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a crescendo of young musical talent
Story by Audrey Hanes, Photo by Amy Long

As the Delta Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Concerto Concert celebrates
its 24th year, the annual concert and the competition leading up to it continue
to serve as a creative outlet for talented young musicians from across the
country. The founder of both the competition and the Delta Symphony
Orchestra itself, Dr. Neale Bartee, is passionate about the importance of supporting young musicians as the competition continues to gain widespread support and interest.

“I initiated the idea of the YAC in 1988,” said the well-respected music director and conductor, who worked with his wife, Elaine, to get the project started. “Where I grew up in Springfield, Mo., we had orchestras in every school and talent contests like this through the youth symphony. Having string players in every school gave us the chance to learn some of the greatest literature in the history of music.

“We had a lot help in getting it started in Jonesboro. Geoffrey Pugh donated the
original prize money of $1,500, and Ann Patton donated the first $100 for the Neale Bartee prize for outstanding high school student in the Northeast Arkansas region in 1995. We are grateful for the sponsors who continue to support our contest.”

Each year, young musicians from across the country submit audition recordings for the competition. Qualifying applicants are invited to audition in five categories: piano, brass and percussion, voice, strings and woodwinds.
The competition itself took place on Jan. 11, where 19-year-old percussionist Michael Barnes from Lawton, Okla., and 24-year-old cellist Nathan Cottrell from Memphis, Tenn., were named the 2014 grand prize winners. Other category winners include 25-year-old Genevieve Kimbrough of Jonesboro in the vocal category, 10-year old Conner Dang and 13-year-old Elizabeth Dang of Memphis, Tenn., in the piano category as a duo and saxophonist 20-year-old Eric Stults of Norman, Okla., in the woodwinds category. In the high school division of the competition, Valley View High School flutist Charlotte Jeong was named the recipient of the Neale Bartee Outstanding High School Musician Award.

“The competition has grown in quality of entrants and has drawn interest from a wider base,” said Bartee, who is also a professor of music and conductor of the Arkansas State University Concert Orchestra. “We have had people enter from California, Florida, Texas, Chicago and New York. … The students prepare for a long period of time to memorize and perfect one piece of music. They experience the discipline of long-term focus and concentration. The reward is not only in the winning, but the undergoing of the process of developing musical expression.”

The Young Artist Concerto Concert will take place on Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. in ASU’s
Fowler Center. Both grand prize winners will perform solos with the Delta Symphony Orchestra: Barnes with the Saudação and Despedida movements of Marimba Concerto by Ney Rosauro, and Nathan Cottrell with Schelomo by Ernest Bloch.

The February concert will also feature a 200-voice children’s chorus composed of
fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students from several schools in the region. Bartee’s wife helps coordinate the music and rehearsals for the young musicians and is invested in music education, as well; she and her husband were both elected to the Music Educators Hall of Fame and received the Governor’s Award for Arts in Education.

“It is very important to have young students play solos with an orchestra,” said
Bartee. “It is part of the repertoire for singers and instrumentalists to sing arias and play concertos. The DSO is the only professional symphony in the area to provide this opportunity. It also gives the chance for the grade school singers in our concert to hear talented musicians near their age who have accomplished so much.” The concert is a special opportunity for everyone involved, but Bartee says the production cost of such a symphony concert is expensive.

“To maintain a quality series of performances throughout the year is very difficult,” he said. “We need continual financial support of the community and people to attend concerts.”

Next up this spring, the DSO is partnering with the Jonesboro Hispanic Services
Center to host educational events and a concert of music with Hispanic background.

Guest artist Marcela Pinela of Memphis will perform as a soloist with the symphony and will work with students during the week on musical projects at the center.

For more information about the Delta Symphony Orchestra, visit deltasymphony.org. To purchase tickets to the Young Artist Concerto Concert, go to astate.edu/tickets.

Past Winners Where are They Now?
1988 winner Andrew Skoog teaches voice at the University of Tennessee.
1988 winner Jon Hynes was accepted at the Paris Conservatory.
1989 winner Joanna Cotton was accepted into Julliard.
1991 winner David Herring is a successful composer and publisher.
1992 winner Aroussiak Baltaian won the national MTNA contest the
following year.
1993 winner Rossitza Jekova is a violin teacher at the University of Arkansas.
1993 winner Tony Kitai was accepted at Eastman and now performs in the Houston Symphony.
1995 winner Tyrone Block is finishing his doctorate at the University of
North Texas.
1995 winner Amanda Bone plays professionally in Europe.
1996 winner Philip Ross is a professional oboist with the St. Louis
2000 winner Jerry Hou conducts orchestras in Europe.
2002 winner Marty Bishop serves as a trumpeter in U.S. military bands.
2004 winner Linnaea Brophy was accepted into the New England
2005 winner Garrett Overcash is a professional arranger in Seattle.
2012 winner William Overcash was accepted into Oberlin College &
2012 winner Renee Smith sings professionally in Texas.