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ART BEAT: Piano contest winners to perform with symphony

More than Beethoven and Mozart will be featured on the program when the Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra takes the stage for their Monday concert. Three winners of the recent Rising Star Piano Competition will be playing with the live orchestra, demonstrating skills which gave them the top three competition placements.

The GSO's "Masterworks III" concert will be held at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Monday. The program will include Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" and two works by Mozart, the "Requiem Mass, K.626" and the "Piano Concerto No. 23, K.488." It is during the piano concerto that the audience will be treated to the talents of these three young musicians.

Second-place winner Brandon Hou will perform the first movement of the concerto. Third-place winner Mai Nojima will perform the second movement, and first-place winner Richard Wan will perform the final movement. The opportunity to perform with a live orchestra was the prize that drove these students to compete.

"It is a different kind of award," Wan said. "Other competitions give cash. But for this competition, you have the opportunity to perform with a live orchestra, which is something I have never done."

Wan, 15, has been playing the piano for 11 years and will be a senior at Milton High School next year. As well as piano, he also plays the French horn and can usually only fit in an hour a day of music practice.

"My teacher says I am a fast learner," Wan said. "I guess that's true. I'm focused and I concentrate on what I need to learn. I make sure I don't zone off and think of other things."

Wan also plays in a band at school and plans to attend Georgia Tech after he graduates from Milton next year. He likes Mozart, Chopin and Lizst as his favorite composers, and admits to being a little nervous before the competition.

"I know someone in the orchestra, Elena Do, and that helped me from being too nervous," Wan said. "I knew she was going to be there and that gave me confidence."

Hou is also 15 and will be a sophomore at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, a magnet school headquartered at Duluth High School. He is a Gwinnett native and has been playing the piano since he was 4. He also plays the violin as well as he plays the piano.

Brandon has been the Concert Master for the Georgia Music Educator's Association's All-State orchestra for the past two years and is associate Concert Master for his ninth- and 10th-grade orchestra this year. He has won numerous awards and scholarships for his expertise on both piano and violin. He has been a member of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra for the past two school years among many other honors.

The Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra will also be performing a benefit concert at Hebron Baptist Church at 5 p.m. May 15. This time, the three runners up from the piano competition will have an opportunity to perform with the live orchestra. These young musicians are Jon Koh, who will perform the first movement of the Mozart Concerto; Jasmine Kim, who will perform the second movement, and Eric James, who will perform the third movement.

Tickets for the Monday concert are $15 and $22 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 404-249-6400 or by visiting the Gwinnett Center Box Office. For more information about the concert Monday and the benefit concert May 15, visit www.gwinnettsymphony.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.