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Osmo Vänskä /// Music Director

A Music Competition for Talented Students

YPSCA holds an exciting annual concerto competition, called the School Music Auditions (SMA), for students in grades 7 through 12 who are skilled at playing orchestral instruments or piano, and who are enrolled full-time in an accredited school in Minnesota or other Upper Midwest locations. Each contestant prepares a portion of a major work, such as a concerto movement, to perform from memory at the Prelims. Separate auditions are held by instrument family (strings/keyboard and woodwind/brass/percussion), judged by experts in the pertinent area.

Contestants who advance to the Finals will all ultimately receive a cash prize or scholarship; in a typical year, the total value of these prizes is more than $7,000. But only one finalist will claim the top prize – $1,500 plus the most coveted award of all, the opportunity to perform as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra at a Young People’s Concert the following year. For the Finals, held on the Orchestra Hall stage, YPSCA welcomes members of the public to attend and to witness the contestants’ extraordinary levels of musical expertise. Their performances are riveting, and for volunteers and audience members alike, the SMA Finals are a highlight of the musical season!

Finalists, all prizewinners, of the 2017 competition

The 2018 School Music Auditions

For the 61st annual SMA, applications are due by Monday, December 4. The application form will be available on this page in mid-October. The Prelims will take place on Saturday, February 17, and the Finals on Sunday, February 25, both at Orchestra Hall.

Kudos to Our Past Winners


In January 2017, when YPSCA presented its 60th annual School Music Auditions, the top winner was Nygel Witherspoon, a 15-year-old cellist from Minneapolis who performed the first movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Witherspoon, a 10th-grader at Connections Academy, won the $1,500 award from the Edwin and Edith Norberg Fund and a chance to appear as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra at Young People’s Concerts the next season — in “The Color of Music” programs in October 2017 and May 2018. He also won the Claire Givens Award, a grant of $600, for giving the highest-ranked performance by a string player. Witherspoon’s cello teacher is David Holmes of St. Louis Park.


In January 2016, a clarinetist took home the highest SMA prize. Anders Peterson, then a sophomore at Northfield High and a student of Dr. Jun Qian, chose Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet for his winning performance. In addition to his monetary award, he earned the privilege of performing with the Minnesota Orchestra at a Young People’s Concert in February 2017.


The 2015 winner was pianist Zhen Tu, then a 10th-grader at Eagan High School, who was the featured soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra at Young People’s Concerts in October 2015 and February 2016.

Here are all the talented performers who have won the School Music Auditions in the past.