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Judith Elser Concerto Competition

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Who will win the 2023-2024 competition?

Who will win this year's Judith Elser Concerto Competition - joining Nathanial Hackworth (2018), Anne McKee (2020) and Mesa Schubeck (2022)?  Be one of the first to find out by coming to hear the live auditions on Wednesday May 22, 2024, at 7:00 p.m. at Lewiston's Franco Center!

Five finalists were selected from those students, currently enrolled in a Maine college or university, who submitted complete application materials by March 31, 2024. The winner will receive a $1,000 prize and perform their concerto as a guest soloist with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra during the 2024-2025 season at the Franco Center in Lewiston and the Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham. The finalists are, in alphabetical order:

  • Enzo Zhou, Violin, Bowdoin College
  • Heath Kennedy, Tuba, University of Maine Orono
  • Joshua Zhang, Trombone, Colby College
  • Miles Benson, Trombone, Bowdoin College
  • Oren Varess, Piano, University of Southern Maine 


This event is free and open to the public. Please reserve your free tickets using THIS LINK. Come support rising musicians and listen to some great music!


The 2021-2022 competition:

MSO's 3rd biennial competition was open to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a Maine college or university who submitted an application by February 14, 2022. Five finalists performed for a panel of judges and live audience at the Gendron Franco Center on April 8, 2022.

  • Winner: Mesa Schubeck, piano, USM.
  • Runner-up: Brian Liu, Piano, Bowdoin College

Mesa was guest soloist with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra at our January 2023 concert series, and she received $1,000 from the Judith Elser Concerto Fund.


The 2019-2020 competition:

Finalists for MSO's second biennial concerto competition were announced in April, 2020, but the pandemic delayed the final auditions and winner's performance. The live finals were held October 21, 2020, in socially distanced fashion at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston.

  • Winner: Anne McKee, Violin, Bowdoin College.
  • Runner-up: Mesa Schubeck, Piano, USM.

Anne performed the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the MSO in January, 2022, and she received $1,000 from the Judith Elser Concerto Fund.


The first biennial competition:

The final live auditions were held in May 2018, leading to:

  • Winner: Nathanial Hackworth, Percussion, UM Orono
  • Runner-up: Annah Gauthier, Piano,USM

Nathan was guest soloist with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra at our October 2018 concert series, and he received $1,000 from the Judith Elser Concerto Fund.

How the competiton started:

The competition honors the memory of Judy Elser (1940-2015), a long-time music teacher who played cello in the MSO for many years,  served on the Board, and left a generous bequest to the orchestra when she died. We are grateful for all she gave to the orchestra, and know that she would be thrilled to witness the personal growth and success her gift has made possible for our young entrants and winners.

A bit about the MSO:

The Midcoast Symphony is a community orchestra founded in 1990. Started as a chamber orchestra, we now have over eighty members on our roster. We play four concert programs per year, performing at the Orion Center in Topsham and the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. Our audiences number around 500 in the Orion Center, and close to 200 in Lewiston. All members are volunteer players; we are teachers, doctors, homemakers, business people, retired people and a variety of other occupations, and we hail from the Midcoast, Lewiston-Auburn and Portland regions.  Many of us have advanced degrees in performance, but we also include players who started as adults, and those who have always played as an avocation. We do repertory ranging from Mozart and Haydn to recently written pieces, and we are excited to connect further with talented young players from our state.

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