BCA Hosts Chamber Music Society’s Young Musicians Regional Semifinal Concert


Hannah Shin

On March 22nd, 2023, ten chamber music groups competed at the Chamber Music Society’s 39th Annual Young Musicians New Jersey Regional Concert Semifinal hosted at BCA. 

Chamber groups from seven schools across New Jersey arrived promptly at 8 a.m. to a tense atmosphere. Out of the four regions of the tristate area – Long Island, Westchester, New York City, and New Jersey – only a select few chamber groups would be chosen to perform at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall on May 4th. 

Stakes were high. The chamber groups present had already undergone a preliminary video round that weeded out several groups, and even more were to be eliminated in order to advance onto the final round. Three of the groups in the New Jersey regional competition were represented by BCA. 

“It was really scary – everybody there was really, really good,” said Minjoo Song, an AVPA-M sophomore participating in the competition. “But, I mean, I feel like that’s another way to motivate me to improve and get to their level.”

Other BCA students felt the pressure of the competition. “When I saw them flexing their solo pieces I was in shock,” said Emily Xu, an AVPA-M sophomore cellist.

Indeed, several musicians in the corner of Mr. Lemma’s room were clearly practicing their most difficult etudes in the attempts of psyching each other out.

“It was a lot more cutthroat than I thought it would be, actually,” continued Minjoo.  “I thought it would be a lot more fun – making music with our friends – but everybody was so intense, so that was a bit surprising.”

As one of the performers in the semifinal as well, I could feel the tension and intensity in the air as musicians from different schools glanced furtively at one another – some recognizing each other from past competitions or word of mouth, others kept to themselves.

I watched as Mr. Lemma’s room transformed from a welcoming and comfortable space to a highly competitive atmosphere. A box of munchkins remained untouched on the side of the room, abandoned by the anxious musicians.

Minjoo (violin), Emily (cello), and I (piano) had the opportunity to compete together with a piano trio piece. After an hour-long dress rehearsal, we were the first group to perform in the competition – a nerve-wracking order of events.

Backstage, several people from the Chamber Music Society frantically checked their watches to make sure we remained on schedule. In juggling the setup of the professional camera, the admittance of parents and students into the audience, and, of course, the performers, the coordinators from the Chamber Music Society stressfully reminded us of the time we had left until our performance.

“Strangely enough, I wasn’t really nervous.  I think it’s because I played and performed it so many times in the past,” said Minjoo. Despite the whirlwind of nerves around us, we calmly sat in the cool metal seats behind the curtains as the time ticked away.

Emily agreed. “Usually I get a little nervous, but for this one I think I wasn’t as nervous because I was performing with multiple people.”

With chamber music, musicians often feel less alone. Oftentimes, musicians live in a lonely world and are constantly competing solo against each other. Chamber music creates a sense of unity among musicians – perhaps explaining our unusual sense of peace we experienced before our performance.

As we walked onstage in the BCA auditorium at exactly 11 a.m., I noticed for the first time the distance between the stage and the audience. Sitting at the piano – a Steinway Model B installed that very morning – I could not even see the audience. My nerves were greatly reduced as I took a bow with Minjoo and Emily.

Our performance – Beethoven’s Piano Trio, Op. 1 No. 1 – was about seven minutes long. Despite the acoustics in the large auditorium that took some adjusting to, we were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to compete together on the large stage and for myself, with the Steinway.

After our performance, we had the opportunity to listen to the other schools’ performances. Musicians from Wayne Hills High School, West-Windsor Plainsboro School, Academy of the Holy Angels, Tenafly High School, the Lawrenceville School, and Fort Lee High School took the stage with their dazzling pieces.

Several other BCA students participated in the competition as well. Chloe Cho (AVPA-M) and Madison Darnaby (AVPA-M) were a violin-harp duo, while Ming-Jin Qin (AVPA-M) and Liam Carroll (ABF) were a guitar duo. 

“They all played really, really well. They each had a specific aspect that made them sound out,” said Emily.

In reflecting on the event, Minjoo had a positive outlook. “For me, [the competition] was really enjoyable, because I like chamber music. It’s my favorite way to play with other people, especially because I think soloing can get repetitive sometimes.

“I also think it’s a good way to have a goal. As musicians, we need to be consistently practicing, but it can be hard if there’s no goal or end place you’re trying to reach.”

Oftentimes, musicians – especially at BCA – struggle with balancing their time between practicing their instrument and studying. With a focused goal, such as a competition, the motivation to practice increases. 

“I just really like playing with other people. It’s really cool to see how all of the parts come together,” said Emily. Indeed, the social aspect of chamber music is quite unique – musical communication is essential in intertwining musical parts effectively.

 The competition’s results will come out in late spring. Regardless of the results, the Chamber Music Society’s 39th Annual Young Musicians Regional Concert was a unique experience and opportunity to engage with other musicians in the area through chamber music. I look forward to playing and hearing more chamber music next year!