The Future Plays Now

Chamber music takes center stage in Davidson this month.

Four of the most talented young ensembles from across the U.S. will travel to Davidson this month to compete in the Young Chamber Musicians Competition on April 23. Each will walk away with a cash prize, and one will win a recording session and paid gig.

Hosted by Classical Public Radio 89.9 WDAV, the competition is more than a weekend event—it’s an investment in the future. By celebrating and nurturing the talents of young chamber musicians, the radio station and its partners believe they are helping the next generation of classical musicians grow and thrive.

“There are very few chamber music competitions focused exclusively on young and aspiring ensembles,” WDAV’s Director of Marketing Will Keible says. “We’ve worked hard to find ways to provide a meaningful experience for them.”

Now in its fourth year, the competition draws musicians ages 14 to 25 from top U.S. institutes such as Oberlin, Julliard, the New England Conservatory, and the Cleveland Institute of Music—even from abroad. Each ensemble must submit two audition videos, playing music of different styles and time periods, and a panel of notable judges selects four finalists (two chamber groups per age division). Those groups travel to Davidson to perform live for an audience in Davidson College’s Duke Family Performance Hall and for listeners of the live radio broadcast. This year, the performance also will be live-streamed on the Young Chamber Musicians Competition Facebook page, as well as on WDAV’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“Chamber music, especially nowadays, has become more popular—there are a lot of young groups out there,” says Noah Krauss, a cellist with last year’s competition winner, Onyx Quartet. “Competitions like [the Young Chamber Musicians Competition] get young chamber groups to get out there and be heard and stand out.”

The opportunity to be broadcast live to an audience of thousands is just one way the Young Chamber Musicians Competition differs from most other ensemble competitions.

“We have constructed this competition to provide a VIP experience for the ensembles that travel to Davidson College,” Keible says—much different from the “cattle call” feel of other competitions, where groups fend for themselves until they are ushered in to perform for the judges. With support from presenting sponsor OrthoCarolina, and additional support from Quo Vadis, Sharon Towers, Steinway Piano Gallery of Charlotte, Charlotte Eye Ears Nose & Throat Associates, and Woodlawn School, WDAV provides transportation, lodging, meals, and entertainment for the musicians for the duration of their stay.

It also furnishes a cash prize of $12,000 shared among the finalists. The winning ensemble gets the biggest share of the money, as well as a two-day professional recording session at WDAV’s studio with Grammy Award-winning producer Bruce Scott, and a paid solo performance as part of Davidson College’s annual Concert Series.

“The opportunity to record an album is a huge deal for a young ensemble,” Keible says, as often they don’t have the means or the access to do so. “Performance opportunities are also a really big deal for aspiring musicians.”

That sort of meaningful impact is what drove OrthoCarolina to partner with WDAV in support of the competition. “One of the foundation’s strategic initiatives is to give back to the communities in which we do business,” says Blair Primis, vice president of marketing and PR for OrthoCarolina. He and Keible hatched the idea for a competition focused on young classical musicians over coffee one day. “We asked, ‘How do we create something that engages the classical music audience in new ways?’” Primis says. He called the competition “a monumental success.”

“It was really fun the way it was all set up,” Krauss says. “I haven’t had such a good time at any other competition.” The low-stress environment kept the focus on the music more than the competition, and that actually helped his quartet practice and perform better, he says.

“WDAV has a vested interest in the future of classical music,” Keible says, and cash rewards alone are not going to ensure that future. “We want our finalists to be able to play for the joy of performing music.” 

Photos provided by WDAV