Two Columbia County teens captured the top spots at the 2009 Augusta Symphony Youth Competition.
Pianist Mi El Jang, a 2008 graduate of Evans High School, and marimbist Thomas Newton, a freshman at Lakeside High School, won first and second place, respectively, at the competition, which was held Jan. 25 at Augusta State University's Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre.
"I actually thought I wasn't going to win, and so I was kind of surprised," said Jang, who performed Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saens. "I thought the person before me did really good."
Jang, 18, a freshman at ASU, finished in third place in the competition during the past two years. She said she returned because she wanted to win and play with the orchestra.
Thomas participated this year for the first time and also said his win was unexpected.
"It was great to see all my hard work pay off," the 14-year-old said. "There were a lot of other good contestants. I was actually almost surprised that I won because there were so many good people that tried out."
The competition showcased 10 students between the ages of 13 and 18, said Jennifer Witcher, the Augusta Symphony's director of education and community engagement. The young musicians came from throughout the area and performed on the piano, clarinet, marimba, cello and violin. The two winners were selected by Augusta Symphony Music Director Donald Portnoy and Assistant Conductor Neil Casey.
Thomas said he practiced for at least a few months before the competition. He performed Brazilian composer Ney Rosauro's Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra I on the marimba, a percussion instrument that resembles a large xylophone.
"I have some natural talent, but I have to practice a lot to learn very complicated pieces like this," he said. "I really liked the sound of the piece, and it was really creative."
Jang received a prize of $200, while Thomas won $100.
Witcher said she believes the students were excited just to perform their pieces alongside an orchestra.
"That's just a whole different thing and a big thrill," she said. "Especially after all that work, oh my goodness, you deserve a thrill."
An Augusta Symphony concert featuring The Greater Augusta Youth Orchestra and performances by Jang and Thomas will be held at 3 p.m. April 26 at ASU.
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