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Klein String Competition Semifinalists Named

March 26, 2019

When the Irving M. Klein International String Competition returns to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, June 1-2, it will have nine semifinalists vie for prizes:

* James Baik, cello, 17; attends New Trier High School, Wilmette IL; student of Hans Jørgen Jensen

* Dakota Cotugno, cello, 23; attends University of Colorado; student of David Requiro (Klein’06)

* James Hettinga, cello, 19; attends Cleveland Institute of Music; student of Dr. Melissa Kraut

* Julia Mirzoev, violin, 22; attends Yale University; student of Ani Kavafian

* Zechariah Mo, viola, 17; studies at Music Institute of Chicago; student of Roland and Almita Vamos

* Gabriel Polinsky, bass, 20; attends Curtis School of Music, Philadelphia; student of Hal Robinson and Edgar Meyer

* Strauss Shi, violin, 23; attends University of Southern California; student of Midori Goto

* Lucia Ticho, cello, 21; attends Columbia University; student of Richard Aaron

* Hannah White, violin, 19; attends the Colburn School, Los Angeles; student of Robert Lipsett

There were 118 entrants, from 17 countries, but all nine semifinalists are U.S.-based. Note the prestigious institutions and famous teachers involved here, just as Klein winners of past competitions make up an impressive list, including Alyssa Park (1989), Jennifer Koh (1993), Vadim Gluzman (1993) and Alban Gerhardt (1989).

Among past winners and participants are today’s principal chairs in some top orchestras, such as those of Philadelphia and Cleveland, the New York Philharmonic, and the Boston Symphony.

The competition director is Mitchell Sardou Klein, music director and conductor of the Peninsula Symphony and founding music director of the Peninsula Youth Orchestra. He is the son of the late Irving Klein in whose memory the string competition was established. 

At the semifinal round on June 1, each performer will play an unaccompanied work of Bach, movements from notable concertos, and a new commissioned composition by Carlos Oliver Simon. In the final round, on June 2, the young artists perform additional portions of their selected concerto and one major sonata movement.

General admission is free on June 1 for the 10 a.m.–4 p.m. semifinals in the Conservatory’s Concert Hall; reserved seating is $10. On the following day, for the finals, beginning at 3 p.m., tickets — from $10 to $25 — are available in advance from Eventbrite or at the door.

Asked about the 2019 season, Marcy Straw, executive director of the California Music Center, which is home to the Klein Competition, mentioned Gabriel Polinsky as “that rare semifinalist — a double bass player, after two years of no bass entries at all, and only a handful of bass winners over 33 years.”

She recalled that similarly to the 2016 first-place winner, Will Langlie-Miletich, “Gabe studies at Curtis, also under the tutelage of Edgar Meyer. Fun fact: his brother Ike is also pursuing a career as a double bassist. Imagin[e] rehearsal at home!”

Hannah White, Straw says, hails from the Milwaukee area; she is 19 and has been playing the violin for 13 years. “She has racked up awards at a large number of competitions, including third place at the 2014 Sphinx Competition for the Junior Division at the age of 13.” She’s a member of the Sphinx Organization, the social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. 

“Our composer this year is Carlos Oliver Simon,” says Straw. “I first heard him at the screening of the film music fellows’ work at the Sundance Film Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound last summer. He’s a really interesting and up-and-coming composer of color whose recent work has address issues of inequity and race in America. [And] he has the distinction of having toured with Jennifer Holliday as her music director.”

The jury includes violist Cathy Basrak (Klein winner ’95), assistant principal viola of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and principal viola of the Boston Pops Orchestra; Daniel Carlson, principal second violin with the San Francisco Symphony; violinist Nikki Chooi (Klein winner ’09) a prominent soloist and concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for the 2016-17 season; this year’s commissioned composer, Carlos Oliver Simon; Amir Eldan (Klein winner ’97), professor of cello and chair of the string department at the Oberlin Conservatory; violinist Ian Swensen, chair of S.F. Conservatory’s string department; and Barbara Day Turner, founder and music director of the San José Chamber Orchestra. Ariel Horowitz (Klein winner ’15) will serve as mentor.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].