Hard work pays off for Salute to Youth performers

Published: Saturday, Sept. 28 2013 1:42 p.m. MDT

Salute to Youth artists from left to right: Aubree Oliverson, Savannah Holly Smith, Rebekah Willey, Jessica Coombs, Jacob Petek, Emily Richards, Richard Jones, Alex Cheng, Jennifer Bate

Brandon Flint

Emily Richards, a native of Pleasant Grove, made the decision this June to swap the freedom of her summer for intense violin rehearsals in the hopes of winning a chance to perform on the Abravanel Hall stage with the Utah Symphony Orchestra.

"I thought to myself, 'that is so much (rehearsal) time,' but this year, I wanted (to be in the concert) so bad and I was going to devote everything I had to it," Richards said.

And for Richards and eight other young performers, the work paid off.

Salute to Youth, an annual competition sponsored by the Deseret News that has become a Utah tradition for the past 54 years, will feature the talent of young up-and-coming artists performing the classical works of Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, to name a few.

"The mission of Salute to Youth is to both encourage and feature young musicians in their pursuit of their instrument and excellence and obviously better themselves from year to year," said Beverly Hawkins, the Utah Symphony education manager.

Some, like Richards, 18, who is now studying the violin at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, have grown up dreaming about this.

The violinist, who will be performing in the only trio act, said she is grateful to follow in the footsteps of her mother and sisters who also performed in Salute to Youth.

"I grew up with a picture of (my mom) and the conductor in our house, but was never a standard for us. It was just something awesome that my mom did that I hoped to do as well," Richards said.

Jessica Coombs, 17, a Draper resident who has played the piano since she was 3 years old, watched her siblings grace the Salute to Youth stage, igniting her own passion and desire for music.

"I come from a family of six concert pianists and they have all done (Salute to Youth) before," Coombs said.

Coombs, who is also representing Utah in the upcoming Miss America's Outstanding Teen national competition, said it was during a sibling's performance years ago that she knew she wanted to be on the same stage playing at such a high performance level.

And now that it's her turn, she said she's thrilled.

"The opportunity to perform with the symphony is amazing. The whole program focuses on the idea that (performers) are looking for a career in music or a talent to develop," she said. "It's something I've wanted to do for a long time."

Eighty-three students submitted recordings for the preliminary auditions and 42 were selected for the final auditions — 34 from the preliminary auditions and eight from the Youth Guild 2013 spring recital. Students who performed at the recital have the benefit of going straight to the final auditions for Salute to Youth.

A panel of judges, consisting of members of the Utah Symphony Orchestra, selected two sopranos, one harpist, two violinists, three pianists and one cellist to perform in this season's concert.

On average, Coombs practices six hours a day. In fact, her parents made the decision to home-school her so she could devote time to her study of music.

"If (Salute to Youth) didn't give them something back, they wouldn't spend the time it takes," Hawkins said. "They are so devoted. They get great satisfaction from it. It's a great way for them to learn discipline."

And it's going to be a delight, said Hawkins.

"The audience will have goosebumps, along with the orchestra," she said. "Every single year … I see the smiles on everyone's faces in the orchestra. They love the chance to support, perform and play with this endeavor because it's so near and dear to their heart."

Salute to Youth will be at Abravanel Hall on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.

Tickets for Salute to Youth can be purchased at Abravanel Hall, by phone at 801-533-6683 or online. Tickets cost between $6 and $18. Prices will increase $3 if purchased on the day of the performance.

Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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