Christopher Saba of Charlotte wowed the audience Saturday, taking first place in the high-school division of the inaugural Wingate University Piano Competition with his rendition of a Beethoven sonata and a Chopin ballad. Saba earned a scholarship to the University, as did second-place winner Santiago Matute from Fort Mill, South Carolina.
A student of Randy Jones, Matute also played a Beethoven piece in addition to “Gargoyles Op. 29” by American composer Lowell Liebermann. Saba, whose teachers are Pamela Mullins and Paul Nitsch, was presented with a $21,000-a-year music scholarship for piano studies at Wingate, a $300 cash prize and an offer to perform in the Decades Recital next spring. Matute earned an identical scholarship and $200 cash.
Both cash prizes were made possible by Miller Piano Company, a Charlotte business started by the sons of Ohio piano manufacturer Edwin Miller in 1978 and now in its third generation.
Joining Saba and Matute in the winner’s circle at the Batte Center were middle-school pianists Olivia Yang of Charlotte, first place; and Aristotle Bernard from Waxhaw, second place. Yang, a student of Irena Hramenkova, played a Chopin ballad. Bernard played a Tchaikovsky piece, “Baba-Yaga (The Witch).” His teacher is Rita Mables.
In addition to a $300 cash prize and an invitation to perform again at Wingate in the spring, Yang received the Charlotte Area Foundation for Music and Art Award. Established to support “young artists and musicians pursuing their studies to a high standard of beauty and excellence,” the nonprofit funds grants for summer camp, private lessons, instruments, art supplies and more.
Bernard’s $200 cash award was funded by alumni Carrie Kessler Mabry, Scott Kessler, Jennifer Bess Kessler and Amy Kessler Jackson in memory of their grandmother, Helena Munn, who loved to play piano and served her church for many years as pianist and organist.
Pieces performed in the Saturday-morning contest ranged from classical to ragtime, and competitors came from throughout the region. Following their performances, internationally acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Gilliam taught a master class to University students Jordan Locke, Sarah Summers, Caroline Boyuka and Carlo Ortega.
Gilliam taught Wingate University assistant professors David Brooks and Annie Brooks, both of whom served as organizers and judges of the competition. The head piano professor at Western Washington University and a two-time winner of the Fulbright Award, Gilliam gave a recital at the Batte Center on the eve of the competition.
Oct. 10, 2017