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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Emily Richards, violin; Richard Jones, cello; and Jacob Petek, piano, perform in the Salute to Youth concert Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, in Abravanel Hall.
We salute these talented and dedicated musicians. The Deseret News is pleased to support our youth. They reflect the hopes of our families and the aspirations of our future. —Clark Gilbert, Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media CEO

SALT LAKE CITY — Transforming from students to soloists, up-and-coming performers showcased their finesse for classical music in the 54th annual Salute to Youth concert at Abravanel Hall on Tuesday night.

The concert, which has been sponsored by the Deseret News since its inception, featured the Utah Symphony Orchestra and conductor Vladimir Kulenovic.

And to perform on this stage, the young artists, selected from a group of 83 hopefuls, had to overcome their own particular obstacles to make their dream a reality.

The concert began with Savannah Smith on the harp. After breaking her hand, an injury that required surgery, Smith learned that she loved music above all else.

Smith delicately set the tone for the night with her smooth, legato strokes on the harp, proving that passion and dedication can inspire and create beauty and poise on stage.

Pianist Alex Cheng, who also plays competitive soccer, was the youngest performer in this year's concert at age 12. He had previously struggled to reach all the octaves in his complex solo. But he grew as he practiced, making his goal attainable.

Cheng's command of the piano, combined with the unison and enhancement of the Utah Symphony, which accompanied each performer, captivated the audience during his high-energy, powerful performance.

Each performance was a culmination of months of rehearsing.

For Aubree Oliverson, the rehearsal time paid off, and all hint of nerves dissipated when she struck the first lingering vibrato of her violin in a performance that brought the audience to its feet and ended the first act.

Oliverson, the only violin soloist, tapped her foot in time with the symphony. With the magnificent orchestra at her back, and her body practically swaying with the movement itself, the 15-year-old stood confidently on stage with a sea of experienced performers to create an auditory masterpiece.

Oliverson's skill was matched by each performer. But that's to be expected with this competition.

"In order to compete at this level, they have to overcome incredible challenges," said Beverly Hawkins, Utah Symphony education manager. "The pieces they are playing are the solos our guest artists are performing. These are not the simplified works. These are the real deal."

Pianist Jessica Coombs, 17, who closed the concert with the sharp staccato of Rachmaninoff, compared her challenging piece to climbing Mount Everest.

"It’s not often performed because of how difficult it is," Coombs said. "I had to convince my teacher to let me play it for (the auditions). It’s at a breakneck speed the entire piece. But I’ve always felt like I could deeply connect with (Rachmaninoff's) music. It goes deep within the depths of the soul."

And it's that same passion that defines each of the Salute to Youth performers.

Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, expressed his admiration for each participant in the Salute to Youth concert.

"We salute these talented and dedicated musicians," he said. "The Deseret News is pleased to support our youth. They reflect the hopes of our families and the aspirations of our future."

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Smith, 16, performed "Aria in Classical Style" on the harp. Jennifer Bate, a 17-year-old soprano, performed "Ach, ich fuhls," from "Die Zauberflote." Rebekah Willey, 19, also a soprano, performed "Quando men vo," from "La Boheme." Oliverson, 15, performed "Poeme" on the violin.

The only trio of the performance was Richard Jones, 18, on the cello; Jacob Petek, 15, on the piano; and Emily Richards, 18, on the violin. The group performed "Triple Concerto in C Major; op. 56 Allegro."

The concert concluded with two piano solos. Cheng performed "Piano Concerto No. 1; op. 25 Presto," and Coombs finished the concert with "Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor, op. 1 Allegro scherzando."

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