Utah Symphony’s 60th Salute to Youth concert: What it means for young musicians
This year’s 10 Salute to Youth musicians — who were selected from a total of 95 applicants — are at different stages in life, but all had at least one common goal they achieved together Tuesday night: Perform with the Utah Symphony.
SALT LAKE CITY — Some have already started pursuing music careers. Some dream of a music career — but first they have to get through middle school and high school. Some are good enough to have music careers but have chosen to pursue other passions.
Which is why just minutes before his performance at the 60th annual Salute to Youth concert, 18-year-old Gabrial Coombs sat on a piano bench talking about data analytics and entrepreneurship. He’s in his sixth week at the University of Utah, and music isn’t the focus of his studies. But music is helping him succeed.
“Music has a really good impact on people’s minds and their ability to think,” he said after running through a line from the Grieg piano concerto in A minor with conductor Conner Covington. “I love music, so I will always play throughout the rest of my life.”
Coombs and his nine fellow Salute to Youth musicians — who were selected from a total of 95 applicants — are at different stages in life, but all had at least one common goal they achieved together Tuesday night: Perform with the Utah Symphony.
The Salute to Youth concert, sponsored by the Deseret News, isn’t just a performance. It’s a noteworthy moment reflecting years of sacrifice — an event that can even make up for the tedious practice of working with a metronome.
“It provides a goal for all these students to have a date with the Utah Symphony,” Eugene Watanabe, a music teacher who did Salute to Youth three times, previously told the Deseret News. “It’s the biggest dance to be invited to for the students.”
And all of the performers, whose ages ranged from 12-18, swayed as they played. Evelyn Meiwes, the youngest performer of the night, kicked the concert off with Edouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole.” It took three auditions for 12-year-old Meiwes to land a spot in the annual Salute to Youth concert, and she wasted no time showing off her skills.
Makenzie Hart gave it her all performing Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor for violin — one of the most popular violin concertos. Hart got her first violin when she was 7 months old and began playing when she was 3, she told the Utah Symphony in a recent interview. She would often wrap her violin in a blanket and kiss it good night.
“It was just like my best friend,” she said.
That love for the violin shined bright as she dug her bow into the strings. She even gave a little smile as she nailed the highest note in the piece. After finishing the Mendelssohn, the 16-year-old violinist had five minutes to rest — enough time to change into another dress — before taking the stage again, this time with her younger sister, 14-year-old Eliza Hart, and friend Sarah Kendell, 14, in a performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto in F major for three violins and orchestra.
But before that lighthearted number, 18-year-old Mathew Lee performed on an instrument that rarely gets the chance to shine: the viola. Lee, a freshman at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, flew back to his Salt Lake City home for a chance to showcase the rich sound of the viola — an instrument he switched to two years ago after 12 years of playing the violin. His dream is to play the viola in a professional quartet, and it’s events like Salute to Youth that can help him get there.
“It’s always good to have big performance opportunities like this,” he said following his performance. “I’ve never soloed with a professional orchestra before, and it was a great experience.”
Closing out the concert’s first half was the second Mendelssohn piece of the night — the concerto for violin and piano in D minor. Before the performance, 16-year-old violinist Ellen Hayashi joked that the hardest part of the piece was “measures one to the end.”
But she really wasn’t kidding. Watching Hayashi and 13-year-old pianist Megan Tandar produce a rapid succession of notes in rhythm was impressive.
The second half was all about piano. Following Coombs’ performance, 18-year-old Avery Gunnell, a piano performance major at Brigham Young University, and 14-year-old Dora Meiwes showed off their prowess on the keys. Gunnell weaved and bobbed and seemed to feel every note of Edward MacDowell’s Concerto No. 2 in D minor, while Meiwes played with such fervor that she lifted off the bench multiple times during Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 in C minor. It was a fitting conclusion to the night, one that likewise got the audience out of their seats.
“It’s just an amazing event. The youth are so accomplished and we couldn’t be happier to be able to sponsor this night,” said Deseret News editor Doug Wilks. “Everyone’s worked so hard, and it’s so apparent. We hope to continue in this regard for a long, long time.”
“If I could even inspire one person in the audience, I would count that as an accomplishment.” — Ellen Hayashi
This year’s 10 Salute to Youth performers aren’t going to forget this night anytime soon. At its core, the annual concert is about celebrating the musicians’ hard work and accomplishments. But in sharing their passion for music, the performers also hope they’ll inspire future Salute to Youth performers down the road.
“If I could even inspire one person in the audience, I would count that as an accomplishment,” Hayashi said.