Los Alamos Students Chen And Svyatskaya Win Highest Prizes In Dennis Alexander Piano Competition

First prize winner Julia Chen, left, Dennis Alexander and second prize winner Sonya Svyatskaya. Courtesy photo
The prestigious Dennis Alexander Piano Competition was held for the sixth consecutive year March 11-13 in Albuquerque.
This year’s competition attracted the highest number of entries of any previous year with 58 young pianists entering from throughout New Mexico and Texas.
Nationally, less than half-of-one-percent of all students studying piano ever prepare for a competition. However, seven outstanding young Los Alamos pianists entered the three-day event, where each level is divided by age:
Pippa Fung, age 10 in Level II;
Julia Chen, Nicholas Mozyrsky, Lily Shevitz and Lenny Svyatsky ages 11-12 in Level III; and
Sruthi Garimella and Sonya Svyatskaya, in the highest Level IV for those 13-15 years of age.
The competition requires that each student prepares her/his own chosen repertoire from any period of music (Baroque, Classic, Romantic or Modern), but each entrant also is required to perform a work by composer Dennis Alexander from a prescribed list of his solos, specifically designated for each of the four levels. Dr. Alexander is a renown pianist and composer of more than 1,200 solo works for piano. He performs and presents piano pedagogy workshops and master classes throughout the world.
As he tells each participant, “Every single student is already a winner just by entering this challenging competition.” After relocating to Albuquerque from California, Alexander founded the annual competition in 2011 in conjunction with co-founder, Dr. Tatiana Vertrinkskaya, head of the New Mexico School of Music, an Albuquerque music academy that serves more than 500 students.
At the conclusion of each level of competition, every entrant is presented with a large certificate, a medal, and very uniquely, each participant receives a personally autographed copy of a solo work by Dennis Alexander, presented by the composer himself.
Following an award ceremony for students at each level, the final winners of that category are then announced and presented with trophies and cash prizes. An average of 16 students were entered in each of the competition levels.
The Dennis Alexander First Prize Winner for her level was Julia Chen. Her parents are Haidan Yan and Houtong Chen. She performed a powerful-but-lamenting work by Boston composer, Dianne Goolkasian-Rahbee. The work is titled Flashback: World Trade Center Disaster and was written in memoriam for a young man who was on the first plane striking the World Trade Center and who in his youth had been a former student of the composer. Her chosen Dennis Alexander work was Toccata in D minor.
The Dennis Alexander Second Prize trophy went to Sonya Svyatskaya. Her parents are Natasha Sherman and Daniil Svyatsky. She performed two works from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, Op. 37-b, The Lark and Autumn Song. She selected Dennis Alexander’s Little Big Horn, a contrasting, toccata-like work.
Both winners received trophies and generous cash prizes as well as detailed, written commentary from the three judges. The pianists were presented in recital March 13 at Keller Hall on the University of New Mexico campus. A reception for winners, families, judges and teachers followed the concert.
Among the other Los Alamos entrants, Pippa Fung and Lenny Svyatsky were awarded Honorable Mention. Their parents, respectively, are Elizabeth-Sharon and Jimmy Fung and Natasha Sherman and Daniil Svyatsky. Fung’s program included three varied pieces (Hunting Song, Berceuse, and Humoresque) by American composer Leo Ornstein and Valse Triste by Dennis Alexander. Svyatsky’s chosen program included two works of Chopin (Prelude in Em, Op. 28, No. 4 and Waltz in Am, Op. Posthumous) along with Dennis Alexander’s Black and White. Their awards also included a generous gift certificate to Albuquerque’s Music Mart Store.
Three distinguished judges from three states adjudicated the contest and provided every contestant with valuable written comments. This year’s Judges were Pianist Kim Bakkum of Taos (recently relocated to the state from Cleveland, Ohio); Dr. Timothy Burns, Pianist on the faculty of Colorado State University; and Composer-Pianist Dr. Daniel Cummings of Los Angeles. All of the Los Alamos competition entrants study with Dr. Madeline Williamson, sole proprietor of the Los Alamos Piano Studio.