LAHS Freshman, Presley Gao, Wins Jackie McGehee Young Artists’ Piano Concerto Competition

Steinway Artist Jacquelyn Helin with her student Presley Gao who won The Music Guild of New Mexico’s Jackie McGehee Young Artists’ Competition Feb. 13 at the Keller Hall at UNM. Courtesy photo


Presley Gao, 13, won The Music Guild of New Mexico’s Jackie McGehee Young Artists’ Competition Feb. 13 at the Keller Hall at UNM.

Gao played the first movement of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, accompanied by his teacher, Steinway Artist Jacquelyn Helin, on the second piano.

As the first place winner, Gao received a cash award of $2,000 plus several solo performances with the New Mexico Philharmonic, including:

  • March 16 at the Tanoan Country Club Clubhouse in Albuquerque for the Music Guild of New Mexico Quarterly Membership Luncheon.
  • April 24 at 2 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Albuquerque at a Neighborhood Concert.
  • May 28 at 8 p.m. at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque at the Annual Summer Night ConcertSeries.

Gao has been studying piano since age six and is currently a student of Steinway Artist Jacquelyn Helin. First place winner of the New Mexico MTNA Junior Piano Competition for two years in both 2013 and 2014, Gao has also won many other competitions: 

  • First place in District Honors for three consecutive years (2010, 2011, 2012) and first place in the State Honors Level One (2010) and Level Two (2012).
  • In 2013, he won the highest level (level 8/9/10) of the Santa Fe Sonata Contest.
  • In 2012, at age 10, Gao had his solo piano recital at the Los Alamos Crossroad Bible Church.
  • Awarded PMTNM’s Danfelser Scholarship in 2012, Gao has been an Epik Artist of Performance Santa Fe for 2014 -2015 and 2015 – 2016 seasons.

Since 1992, the Music Guild of New Mexico (MGNM) has held an annual concerto competition for young musicians in the state. This event is named for Jackie McGehee, a long-time NMSG/MGNM member and past president of the NMSG, who spearheaded and underwrote the event at its beginning and continues to underwrite the program.

This event has become a nationally recognized and one of the premier competitions in the state and provides monetary awards for the winners and opportunities to perform with a professional orchestra. Many nationally-known musicians have traveled to Albuquerque from all over the U.S. to adjudicate this competition. The competition is open to New Mexico students aged 13 through senior in high school.

Steinway Artist, Jacquelyn Helin, consistently wins acclaim for her vibrant and musical playing of a wide-ranging repertoire. She has performed in recital and with orchestras in the major music capitals of Europe and the United States. As winner of the Artists International Competition, Jacquelyn Helin played her New York debut to a sold-out audience in Carnegie Recital Hall; she made her European debut in London’s Wigmore Hall.

Helin has served as Music Director of the United Church of Santa Fe since 2005. She maintains a large private studio in Santa Fe and teaches the piano majors at the New Mexico School for the Arts; many of her students regularly win top prizes in competitions. Helin holds a B.M. from the University of Oregon; an M.A. from Stanford University; and a D.M.A. from The University of Texas at Austin where she studied with John Perry. Her recordings for New World and Musical Heritage have garnered critical acclaim and she was a featured artist in the PBS documentary, “Virgil Thomson at 90.”