Held annually through the University of Utah’s School of Music, the SummerArts Piano Competition acts as an opportunity for young pianists of the Salt Lake Valley to showcase their talents while providing a springboard for the brightest students to receive scholarships and perform with some of Utah’s finest ensembles. The festival operates in collaboration with faculty from the piano department and with music teachers across the region working to inspire a new generation of dedicated piano performers.
The competition divides participants into five age categories — Young Elementary (for students 10 and under), Elementary (11-13), Junior (14-16), Senior (17-18) and Young Artists (for piano performance majors at the U). Top prizes range from $50 to $175 for young competitors, with scholarships up to $500 for collegiate competitors.
From there, the attendees can enter in two separate competitions — solo and concerto. Solo competitors present two pieces of contrasting styles, one of which must be from the baroque or classical periods. Students can enter in the solo competition for consecutive years, for either cash and scholarship prizes or adjudication.
For educational purposes, a student can enter in the solo division and forfeit their chance for prize money to receive an evaluation from university music faculty. Participants perform their one to two pieces (with optional memorization) and receive scores based on their technique and artistry. This feature is part of the community education at the core of the SummerArts festival.
School of Music faculty member and head of the piano department Ning Lu is the director for the SummerArts program. After receiving his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Utah, plus a Ph.D. from the University of Denver, he has taught on-campus for nearly 15 years. Part of his research involves the SummerArts program and its various performances, as well as promoting the Utah International Piano Academy and acting as a host for international piano competitions. He is devoted to the enrichment of his students through music by fostering skill-building opportunities in his programming with a focus on an individualistic approach to musical interpretations.
The second competition through the festival is the concerto category, where participants perform an entire movement of a piece with a maximum time of 15 minutes. This category is closed to musicians who performed in the regional Piano Monster Concert previously. Various universities host the regional piano performance each year, exposing students to performance in many piano ensembles. With multiple grand pianos on a grand stage, the Monster Concert preps and excites participants for performing in higher-stakes settings, like SummerArts Concerto.
The Concerto winners are selected to perform with some of Utah’s most exclusive ensembles, including the Salt Lake Symphony, the American West Symphony and the festival’s own SummerArts Orchestra. Wrapping up their 43rd season, the Salt Lake Symphony presents a performance consisting exclusively SummerArts piano performance winners, playing their various concertos. The American West Symphony and the Chorus of Sandy collaborate on presenting their students’ pieces.
Those in the Young Artist Division, as collegiate piano majors at the U, find more opportunities to win scholarships and prizes in more individual competitions. Students can win a scholarship through the Arne Oldberg Competition, named for the American composer and his Sonatina or the Collaborative Piano program, as the U is the home of a blooming master’s program in Collaborative Piano. Unique to the SummerArts festival is the video teaching scholarship, featuring PNOscan technology that first debuted in 2011, connecting a grand piano to a virtual orchestra that follows the pianist and allows young performers to experience leading an orchestra first-hand.
The entire SummerArts festival acts as a hub for young piano students to be exposed to professional performance opportunities and incentivized for their dedication to their craft. With involvement from some of the finest faculty in the field and the power of local ensembles, participants receive incredible resources in the world of piano performance.
This year’s SummerArts competition will be held in David Gardner Hall throughout the day on Thursday, Aug. 8 with an awards ceremony held on Saturday, Aug. 10. The schedule for the competitions is determined by a random draw. Applications are open until July 31, but participants can register after that date with a late fee of $25. More information, as well as the registration form, can be found here.