UTEP’s First Piano Competition Showcases Strong Talent

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

UTEP’s first ever piano competition yielded great performances, memorable experiences, and six happy winners representing the strength of musical education throughout the Southwest.

From Nov. 8-10, the UTEP Department of Music hosted 10 finalists who performed a strict set of pieces on piano at the Fox Fine Arts Center. Separate competitions were held for high school and college-level performers, all of whom played for a distinguished panel of judges including John Olsen, professor of piano at Eastern New Mexico University, and American composer Dennis Alexander, who has earned an international reputation as one of North America's most prolific and popular composers of educational piano music for students at all levels.Dennis Alexander, left, guest composer-in-residence, and students participated in a piano performance and pedagogy workshop in UTEP’s Digital Keyboard Lab. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceDennis Alexander, left, guest composer-in-residence, and students participated in a piano performance and pedagogy workshop in UTEP’s Digital Keyboard Lab. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

First place in the collegiate level went to freshman piano pedagogy major Caitlin Huizar of UTEP, who was awarded $1,000 from the Lanward Foundation. Second place was awarded to UTEP sophomore Ryan Morales, who is majoring in theory and composition; he received $750 from donor Deborah Svedman. Placing third was Carl Feaster of Central New Mexico Community College. He received a $500 prize from the Michael Salzman Endowment for Excellence in Piano Performance.

High school winners included Anna Crowder of Albuquerque, New Mexico, whose performance secured first place and a $500 award from the Lanward Foundation. Second place and $300 from the UTEP Piano Area went to Carmen Quesada of El Paso. Winning third place was Bonnie Wang, also of El Paso; her $200 prize was another donation from Svedman.

A brand new, seven-foot baby grand Kawai piano was provided by Washburn Pianos of El Paso as the official competition piano.

"The first annual UTEP Piano Competition superseded our greatest expectations with outstanding judges from off-campus and phenomenal performances by upcoming young pianists,” said Dena Kay Jones, D.M.A., associate professor of piano at UTEP. “The El Paso community came to show its support and the Department of Music Piano Faculty was really proud to show our resources here at UTEP.”

Jones reported that more than 200 people attended the competition performances and related activities held for competitors and the public. Oscar Macchioni, D.M.A., UTEP associate professor of music, led a special presentation featuring new ideas in music technology, piano performance and pedagogy at UTEP’s state-of-the-art Digital Keyboard Lab. An artists’ recital gave the public more of an opportunity to hear the performers show off what they could do.

“The UTEP Piano Area believes that offering this high-level competition of solo piano music offers budding, young pianists the opportunity to advance in the field of piano performance and pedagogy,” Jones said. “Both my colleagues and I competed during our student years, and I can honestly say that the steps taken in preparing for competition only make one a better and stronger musician, despite the outcome. We hope that it will grow for next year.”