Popper Theater came alive last week as six UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music students competed in the two-day Hershey Felder Competition for Classical Musicians. The inaugural competition, generously funded by award-winning actor, playwright, director and producer Hershey Felder, encouraged classical musicians to dig deeper into what it takes to perform at the highest level.
Day one featured Felder coaching voice, string and piano students during a public masterclass, where he emphasized the importance of interacting with the audience in a personal and personable way, and he challenged them to “make every note count.” The following day, each of the student competitors, pianists Irina Bazik and Veola Sun, violinist Joyce Kwak, cellist Euan Shields and mezzo-sopranos Meagan Martin and Gal Kohav, put into practice what they learned from Felder as they competed before a live audience, who would later cast votes for their favorite performer.
That honor went to mezzo-soprano Meagan Martin, whose performance of “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and “The Boy From…” by Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim earned her the top-prize.
“It was liberating for me to focus on the exchange of energy with the audience and on the comedy within the music instead of getting so caught up in my technique,” said Martin, a vocal performance D.M.A. student. “On the second day I came into the competition with the intention of enjoying my performance and of the audience enjoying it too, and it made a huge difference.”
Martin had shied away from talking to an audience in previous concert and recital settings. “It can feel so vulnerable,” she said, “but it’s such an amazing way to establish a connection before I’ve sung a note.”
Due to a tie between the other five competitors, Felder generously announced an increase in his gift to be able to award each competitor with a share of the cash award.
“It gives me great satisfaction to know that this competition and award has motivated these students to explore their individuality as performers, to build on their musical talent and training, and ultimately, to determine how to engage and build an audience,” he said. “I am so proud of all six students and their improvement following the masterclass. I look forward to next year’s competition and working with new classical music students at UCLA.”