This article appeared in The Town Courier.
Two young Kentlands musicians–mezzo soprano Giorgia Dallasta and violinist Natalie Hsieh– are among the first-place winners of the 15th Annual Young Artist Award, administered by the City of Gaithersburg and supported by the Kentlands Community Foundation (KCF).
Seventy-four applicants took part in the juried competition, which was open to vocal and instrumental musicians, ages 12 to 18–13 pianists; 15 singers, 26 strings (cello, violin, viola, guitar, harp); five brass (trumpet, French horn, horn) and 14 woodwind (clarinet, flute, piccolo).
According to the City’s Program Coordinator Monica Harwood, “A lot of the judges are music professionals and teachers from the Kentlands and Gaithersburg area. This year, the KCF helped me find one or two judges from the neighborhood. They all have experience performing and teaching in prestigious institutions.” She noted that they “not only judge the audition performances, but also provide individualized feedback, letting the young artists know what they have done well and how certain aspects of their performances could be improved.”
Giorgia Dallasta, a Lakelands Park Middle School seventh-grader, began singing early. “My mom says I sang before I talked—she says it was like having a bird in the crib or the car seat,” said the 13-year-old, acknowledging that she stopped singing briefly at about age 7 after a classmate found her singing “annoying. But then I decided I didn’t care what they thought.”
As this was Giorgia’s first vocal competition, she was “absolutely thrilled when she got the news,” said Jennifer Morrissey Dallasta, her mother. Giorgia “worked extremely hard to prepare, but went into it with the idea that it would help her gain experience and help her know what to expect in future years,” she added.
While Giorgia likes many kinds of music, she prefers singing Broadway show tunes and Italian arias. For the Young Artists competition, she prepared a short Baroque Italian piece, a 1930s love song and two more contemporary, challenging theatrical pieces; one was a Stephen Sondheim song. “I like Sondheim because he does such clever things with the music,” she said. “His music is hard, but once you realize what he is doing with the notes, it is easier to perform. It’s a lot of fun!”
Giorgia has taken voice lessons with Jenni McGinnis of McG Studio for five years, but also has found time to dance, act and play cello and piano; she even has a black belt in karate. Her musical theater credits are substantial. Since third grade, she has been a regular on the Arts Barn stage, in summer musical theater camps as well as with the Kensington Arts Theatre Second Stage (KAT-SS) program. In the past three years, Giorgia has played the title roles in KAT Second Stage’s “Annie” and “Matilda,” gambler/ladies’ man Sky Masterson in “Guys & Dolls” (“showing her versatility in range,” noted mom) and the Narrator in both “Aladdin” and “Into the Woods.” Giorgia will take on two roles in the company’s “Peter Pan Jr.” from March 9 to 18 at the Arts Barn.
This summer, Giorgia will hone her musical theater skills at the Broadway Artists Alliance program in New York City, where Tony-award winning singers, actors, dancers and directors will tutor her.
Of course, Giorgia’s parents are proud of her accomplishments. “She always has been at home on the stage, but she also works at it — no matter how big or small the role she plays — and she takes suggestions and criticisms to heart (though she may roll her eyes from time to time!),” said Dallasta. “Giorgia loves performing, but she also appreciates that she has a lot of hard work ahead of her if she wants to make a living at this. At 13, we think that is a healthy outlook.”
Natalie Hsieh, a 16-year-old Poolesville High School junior, has been studying violin for 11 years. With a younger brother who plays cello and a younger sister who plays violin and piano, her family, she said, is “very supportive of our aspirations in music.”
While Natalie’s “favorite period of classical music is the turn-of-the-20th century (1890s-1920s), she chose pieces out of that range for her audition. She played Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 First Movement Andantino, which “reminds (her) of fairytale ballet music.” She also played J.S. Bach’s Adagio from the First Sonata for Solo Violin. “I like this piece because it is melancholy, which is a nice contrast to this particular Prokofiev piece,” she said. “This is actually ironic for Prokofiev and Bach; Prokofiev tends to be melancholy, while Bach is happier.”
Natalie, who plans to major in violin studies in college, saw the competition “as an opportunity to play in front of a panel of judges and to use their comments to improve my skills. I was very happy that I had a good performance that day. Winning first place in the competition is just icing on the cake.”
Matt and Marie Hsieh, are “thrilled” for their daughter. “We are thankful for such an award to encourage her hard work,” they said. “Under the genuine care of her teacher, Joseph Scheer, Natalie became very determined to keep growing and perfecting her violin skills. We look forward to seeing how Natalie will grow as a young musician and hearing more stories she will tell with her violin.”
Since the competition’s inception, Arts Barn resident artist Anthony Glander has created and donated fused glass awards “for these amazing artists.” He describes this year’s piece as “a clear, thick glass triangle with a circular, multicolor, fused glass element at the top of the triangle. This all sits on top of a black and green (City of Gaithersburg color) base with an engraved plaque. The glass triangle and the circular element have been etched as well.”
In addition to this concert, Harwood said, “winning musicians are given opportunities to perform at other City of Gaithersburg and Kentlands Foundation events, such as exhibit openings in the City’s art galleries and the Foundation’s 5K Fun Run. We look forward to continuing to support the outstanding group of young musicians living in and around the City of Gaithersburg.”
The winners of the Young Artist Award Competition will perform in a 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 2 concert at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road. For tickets, $12, visit the box office or www.gaithersburgmd.gov or call 301-258-6394.