Students compete to perform with GTSO

A performer focuses intently as he competes for a chance to perform with GTSO. The annual competition gives students from all walks of life a chance play with Tech’s prestigious orchestra. // Photo by Yousef Eldahshoury Student Publications

On Sunday, Feb. 11, student pianists and violinists competed in the 2024 Tech Symphony Orchestra (GTSO) Concerto Competition. Competitors played a concert with a piano accompaniment that mirrored an orchestra.

This year, nine competitors entered the competition and played their selected concerto for a panel of two judges who selected a winner and runner-up. The winner is awarded the opportunity to perform with the GTSO symphony orchestra, Tech’s more advanced orchestra group, and the runner-up has the chance to perform with GTSO’s concert orchestra.

The competitors played their short pieces in the West Village Concert Hall. The judges and audience watched each performance as competitor took center stage.

Competitors were not required to be previously affiliated with GTSO or to be a part of a particular school or major to compete. The competition was also open to any musical instrument.

Some competitors partnered with a piano accompanist they knew, but others used a GTSO-provided accompanist, Eric Jenkins, who worked with them on their piece. Most of those who used their own accompanist worked with a friend they could trust for support on the piano.

The Technique spoke to Chaowen Ting, Director of Orchestral Studies at the Institute, about the competition and the opportunity it gives students on campus.

“The concerto is a very traditional standard format for Western classical musicians. The word comes from the word cello, which is from Italian or Latin — it means to compete. The soloist has an as important or even sometimes more important role than an orchestra, and the two perform together,” Ting said.

Ting also explained her hopes for the competition to offer a unique oppotunity for people to come out and support the ones closest to them.

“[We want] people to come to cheer for their friends. It’s always very exciting to see your friend shine as a soloist instead of in an orchestra. People come to the orchestra concert to support their friends, too, but in an orchestra, their friend is just one of 100,” Ting said.

The Technique also spoke to competitors during a sound check minutes before they were about to perform for the judges and supporters. One student, Amartya Kallingal, first-year CS, was a member of GTSO last semester but had to leave this semester due to class conflicts.

Kallingal explained that he had not participated in a competition since high school but still took private lessons to practice his skills. He said performing as a soloist is much different than performing as part of an orchestra.

“When you are a part of an orchestra, you have people around you that dictate your actions. As a soloist, you must rely on your piano accompaniment and knowledge. It is like comparing pick-up basketball with five vs. five basketball,” Kallingal said.

Kallingal chose to perform Johannes Brahms’ “Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77” for his performance in front of the judges with Jenkins as his accompanist. He explained that, while performing at the competition, he takes certain steps to ensure he is operating at his best.

“I try to tune everything out and focus on the piece internally. I know what I can do on autopilot if needed. It is important for me to look at the violin and not get distracted by the world around me,” Kallingal said.

Another competitor, Noah Hur, second-year ME, explained that he entered this year’s competition in attempt to perform better than he did the previous year that saw him receive an honorable mention.

Hur also explained his strategy to mentally prepare before the competition by not thinking about his actions and achieving a flow-like state; however, he said he is thinking about the prize in the back of his mind. This stratedy allows him to be at his best.

“It would mean the world to me to be able to perform with GTSO. It is not every day that you get to work with a symphony orchestra,” Hur said.

Jenkins explained his role in the process and the difficulties in ensuring that all the competitors have a solid accompanying piece to work along with.

“My job is to distill an orchestra down to two hands. I have very limited time to work with each competitor individually, so it is a combined effort to make sure we are on the same page,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins further explained that he enjoys playing for the competition and is happy to volunteer his time to work with these students. Jenkins also mentioned that he was highly impressed with the wide range of backgrounds and majors represented at the competition.

The two judges, Ling-Ju Lai and Grant Gilman, are both musicians Ting directly chose for the panel and made the final decision on the winners.

Lai, who also judged in the GTSO competition two years prior, is a concert pianist from Taiwan. She revealed some of her judging criteria to the Technique.

“I’m looking for technical ability and how well the competitor works with the accompanying piano. I want to know how well they will work collaboratively. I am also looking for a performer who is charismatic,” Lai said.

Ting believes that the competition allows students to share their musical ability where it is not at the forefront of people’s minds in a technical school.

“This tradition is a way to showcase [students’] performance, virtuosity, skills, and musicality … it is a way for students to continue their passion and love for music and have a rare chance to play with an orchestra as a soloist,” Ting said.

After the event ended, the judges announced the winner and runner-up less than an hour after the conclusion. Hur took the top spot and will perform with GTSO next fall. Elias Cho, third-year CS, came in second and will have the honor to play with the concert orchestra this April.