We caught up with Kristin Weber recently, on her way to play English horn with the Tulsa Symphony.
Wait, English horn? Yes, the College of Music doctoral student—an oboist honing her craft with Senior Instructor Peter Cooper—also plays English horn and boasts 10 years' piano lessons, plus exploratory stints with the violin, clarinet and flute in elementary and middle schools. But it was the oboe that ultimately captured first place in her heart—and won her first prize in the 2017-18 Bruce Ekstrand Memorial Graduate Student Competition.
“I felt inspired to perform in the competition because of my teacher, Peter Cooper,” says Weber. “He’s always pushing us to be imaginative and to tell a story with our playing, and to hear in our heads what we aspire to sound like.
“My whole goal throughout the competition was to do that and to play beautifully. Most importantly, he has helped me to find my voice as an oboist ... and he taught me how to sing!”
Indeed, it was an “in-your-face” solo work by Australian composer Ross Edwards—which ends with a stomp and a scream (if not exactly singing)—that helped Weber snag the top prize of the College of Music’s premier graduate student competition.
“I’d never entered a competition before,” Weber continues. “I thought it would be too hard to compete against flashier, more virtuosic instruments, like strings, piano or a quartet. But Peter encouraged me to go for it, and I figured it would be good performance practice for my recital.
“The competition was out of my comfort zone, for sure, and I had to work up the courage … but that’s exactly what motivated me, too.”
Weber also performed movements from Jean Francaix’s “The Flower Clock,” which she describes as “witty, charming and quirky—like me!”
“Each piece in ‘The Flower Clock’ represents a flower at the time at which it blooms,” she says. “Some are fast and flashy, some are slow and some are just a little bit odd. I really put my own character into those pieces.”
And it worked. With her prize money ($2,000), Weber plans to advance her career—which includes upgrading to a Marigaux oboe on Cooper’s recommendation. “It was a big leap of faith to change brands, but Peter is always opening my eyes to new things and pushing me to think differently,” Weber explains. “I’d been playing a Loree, but then Peter picked up a Marigaux for me and I liked the different sound.”
In sum, Weber truly represents the competition’s aim: to kick-start careers, promote professional growth and help defray the costs of performance, recording, outreach and more. The Ekstrand competition annually awards cash prizes to graduate student performers to this end, also including $1,000 for second place, $500 for each of the remaining finalists and $500 for the audience choice prize.
“As my first competition, this experience opened my eyes to a new type of playing and a new area of interest,” Weber adds. “I never thought of myself as going out and playing as a soloist—but now I do. It’s inspiring."
Congratulations are also in order to flutist Júlio Zabaleta (second prize) and finalists Tom Yaron, violin; Renée Hemsing Patten, violin; Mario Rivera, viola; and Eric Haugen, cello—all members of the Ajax Quartet—as well as cellist Roberto Arundale (audience favorite) and soprano Paige Sentianin.
Special thanks to competition adjudicators John Baril, Music Director, Central City Opera; Brook Ferguson, principal flutist, Colorado Symphony; and Rita Sloan, professor of collaborative piano at the University of Maryland and the Aspen Music Festival and School. Thanks also to collaborative pianists Barbara Noyes, Nathália Kato, Doreen Lee, Madeleine Vande Polder and all teachers and others involved. This year’s faculty judges for the Ekstrand semifinals competition included Carter Pann, Donald McKinney, Mutsumi Moteki and Jeremy Smith.