What: Central Oregon Symphony Winter Concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Monday [CANCELED]; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Bend High School, 230 NE Sixth St., Bend

Cost: Free, but ticket required; complimentary tickets available at: Roundabout Books and Dudley’s BookShop Cafe in Bend; Herringbone Books in Redmond; Sunriver Books & Music; Paulina Springs Books in Sisters

Contact: cosymphony.com

Each year, musical youth from around Central Oregon and the state tune their instruments and vie for top honors in Central Oregon Symphony Association Young Artist Competition. Come February, the talented young musicians take center stage as guest soloists performing alongside the community orchestra during the Winter Concert.

This year’s Winter Concert will take place Saturday through Monday at Bend High School.

In the 2018 Young Artist Competition, first place was taken by Eponine Bell, soprano, a junior at Mountain View High School in Bend.

Second and third went to a pair of pianists from Portland. Jacob Nenow, an eighth-grader, came in second, and Felix Tse, a 16-year-old from Beaverton, finished in third.

“All three of them are prize winners of various competitions that are germane to what they do,” Maestro Michael Gesme said.

Eponine Bell

Eponine has also made strong showings in competitions including the Northwest Region Student Auditions, which is held by the National Association of Teachers of Singing, simply known as the “NATS.”

“This is a huge, huge nationwide competition that starts at the local-slash-regional level, and the winners go on to the next level,” Gesme said. “That’s the kind of stuff she’s been up to.” Eponine has also won support from the Sunriver Music Festival’s Young Artist Scholarship the past three years.

On this weekend’s concert, the soprano will sing “In Uomini, in Soldate,” a piece from the opera “Cosi fan Tutte.”

Eponine counts the song among her favorites to perform, along with “Mandoline” and “Romance,” two pieces by Claude Debussy.

“‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ is very difficult to translate into English, but it loosely means ‘Women Are Like That,’ Eponine said by email. “In Uomini, in Soldati’ is sung by Despina, the maid to two girls who are weeping over their loved ones going to war. Despina laughs at them, and the piece is her going on to the girls about the infidelity of men and how they are a waste of effort, that we should love at our own delight instead of theirs. It is fun to sing an aria with an almost comedic feeling, as opposed to the serious quality many arias contain.”

Eponine fell in love with singing at a young age, she said, always preferring classical to jazz or pop forms.

“Ever since I could talk, I have been singing, and since then, I have constantly fallen deeper and deeper in love with music,” she said. “Singing, for me, is one of the greatest passions in life. I wanted to be able to train and become the best singer I could, as, I have only ever been interested in classical and operatic forms of vocal arts, which is incredibly technical.”

To that end, she studies piano and vocal performance weekly with instructor Angelina Anello-Dennee, a member of NATS. Eponine offers this advice to fellow emerging singers:

“Perform as much as you can to help with nerves and just never stop enjoying what you do. Vocal performance is so technical, with your voice only fully maturing around age 30. It is a challenge at a younger age, but there is so much to learn before then. Just work hard and continue to love music.”

Jacob Nenow

The two winning pianists have in common their private instructor, Renato Fabbro, whose students frequently excel in competition, Gesme said.

“Really, really great students in Portland work with (Fabbro),” Gesme said. Fabbro’s connection to Central Oregon began “three or four years ago, when we were advertising this competition in a much more overt way to say, ‘It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you’re welcome to come here.” That is not always the case with competitions at the local level.

Fabbro “sent a few kids, and then sent a few more kids,” Gesme said. In the few years Fabbro has been sending students to compete in the Young Artist Competition, “At least one of his students has placed either first, second or third. Sometimes multiple of his students will place.”

Such was the case when Jacob Nenow and Felix Tse took part in the symphony’s 2018 competition.

The concert begins with two works by Ludwig van Beethoven: First, the Overture to “Egmont,” followed by Concerto for Piano No. 3 in C Minor, featuring second place finisher Jacob Nenow.

“I love all the fast running scales across the piano and the beautiful melody in the middle section,” Jacob wrote by email. “My favorite part is the lively and stunning ending. I really enjoy playing the entire piece.”

Jacob’s been playing piano for eight years, and said he was drawn to the instrument after hearing his father play it. He counts Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as his favorite composers.

For a time, he studied violin and piano — until he was “fired” by his violin teacher, he said.

“She knew I would never practice like I did for piano. She said she didn’t want to waste my parents’ money. So I guess you could say she helped me focus and commit to piano.”

Under Fabbro’s instruction, “I always strive for perfection because he always pushes me to master the pieces to include the subtlest details. I know when I get a compliment from Dr. Fabbro that it really means something.”

Felix Tse

Felix has likewise been encouraged by Fabbro.

“I have learned so many techniques to improve my performance. He is also open for discussion on how to shape the phrases. This encourages me to think deeper and play a piece with uniqueness,” Felix said.

For the most part, Gesme said, winners perform in the Winter Concert the same piece they played in the competition.

Felix selected the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 “despite Dr. Fabbro’s initial reservation, mainly because I found it challenging, and there is seldom a piece that encompasses a full spectrum of emotion, which appealed to me,” he said.

Thanks to young musicians such as Eponine, Jacob and Felix, Gesme finds much to be optimistic about regarding the future of classical music.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Classical music is dying. It’s this sea of gray and music isn’t taught in schools anymore,’ and things like that,” he said. “While you can’t argue that when you sit there and look out at the audience on Sunday that there’s not a lot of gray hair, or no hair, the opposite of that is there are more, better students engaged in the making of music than there ever have been.”

Those musicians tend to go on to study at the college level.

“We graduate more top-rate instrumentalists and vocalists today than we ever have in the past,” Gesme said. “And the level of playing is just sky high.”