursue a career as professional musicians.
This year, eight soloists have been selected to perform with the Utah Symphony in Abravanel Hall on Tuesday:
Violinist William Hagen, 12, Salt Lake City
Cellist Catherine Willey, 13, Pleasant Grove
Pianist Caitlin Carmack, 13, Heber
Harpist Natalie Richards, 15, Pleasant Grove
Pianist Zachary Coombs, 17, Draper
Soprano Angela Garrett, 17, Murray
Flutist Christina Lee, 17, Salt Lake City
Marimba player Robyn Peterson, 17, North Logan
Music director Keith Lockhart will conduct the program, which will consist of movements from concertos by Karl Maria von Weber, Sergei Prokofiev, Julius Conus, Cecile Chaminade, Ney Rosauro, David
Popper and Marcel Tournier, along with Gaetano Donizetti's aria "O luce di quest' anima" from his opera "Linda di Chamounix."
The eight soloists were chosen through an audition held in Abravanel Hall on Aug. 19. Twenty-eight musicians qualified to take part in the audition. Judging the performances were Utah Symphony associate conductor Scott O'Neil; symphony musicians Judd Sheranian, violin, and Rusty McKinney, trombone; and freelance pianist Melissa Livengood, wife of symphony clarinetist Lee Livengood.
In order to be eligible to participate in the audition, the musicians needed to place in the top three spots in their respective musical categories during the Utah State Fair competition. The eight appearing with Lockhart and the Utah Symphony on Tuesday understand that they can consider themselves among the most talented of the many gifted young artists who live in the state.
Among this year's soloists, Willey and Coombs are carrying on family traditions. Both come from highly musical families, and both have had a number of siblings perform on Salute to Youth over the past several years.
"My older brother was on Salute to Youth six times, and my older sister was on four times," Coombs said. "Everyone in my family plays the piano."
For Tuesday's concert, Coombs will play the first movement from Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. "It's one of my favorites. It's a cool piece. I like Prokofiev, because he's all over the place."
Coombs said he's been practicing the first movement off and on for about a year. But now he's ready to start working on the other movements. "I want to learn the second movement sometime."
Competing and winning prizes is nothing new for the 17-year-old. He won first prize at this year's Utah State Fair Music Competition, and in July he was honored with the "Outstanding Pianist" award at the Utah State University Music Clinic.
Currently, the young pianist is preparing for the Music Teachers National Association competition. "That's coming up in a couple of weeks," he said. For that competition, Coombs is preparing a program that will feature music by Alberto Ginastera and Franz Liszt. "I like to have a lot of stuff to choose from."
Coombs has had quite a bit of exposure to performing in public in widely varying venues. Among other appearances, he was part of the official entertainment at the 2002 Winter Olympics. He was chosen to perform because the people organizing the Olympics event heard Coombs and his family playing at a First Night concert. "That's how I ended up playing at the Olympics. It was awesome."
For the past nine years, Coombs, who began playing the piano when he was just 4, has been a student of Gary Amano's at Utah State University. Once a week, he and his two younger sisters, and his mother, make the drive from Draper to Logan for lessons. But Coombs doesn't mind the inconvenience of a two-hour one-way commute. "He's the best," Coombs said of Amano. "He's amazing." The truth of that statement is reflected in the fact that Amano has had several of his students perform on the Salute to Youth concerts over the years.
Despite his natural talents for the piano, Coombs at this point in his life isn't sure if he'll make music his career. He is also actively involved in filmmaking. "I've always liked movies," he said. "When I was little, I messed around a lot with a camera." He's taken a few classes at Spyhop Productions and has been in their apprenticeship program.
"I love the piano," he said, "but I'm not sure if I want to continue with it. Right now, I'm leaning more towards filmmaking."