Young People's Concerto Competition

Finalists, all prizewinners, of the 2019 competition (photo by Matt Brenengen)

Nita Qiu takes top honors at YPSCA’s 62nd Annual Concerto Competition

On February 3, 2019, audience members in Orchestra Hall felt the electricity of great music, brilliantly performed, as nine outstanding young musicians competed in the final round of YPSCA’s Concerto Competition. Pianist Nita Qiu, age 16, won with a performance of the second and third movements of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto that brought her both the top monetary award, $1,500 from the Edwin and Edith Norberg Fund, and the opportunity to perform as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra in Young People’s Concerts on March 18 and 19, 2020. Nita, who lives in Woodbury, is an 11th-grader at Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan and studies piano with Dr. Joseph Zins of St. Paul.

In addition to the honor won by Nita Qiu, other finalists each received at least one award:

  • Derek Hwang, 15, cello: the Edith Norberg Award and the Claire Givens Violins Award
  • Mae Monette, 16, piano: the Edwin Norberg Award
  • Jacqueline Pham, 16, piano: the Schmitt Music Award and the Minneapolis Music Teachers Forum Award
  • Vinh Nguyen, 18, piano: the Margaret Ankeny Award
  • Joseph Caswell, 15, piano: the Bonnie and Donn McLellan Award
  • Cate Carson, 16, violin: the Karen Lundmark Holmes Award
  • Joyce Zhao, 16, violin: the David Colwell Award
  • Kalina Lee, 14, oboe: the Judith and David Ranheim Award

Please join us in congratulating all the winners, and in thanking the generous donors of this year’s awards, which collectively total $7,100. We also thank our judges for the Finals: Minnesota Orchestra Associate Conductor Akiko Fujimoto, Orchestra violinist Pamela Arnstein and pianist Paul Shaw of the University of Minnesota; and for the Preliminary Audition: Mike Alexander, Michelle Frisch, Ivan Konev, Pamela Shaffer-Reinhard, Leslie Shank and Jeffrey Stirling.

Last but not least, kudos to our volunteers! Topping the list are Concerto Competition Co-Chairs Mariellen Jacobson and Julie Haight-Curran, who committed countless hours to recruiting, planning and organizing everything and everyone required for the Prelims, Finals, reception and awards ceremony. They were ably supported by dedicated YPSCA members who filled greatly varied roles, all essential to making the Competition a success. Because of their work, YPSCA’s Competition goes beyond supporting young people’s involvement with the Minnesota Orchestra and the music it performs –– it helps shape the careers of top musicians of the future. Our heartfelt thanks to all who support YPSCA!

A Music Performance Competition for Talented Students

Applications are now CLOSED for our 63rd Annual Young People's Concerto Competition. The Preliminary Competition will be held on Sunday, March 1, 2020 and the Finals on Sunday afternoon, March 8, 2020.

The public is invited to the Finals, beginning at 1:00 pm on March 8, with seating in Balcony A Rear.

Guidelines for competitors and other details can be found here.

Students in grades 7 through 12 in Minnesota and other Upper Midwest locations who are skilled at playing orchestral instruments or piano compete for the opportunity to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra at a Young People’s Concert in the following season. Cash prizes are also awarded to Finalists; in a typical year, the total value of these prizes is more than $7,000.

Each contestant prepares a portion of a major work, such as a concerto movement, to perform from memory. Performances are judged by professional musicians specializing in strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and keyboard. For the Finals, held on the Orchestra Hall stage, YPSCA welcomes members of the public to attend and to witness the riveting performances of these extraordinary young musicians

Hard-working YPSCA volunteers carry out myriad tasks to ensure that the competition is a success from start to finish. They prepare announcements, review applications, select judges, handle registration, escort contestants to their warm-up and audition rooms, announce and time the performances, organize hospitality – and much more. If you’d like to be involved, contact us here, and join in the thrill of working with young musicians who make this competition a highlight of the musical season!

Kudos to Our Past Winners


In February 2018, our Competition winner was Emma Taggart, a 15-year-old pianist from Blaine, performing the opening movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. She is scheduled to appear with the Orchestra in two concert sets in spring of 2019, performing Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals in March and a movement of the Grieg A-minor Piano Concerto in May. She also won the Minnesota Music Teachers Forum award, which included a performance opportunity and a grant of $200. Taggart, a 10th-grader at St. Agnes High School in St. Paul, studies with Dr. Reid Smith of Dellwood.


Cellist Nygel Witherspoon won the Young People’s Concerto Competition in January 2017, performing the first movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. At the time Witherspoon, of Minneapolis, was a 10th-grader at Connections Academy who studied with David Holmes of St. Louis Park. Witherspoon appeared with the Orchestra several times during the 2017-18 season, including in Young People’s Concerts in October and May.


In January 2016, a clarinetist took home the highest Concerto Competition 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 Concerto Competition in the past.