Sunday, July 27, 2008

Two winners is a first for vocal competition


For the first time in the 12-year history of the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition at the Music Academy of the West, two singers emerged as co-winners of the contest along with, as is usual, a single vocal piano accompanist.

Simone Osborne, a soprano from Vancouver who is an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia, shared the honors Saturday at the Academy’s Montecito campus with baritone Edward Parks, a Pennsylvanian who earned his bachelors at Oberlin Conservatory and masters at Yale. In-Sun Suh, a native of Korea whose bachelor’s degree is from Yonsei University, took the vocal piano honors.
The five jurors – Horne, the mezzo-soprano star who leads the vocal program at MAW; Michael Benchetrit, vice president and artist manager at Columbia Artist Management; Barbara Hocher, executive director of the Marilyn Horne Foundation; Kenneth Merrill, Julliard School voice professor; and Joan Morris, the veteran mezzo-soprano married to composer William Bolcom, both of whom are in residence at MAW for the next two weeks – deliberated far longer than usual, but simply couldn’t reach a consensus decision on a single singer, Horne told the remaining audience members who had spent more than seven hours listening to the competition at Hahn Hall.
Horne said that the unusual tie means that the two winning vocalists will each receive the prize of being presented in recital on the MHF’s vocal recital series in New York City, “On Wings of Song.” Parks, along with Suh, will perform the regularly scheduled recital at Christ and St. Stephen’s Church on October 5, while Osborne’s concert has yet to be scheduled, but will likely happen in December or early next year.
Osborne’s victory came as a surprise to everyone, not in the least herself. Not only is the singer attending the Music Academy for this first time this summer – most previous winners have been repeat visitors; Suh was on campus in 2007 and Parks previously participated in the music festival in 2006 – but at 21, she’s also the youngest of the 23 vocalists who competed on Saturday.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Osborne said in an interview yesterday. “I really didn’t expect this at all. Being a girl from a West Coast town in Canada, the idea of doing a big recital in New York, it’s something you don’t even dare dream of. You never expect it to happen.”
Although Osborne was also one of five winners of a larger vocal competition at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions earlier this year (along with Parks), she said that winning here in Santa Barbara was quite an honor.
“Being associated with anything that has to do with Marilyn Horne is pretty phenomenal. She’s an unbelievable mentor and has had such a career to aspire to. We all look up to her. So having her seal of approval of what you’re doing at this point is truly amazing.”
Osborne attribute her victory to taking to heart the competition’s criteria of excellence in both performance of song repertoire and communicating with the audience.
“I had to pick music that meant a lot to me, but I’ve always felt that way about everything I do,” she said. “Hopefully that came across to the audience. I also realized that there were 25 fantastic singers performing for 15 minutes each, so picked a hilarious song to sing last.”
Indeed, Osborne’s decision to withhold the lyrics of Swann’s “A Word on My Ear” (with text by Michael Flanders) proved a smart move, as her rendition brought the house down.
“They say the competition is about communicating with the audience,” Osborne said. “I figured after five hours they’d like something different and light and fun.”

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