Just as spring breathes life into the new year, the Energy Corridor of Houston Orchestra (ECHO) is bringing a fresh twist to its programming with performances from the winners of its inaugural Young Artists Concert Competition. The concert takes place 7 p.m. on April 20 at Houston Christian High School, 2700 West Sam Houston Parkway North.
A pre-show performance from Inprint Houston’s Poetry Buskers starts at 6 p.m., but more on that later.
Out of a total of 18 contestants, Lauren Mathews, a freshman at Seven Lakes High School, and Ping Jing Toong, a sophomore at Tompinks High School, emerged as the two winners. They will both play solos at the concert.
Titled “Just For the Fun of It,” the performances will feature works inspired by youth including “The Montagues and The Capulets” from Romeo and Juliet by Sergi Prokofieff, Orphee aux Enfers by Jacques Offenbach, Concerto No. 1 for Cello “Prelude” by E. Lalo, Violin Concerto, Op. 47 Mvmt. 1 by Jean Sibelius and more.
“In this era where everything is about what you can do on your phone and what you can do with video games, we want to introduce and encourage kids to get involved with music, which involves a lot more attention but is also wonderful and meaningful and can be a lifelong pursuit,” said Mike Fahey, ECHO’s musical director and conductor.
Mathews started started studying at age five and was the Junior Division winner of the 2016-17 Houston Civic Symphony Concerto Competition and also won the 2015 Houston Youth Symphony Philharmonic Concerto Competition.
Music runs in Mathews’ family. Both her parents have played with ECHO in the past, and she gained an interest in cello by hearing her mother play.
“When I was in pre-school, I would always hear my mom practicing her cello around the house, and it made me want to play as well,” she said. “When I was in pre-school, I sat on Santa’s lap and asked for a cello, and then I got one!”
Her string sister, Toong, is also an accomplished musician. She received the Outstanding Soloist Award in 2017 in the University Interscholastic League competition and was selected Texas Music Educators Association All-State Honor String Orchestra. She also is an accomplished piano player.
“It will be a very good learning opportunity for me because paying violin with an orchestra is so different than playing piano,” she says. “I have to lead so many people at one time and make them understand how I want to express the music.”
Fahey touts the benefits of music will come in handy for student musicians down the road.
“Kids who study music have qualities [colleges are] looking for: Work ethic, discipline, creativity, perseverance and the ability to work as as a team,” he said. “You can’t just be smart. You have to be able to work with others to be successful. More importantly, those are ancillary benefits you carry as an enjoyment of music.”
Competitions and showcases of this type might be new for ECHO, but other Houston organizations have held similar competitions through the years. Theatre Under The Stars hosts the Tommy Tune Awards, which spotlights high school musical theater talent. The Houston Symphony Ima Hogg Competition is open to young musicians, ages 16-26 who play standard orchestral instruments or piano. Countless other competitions take place around the city annually.
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Let’s not forget about those poetry buskers, though. Inprint’s Executive Director Rich Levy will provide his personal 1960’s manual typewriter for the orchestra to use on the piece titled “The Typewriter” by Leroy Anderson. The piece will feature a typewriter soloist. Also, in keeping with the theme, ECHO invited three poetry buskers to provide on-the-spot poetry during a pre-show at 6 p.m., and they will distribute the poetry during the orchestra’s intermission. Also, in keeping with the theme, ECHO invited three poetry busters to provide on-the-spot poetry during a pre-show at 6 p.m., and they will distribute the poetry during the orchestra’s intermission.
Fahey leaves with one parting note.
He says, “Families are always encouraged to bring children, but it’s not necessarily a children’s concert. The concert is intended for young adults and young at heart.”
There is a 6 p.m. pre-show followed by the 7 p.m. concert on April 20 at Houston Christian High School, 2700 West Sam Houston Parkway North. For tickets or more info, visit echorchestra.org. $10-$12