This year marks the 32nd anniversary of the VSA International Young Soloists Competition, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program that recognizes talented, emerging artists ages 14-25 with disabilities from all over the world. The five young musicians who have been named winners of the 2016 award are: soprano Gabrielle Barker, age 25, from Lexington, Kentucky; Stuart Ross Carlson, a 20-year-old violist from Dexter, Michigan; 25-year-old pianist Andrew Nguyen of San Francisco, California; violinist Abigel Szilagyi, age 17, of Los Angeles, California; and Roi Trawon, a 19-year-old violinist from Quezon City, Philippines.
Gabrielle Barker, age 25, is a Lexington, Kentucky native who received her Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Kentucky. Barker’s numerous accolades include placements at the Alltech Vocal competition, the Schmidt Youth Vocal Competition, the Peterson Vocal Competition, multiple years of National Association of Teachers of Singing competitions, and the Kentucky VSA Young Soloist Award. She has appeared as Cosette in Les Miserables, Johanna in Sweeney Todd, Olympia in the Tales of Hoffmann, and other roles in La Bohème, Roméo et Juliette, The Phantom of the Opera, The Pirates of Penzance and Suor Angelica. Barker, who has Attention Deficit Disorder, recently completed a season as a studio artist with Kentucky Opera.
Stuart Ross Carlson, age 20, attends the University of Michigan, pursuing degrees in violin performance and composition. Carlson, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is a Michigan native and a published arranger for solo violin and string quartets. He has won numerous violin and composition competitions, and has performed across the US, UK, and Europe as a both a soloist and ensemble member. In 2013 Carlson performed as a part of Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Nguyen, age 25, is a self-taught pianist. Born with a left hand that has only two fingers, Nguyen taught himself piano on a keyboard in his hometown of Elkton, Maryland. Inspired by video game music, he continued to treat the piano as a hobby while studying computer science at the University of Maryland. Nguyen took his first formal piano lesson in 2014 after he landed a software engineer job in San Francisco. The VSA International Young Soloists Award is Nguyen’s first experience with a music competition. He hopes to explore improvisation and music production in the future.
Abigel Szilagyi, age 17, is an award winning violinist from Los Angeles, California. Her accolades include being a 1st prize recipient of the National Federation of Music Clubs’ Joyce Walsh Junior Disability Award and two-time winner of the California VSA Young Soloists Competition. She is a recipient of multiple scholarships for the Center Stage Strings music camp and the “Salome Chamber Scholarship Award” at the Luzerne Music Center. In 2015, Szilagyi was a winner of the Concerto Competition at the Colburn Music School, soloing with their youth orchestra. Szilagyi, who was born with a fifty percent bilateral hearing loss, studies with Professor Danielle Belen at the Colburn Music Academy.
Roi Trawon, age 19, is a violinist from Quezon City, Philippines. He placed 3rd in the 2014 EUROASIA Young Soloist Competition and 2nd in the 2011 National Music Competition for Young Artists in the Philippines. He graduated from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a Bachelor of Science in Statistics and has won numerous medals at the World Math Competitions. Trawon, who has epilepsy, was awarded a full scholarship to the 2015 Alpen Kammer Musik Festival in Austria. At present, he is Concertmaster for the Orchestra of Filipino Youth and is under the tutelage of Professor Sergio Esmilla, Jr.
These five young artists travel to Washington, D.C. for a professional development experience, including rehearsals, round table discussions with industry professionals, and private lessons with members of the National Symphony Orchestra. Their D.C. trip culminates with a cash award of $2,500 given to each winner and a performance on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on May 27 at 6:00 p.m. The performance is free and open to the public, and will be streamed live online at www.kennedy-center.org/millennium; a recording of the concert will be available for viewing after May 27 in the Millennium Stage online archive.