`Hidden treasures,' rising stars

Clarinetist Dubac, graduate of Atholton High and the Juilliard School, wins $5,000

April 20, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

People have compared the Howard County Arts Council's Rising Star Competition - held as part of the organization's annual fund-raising gala - to the television show American Idol.

The competition does involve talented people performing for an enthusiastic audience that votes for a winner. But when there are whoops and whistles for a modern dance performance; contestants sing in French and Italian; and the winner plays classical clarinet, it is clear the council has created an event all its own.

Mark Dubac, a graduate of Atholton High School and the Juilliard School, received the $5,000 Rising Star Award at the Celebration of the Arts on Saturday night. As one of nine contestants performing at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia, he played a piece called "Rigoletto Fantasy" by Luigi Bassi, accompanied by pianist Sylvie Beaudoin.

Dubac bested two modern dancers who choreographed their own works; a country singer/songwriter; a pianist; and four vocalists singing opera, pop and classical pieces.

All of the competitors must have lived, worked or studied in Howard County for at least two consecutive years and passed an audition in January. The award is intended to help the winner move ahead with his or her professional artistic career.

Dubac, who is studying with Todd Levy of the Milwaukee Symphony and teaching at the University of Wisconsin's Peck School of the Arts, said he will use the money to travel to auditions across the country, as well as for other expenses.

He also said he hopes his participation in the contest laid the groundwork for future performances in the area.

"The money and recognition are certainly a big help," he said.

He added, "The audience gave amazing feedback. ... People were very supportive."

When asked by master of ceremonies Denise Koch about his start on the clarinet, Dubac said, "My parents made me, but I've grown to like it."

Later, he said he was particularly inspired to pursue music by his early teachers, including Sidney Forrest, who taught Dubac in Kensington, and by playing in numerous ensembles at Atholton.

Along with up-and-coming performing artists, the event showcased some of Howard County's many arts organizations. Members of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts' Teen Professional Program offered selections from the musical Ragtime. Seven dancers from the Hua Sha Chinese Dance Center, in vivid red-and-white costumes, did a Mongolian dance. And Carole Graham Lehan, a professional singer and local music teacher, closed the evening with a song-and-dance number.

The evening began with food from 24 restaurants and caterers and more live entertainment. In the building's smaller black box theater, guests examined about 100 paintings, drawings, pieces of jewelry and sculptures during a silent auction.

Some, like Jeff Agnor, an attorney from Clarksville, hovered near the bidding sheets to make sure they were not outbid. He said he was eager to buy a brightly colored, whimsical clock by artist Nichole Hickey, whose work he described as "outrageous and bold and delicious."

Agnor, who attended the gala with his daughter Rachel, 6, said the event was "big and intense" for a county the size of Howard. "It brings out all the hidden treasures in the county," he said.

His sentiment was echoed by Anne Barney, president of the art council's board of directors.

"Don't we have some really fine homegrown talent here in our county?" she asked the audience.

She said, the past seven galas have raised $478,000, which the council has used to give grants to local arts organizations and scholarships to Howard County students among other programs. After this year's event - which was the first Celebration of the Arts to sell out - she said the council expects to pass the $500,000 mark.

Now that the council has hit upon a popular format, the Rising Star contest is here to stay, said Jenny Leopold, one of the event's co-chairs.

"It just gets great feedback," she said.

Before the contest, Leopold's daughter, Rebecca, 12, was looking forward to her role as audience member and judge.

"I'm a dancer so I hope a dancer wins," she said.

She added, "It's great to see the winner's face when they find out that they've won."

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