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New Mexico Symphony Orchestra to shine the spotlight on LAHS musician

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By Kirsten Laskey

Don’t be fooled by their age. Ariel Chen and Kevin Gao may just be 14-years-old but they possess a lot of professionalism and maturity, especially while seated at the piano.

Their talents were revealed during the Jackie McGehee Piano Concerto Competition, which was held Saturday at Keller Hall in Albuquerque.

Chen won first place and the opportunity to be a featured performer in the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra’s Mother’s Day Concert. The concert will be held on May 9 at the amphitheater of the Albuquerque Zoo. This is a popular concert; between 4,000-6,000 people attend the show. Besides the performance, Chen earned $750. Gao also had a successful run. He won third place and $300.

Gao’s and Chen’s piano instructor, Lynn Lamb, said she was amazed by her student’s performances. “Really, I was amazed that those children are only 14 years of age and they got on the stage and played like professionals,” Lamb said. “They were accurate, musical, and they had no memory slips. They played with poise.”

For the competition, Chen, a freshman at Los Alamos High School, performed the first movement of the Beethoven Concerto in C Major, Op. 15. Gao, also a freshman at LAHS, performed the third movement of the Mendelssohn Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25.

Lamb said her two students enjoyed learning the concerto literature for the competition because there is rarely another opportunity to perform concertos. Besides, the chance to perform with the state symphony orchestra is like dangling a carrot for them, she said.

Lamb said she has had students enter the Jackie McGehee Piano Competition since 1998. Since then, 12 of her students have competed with great success. For instance, last year, Kathy Lin, a senior at LAHS, took first place and Catherine Chen, a freshman at Rice University, won first runner up. 

Judges for this year’s event were Krzyzatof Zimowski, concertmaster of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Petronel Malan, a concert pianist who has won three Grammy Awards, and Debbie Briggs, a recipient of a master’s degree in piano performance  who performs regularly as a soloist, as well as in choruses, chamber ensembles and musicals. She teaches at Albuquerque Academy.