Written By: Cole Edwards
It was music to our ears – and theirs: The Valdosta Symphony Orchestra’s recent win of the 2014 American Prize in Orchestral Performance in the community orchestral division was a sweet sound of victory.
The national prize was given in October in honor of the VSO’s live rendition of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.
Over the summer, Dr. Howard Hsu, Assistant Professor of Music and the Music Director of the VSO, submitted a live, unedited audio recording of a recent performance featuring 20 VSU music major students that featured “unamplified, live instruments that haven’t changed in 100 years.”
“We were curious how we would do as this was the first time we have ever competed,” Hsu said. “We knew we had a great performance to submit but we had no expectations of winning.”
The VSO competed against over a dozen other finalists for the first-place slot, including competition as far reaching as San Francisco and New York.
In comments released to Hsu, American Prize judges remarked that the VSO ensemble “plays with excellent intonation and balance. The individual wind and brass players are of high quality and play with lovely tone.”
Judges consisted of a national panel of orchestral teachers who honor the best performances of orchestras across the nation.
Hsu chose the Tchaikovsky piece after receiving positive feedback from the VSO’s performance of it at Whitehead Auditorium in September 2013.
A monetary prize was promised for the competition’s winner, along with written evaluations from judges and a profile on The American Prize website.
“The best thing to come out of this is the publicity the students and the department receive from the award,” Hsu said. “This may be the only time we get this kind of exposure, and I feel an importance to expose students to an art form that is not generally recognized by the public.”
The American Prize was founded in 2009 to combat the devaluation of performing arts in America. According to The American Prize website, the organization aims “to fill the gap that leaves excellent artists and ensembles struggling for visibility and viability.”
The American Prize rewards based on merit rather than the size of the orchestra or the notoriety of the artist.
Sponsored by the university, the VSO was created in 1990 as a means of enriching the cultural life of both the university and the Valdosta community.
With a constant shifting membership of students, VSU music faculty, professionals from a five-state region as well as other talented individuals in the Valdosta community, the VSO recently celebrated the opening of its 25th season as part of the College of the Art’s Year of the Arts program.