Contest allows teens to showcase their musical prowess

Performers hit a high note



The Columbia Orchestra's guest soloists tomorrow night will have young faces but many years of musical experience.

Thirteen-year-old Patricia Wnek of Germantown and 17-year-old Jennifer Leung of Ellicott City started playing instruments when they were 4.

They are the 2006 junior and senior division winners of the orchestra's annual Young Artist Competition, having been chosen by a panel of three judges from about 35 instrumentalists who live, attend school or study music in Howard County.

Each year, the winners get a little bit nervous before the performance, said Annette Szawan, chairwoman of the contest. "But it amazes me they just perform so well. We have an eighth-grader playing a Bruch violin concerto. I wouldn't want to tackle that."

Wnek, who is home-schooled, chose Max Bruch's Concerto in G Minor.

She said she went to her first violin concert when she was 2 and started playing when she was 4. Now she said she tries to practice five hours each day.

"I love the competitions and the recitals, and it's just an exciting experience," she said. "It is a challenge to make progress and [learn] all the different techniques."

Wnek recalled she took very naturally to the violin.

She said: "I think God gave me a lot of talent, and I think it was pretty easy, although it takes a lot of work perfecting [the techniques]."

For the past two years, Wnek has studied with Rebecca Henry at the Peabody Institute Preparatory. She is part of the Peabody Prep chamber music program, violin choir and sinfonietta.

Her biography states that she has played as a soloist in more than 100 recitals and has appeared as a soloist with several orchestras, including the Trinity Chamber Orchestra of Washington.

She has won numerous competitions, including the 2006 Peabody Preparatory Junior Concerto Competition, the Feder Memorial String Competition sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Maryland State Music Teachers Association Chamber Music Competition.

"It is so enjoyable," said Wnek, who also plays piano and takes ballet lessons. "I just think if I work hard enough maybe I can share my music with other people."

Leung, a senior at Howard High School, also got an early start with music, playing piano at 4 and begging her parents to let her take up the violin at 8.

"I can't really imagine myself not playing the violin because it has been with me so long," Leung said.

She is considering majoring in business and music in college and would like a career as a soloist.

Her biography says she has been studying violin with Ronald Mutchnik for nine years and is concertmistress of the Howard Regional Youth Orchestra and the Howard High School Orchestra. She has played with the Maryland All-State Orchestra.

She is treasurer of her Senior Class Board, a member of the math team and the National Honor Society, a competitive swimmer and a member of a Chinese dance group.

Leung said at the competition she focused on opening up emotionally to the audience - something she has found challenging in the past.

"I forgot about everything, and I just played," she said.

She said she was aided by her choice of music, Baal Shem, composed by Ernest Bloch, which is "so emotional and it's so captivating."

Szawan said the orchestra hopes the competition will be a learning experience and not just a search for the most talented players.

"I want, from an educational standpoint, for teachers to say, `What could this do to help my students,' " Szawan said.

The Columbia Orchestra will feature the Young Artist Competition winners at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia. Information: www.columbia or 410-465-8777.

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