Vancouver Symphony Orchestra welcomes winners from its young artists competition

Esme Arias-Kim, violin, Diego Chapela-Perez, saxophone, and Xinran Ski, piano, are the Gold Medal winners of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 2023 Young Artists Competition. The three will be in Vancouver this weekend to perform with the orchestra. Photo courtesy Vancouver Symphony Orchestra USA
Esme Arias-Kim, violin, Diego Chapela-Perez, saxophone, and Xinran Ski, piano, are the Gold Medal winners of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 2023 Young Artists Competition. The three will be in Vancouver this weekend to perform with the orchestra. Photo courtesy Vancouver Symphony Orchestra USA

Next performances are Jan. 20 and 21

Paul Valencia

A local orchestra has gone national in its goal to bring the best to the region.

“The mission is to enhance the quality of life of the citizens of Southwest Washington through musical performance and education,” said Igor Shakhman, the CEO of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. “To unite the community.”

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will perform Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 20-21) at Skyview High School’s Concert Hall, featuring the teenage Gold Medal winners of the VSO USA 2023 Young Artist Competition. The young musicians will play with the VSO and Maestro Salvador Brotons.

The winners of the competition, three high school students, were chosen from more than 100 applicants for their outstanding musical ability and virtuosity. Nine finalists, in three categories, came to Vancouver in the fall to compete in the final round. The three winners are returning this weekend to perform with the symphony orchestra.

Esme Arias-Kim, a violinist, is a junior in high school from Illinois. Diego Chapela-Perez, a saxophonist, is a senior from Texas. Xinran Shi, a pianist, is a freshman from California.

They each were awarded $5,000. Additionally, Chapela-Perez received a special prize at the discretion of the judges: a mini residency at the El Paso Pro-Musica Festival.

Shakhman said that in the past, the young artist competition was only for musicians from the region. But with so many other symphonies in the area holding contests, he and his colleagues wanted something more to stand out for Vancouver. Through generous donors, VSO was able to up its prize money, and they made it a national search for top talent.

The competition opened last spring, and judges received video links from more than 100 applicants through the summer, with musicians competing in three categories: piano, string, and wind. In October, the finalists came to Vancouver to perform, and the finals were streamed online. Shakhman said music lovers from all over the country watched.

Through competitions such as this one, as well as Shakhman’s passion for Vancouver, the city is starting to make a name for itself in terms of culture and music.

“I’ve been amazed how much people enjoy coming here,” said Shakhman, who became the leader of the VSO in 2011. “At first, I would make calls and people would immediately assume Vancouver, Canada. But now our reputation of our orchestra and this city is much more. Especially with the development of the waterfront, I’m proud to have guests here. I think it’s an incredible community. This is an incredible place. It’s beautiful. It’s also a cultural destination.”

Shakhman also wants to make sure that youngsters from Clark County appreciate the music scene in Vancouver. As CEO of VSO, he works with local school districts to bring the arts to the school. VSO has concerts and educational programs, working with Vancouver Public Schools and Evergreen Public Schools. 

The VSO also works with schools to provide vouchers for low-income families to attend concerts.

Shakhman grew up in the former Soviet Union. His parents were music teachers, and he has always been a musician. He lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment with a family of four. He was one of the first students to be able to come to the United States to study in the early 1990s. 

Now, he is running an orchestra with an annual budget of $1.6 million.

“When people talk about the importance of education, I’m the example,” Shakhman said. “I know what it can give you.”

Shakhman plays the clarinet.

“Music is my life. Music is my language,” he said. “Music gave me an opportunity to find my voice, to find my purpose in life, to find ways from a kid who grew up with four people in a one-bedroom apartment to be a leader of a million-point-6 performing arts organization. I’m proud of the past I have, and all of this was possible and is possible because of music.”

This year, the VSO will have more than 40 events, including seven pairs of orchestra concerts, such as the one this weekend at Skyview High School. There will also be a chamber music series, a jazz night, and other special events. Plus, the VSO was part of the launch of the Vancouver Arts and Music Festival last summer, and is looking forward to this summer’s showcase.

“We have ambitious goals,” Shakhman said. “We want to be an even more integral part of the community.”

More on this weekend’s performances from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the winners of the young artists competition.

Saturday’s performance is at 7 p.m. at Skyview High School’s Concert hall. Sunday’s performance is at 3 p.m. Tickets are $42 for standard seating, $55 for premium seating. For tickets, go here:

The young artists:

Esme Arias-Kim has performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. She will be soloing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  and the Minnesota Orchestra.

Xinran Shi has won multiple national and international piano competitions. She has appeared on NPR’s From the Top. 

Diego Chapela-Perez is a Texas all-state musician and placed 1st Chair Alto Sax by the Texas Music Educators Association. 

The concert program includes:

  • Sergei Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Zinran Shi on piano.
  • Alexander Glazunov: Concerto in E flat Major for Alto Saxophone, with Diego Chapela-Perez on saxophone. 
  • Ernest Chausson: Poème, Op. 25, with Esme Arias-Kim on violin.
  • In the second half of the concert, Maestro Brotons will conduct Carl Neilsen’s Symphony No. 3 (“Sinfonia Espansiva”) featuring vocalists Alexander Adams and Saori DeBruyn.

For more information, go to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra website:

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