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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Salute to Youth musicians at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. Clockwise from left: Makenzie Hart, Monet Wilson, Bree Fotheringham, Olivia Torgersen, Amanda Hofheins, Ellen Hayashi, Megan Tandar, Kana Yoshigi and Matthew Nielson.

Nine exceptional youth musicians have practiced and prepared for months to join with the Utah Symphony in Abravanel Hall this Tuesday in celebration of the 57th annual Salute to Youth concert.

“I love that the community comes together to support them in their first time playing with the orchestra," said associate conductor Rei Hotoda, who will be conducting the concert. "It’s just a wonderful way to say, ‘Hey, this is a talented person who has so much passion and drive willing to share his or her music with the community. Let’s put them on stage and see where they go — give them this opportunity.’”

Out of 36 students in the final round, nine musicians were selected to perform at the concert. This year’s featured soloists are violinists Makenzie Hart, Ellen Hayashi and Bree Fotheringham; cellist Amanda Hofheins; marimbist Olivia Torgersen; pianists Matthew Nielson, Kana Yoshigi and Megan Tandar; and harpist Monet Wilson. Pianist Avery Gunnell and cellist Sarah Baker received honorable mentions in the auditions.

“I think it’s exciting from the moment we start rehearsals with the Utah Symphony and soloists to the thunderous applause at the end of the final performance,” Hotoda said. “It is so exciting to go through this journey with these young and talented musicians. What’s so inspiring to me is their drive and their passion you see at such a young age already, it’s just so wonderful to showcase them in this way.”

For the young musicians, preparing for Salute to Youth took a lot of hard work, time and dedication. After choosing the song she wanted to play with the symphony, 14-year-old harpist Monet practiced for about eight months for the audition.

“I listened to many concertos and I landed on the one that I'm playing," she said. "I loved the way it sounded with the orchestra and instantly fell in love with it. I knew that was the one I had to play, even though it was very challenging."

The audition itself wasn't as difficult as the previous preparation, she said.

"During the audition, I began to play and it was less nerve-racking and I actually had lots of fun," she said. "When I found out that I was chosen, I was so surprised and happy.”

Monet’s dedication to her audition is similar to the other young musicians’ stories. Now a college freshman at Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, 18-year-old violinist Bree also mentioned that preparing for Salute to Youth was an extremely long and nerve-wracking process.

“First, you have to learn the piece,” she said. “Second, you have to make a flawless recording of yourself playing the piece (which usually takes hours and multiple recording sessions) and send it in along with your application. A month later, you find out if you make it to the finals and if you do, you spend another month perfecting your piece even more for the final audition. Finally, you audition in Abravanel Hall in front of a panel of judges."

Bree recognized that there were many talented musicians who auditioned.

"You can't expect anything because you know there are so many other players going through the same process and working just as hard as you, so getting that email the night of the audition felt very rewarding and humbling at the same time," she said.

Bree also shared advice for other aspiring musicians.

"I think the most important thing to remember is that you have to love it," she said. "You have to want to sound better — not your teacher, mom or grandparent. If you are going to commit so many hours of hard work to something, you have to learn to love it yourself.”

Although 16-year-old pianist Matthew also practiced diligently for the audition —anywhere from one to four hours a day — he went through a different process to get to the final audition.

“I won another competition that’s a prerequisite to Salute to Youth," he said. "Usually, you have to submit a tape, but since I won that other competition, I went straight to final auditions."

Matthew said that playing with a symphony will be a unique experience for him.

"It’s a completely different feeling because usually with piano you usually have piano accompaniment or you just play by yourself," Matthew said. "But to have an entire group of musicians who have practiced their whole lives to get into a symphony, who know what they’re doing, accompany me, it’s going to sound like nothing I’ve ever played before. It really is a cool opportunity.”

The concert will be filled with classical music, including Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor and Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor. Although the musicians come from different backgrounds and have unique stories, each seems to be motivated by the same thing: their love of music.

“The thing that motivates me as a musician is the music itself," Monet said. "I love to just sit and listen to it, and I could for hours if I didn't have other responsibilities to take care of. Music is my joy in life, and I couldn't get through life without it.”

Claudia Nielson, Matthew’s mother, said that as a mother of one of these young musicians, she was happy to see her child reach a goal he had been striving for, and she is excited to watch him perform with the Utah Symphony.

“As a parent, all you really want for your kids is for them to feel like they did their best,” she said. “This is just the icing on the cake that has been baking for a very long time.”

Along with the musically passionate student musicians, Hotoda herself has a deep and permanent love for the art of music.

“Music is my backbone; it’s my spine. I can’t live without it,” she said. “I’m connecting with something larger than myself. Sometimes when I’m performing I feel like I’m so connected with the music and orchestra, it just feels warm and you can’t experience that in any other aspect of life, so I find that extremely rewarding.

"It helps me to grow as a human being to help me think creatively; to constantly learn and develop a love of learning helps me become the person that I am,” she said.

If you go …

What: 57th annual Salute to Youth concert

When: Tuesday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m.

Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple

How much: $12

Phone: 801-533-6683

Web: utahsymphony.org

Email: [email protected]