In November, graduate violin student Danqi Zeng and undergraduate violin student Bright Johnston shared the Gold prize, while undergraduate violin student Javier Torres won the Silver prize at the Michigan Chapter of the American String Teachers Association (MASTA) Solo Competition. Both Zeng and Torres are members of Professor Danielle Belen’s violin studio and Johnston is a member of Professor Aaron Berofsky‘s studio.
Zeng, a second-year master’s student, and Johnston, a first-year student were named the Gold prize-winners, sharing the $1,000 prize.
“I’m very thankful for this prize and it has encouraged me to practice and work even harder,” said Zeng. “Since I have been working remotely, I have not been able to perform for anyone live for a long time. Being able to compete and also win a prize helps me to feel more connected to the music world in that my practicing is going to a specific cause since I have not been able to perform in-person to give me that same effect.”
Zeng performed Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 23 in E-flat Major and the Fugue from Sonata in G Minor BWV 1001 by J. S. Bach. Johnston performed Saint-Saëns Concerto in B minor, Molto moderato e maestoso – Allegro non-troppo, as well as the Andante movement from Bach’s Sonata for solo violin No. 2 in A Minor.
“Winning this competition gave me a lot of confidence in myself,” said Johnston. “I am very thankful for the prize and the opportunity to compete because it gives me something to work towards. Knowing that I’m capable of achieving something even through the slow, seemingly-endless pace of COVID-19 helps me push myself to keep growing.”
Torres, a senior, was named the Silver prize-winner, winning $500. He performed Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’ Concerto No. 3 in B minor, op. 61 and J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A minor, Andante, BWV 1003.
“When I found out I had won a prize in the MASTA competition, I felt very enthusiastic because, during Covid-19, it is very hard to stay motivated,” said Torres. “However, I also felt that my hard work had paid off, and this gave me a reason to keep working harder and to keep moving forward.”
MASTA is the state chapter of the American String Teachers Association (ASTA). Michigan has one of the largest and most active ASTA chapters in the country.
“I am very proud of Danqi and Javier, not only for doing so well at this important competition but for demonstrating that SMTD students have grit, imagination, and the drive to achieve excellence, even in this most challenging time,” said Prof. Belen. “Both of these students have been studying with me remotely this semester. Through creativity, many hours on Zoom, and also asynchronously through recordings back and forth between us, they have excelled tremendously, despite the distance.”
Prof. Berofsky was equally effusive about working with Johnston.
“Bright is only a freshman at our school, so I am extra proud of her for this success,” said Berofsky. “Bright is very gifted, but she is also an incredibly hard worker and is always curious- about how she can sound better, more beautiful, cleaner, more convincing. Frankly, I’m really amazed at the perseverance shown by my whole studio this past term, during such a difficult time. Our studio classes have been something I look forward to each week.”
As a first-year student, Johnston expressed her gratitude for SMTD and Prof. Berofsky.
“I’m very grateful for everyone that I’ve met at U-M this semester and I wasn’t sure what to expect coming in as a freshman, especially when everything is so up in the air, but everyone here has been so great and supportive,” said Johnston. “It’s been especially amazing to work with Professor Berofsky. While being online has been challenging, he has really helped me become aware of the little things in my playing and improve how I approach learning music.”
Zeng credited Prof. Belen’s adaptability for helping her maintain her excellence through the pandemic.
“I love being in Prof. Belen’s studio, and I’m very thankful for what she has done for me since the pandemic started,” said Zeng. “Although it was difficult to transition to online lessons, we’ve tried a lot of different creative ways to make it work. I value the opportunity to be a part of Prof. Belen’s studio because I always learn something new every time.”
Torres also echoed the importance of studying with Prof. Belen.
“This is the first competition that I have won while being part of Prof. Belen’s studio since I transferred in January 2020, and it has been an amazing experience,” said Torres. “My favorite part of being in Prof. Belen’s studio is experiencing these ‘eye-opening’ moments during my lessons. She’s helped me focus, achieve a more confident way of playing the violin, and has helped me in my professional development.”