Mt. Lebanon Students Win PCS Auditions

Hannah Ishizaki is a two-time Pittsburgh Concert Society award winner and the youngest female composer to premiere a piece with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

With a 75-year history of fostering musical talent in the Pittsburgh region, the Pittsburgh Concert Society has helped set a standard of excellence among local classical musicians. This year, two Mt. Lebanon students, Hannah Ishizaki and Sein Lee, were recognized as PCS Young Artists Winners for their exceptional skills on the violin.

The PCS model includes two sets of auditions—the Major Auditions for ages 18 or older and the Young Artists Auditions for high school and college-age musicians—and the winners get cash awards and the chance to perform their repertoire in the PCS’ concert series. The 2018 Young Artist Auditions on Saturday, March 3, featured 28 musicians and groups, and Ishizaki and Lee were among the 10 winners. They both performed in the winners’ recitals in the spring.

Ishizaki graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in June. It was not her first experience with PCS, as she also won previously as a member of the Penn Quartet in 2016. Though she competed with the violin both times, Ishizaki also has considerable talent as a composer. In fact, in 2017, she became the youngest female composer to premiere a piece at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with her City of Bridges, which she wrote specifically for the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra’s tour of Spain. Now she is a freshman at Juilliard School, where she is studying music composition.

Sein Lee, left, with Cuna King and Thomas Chang, are three quarters of the Cygnus Quartet. Missing is Mirra Rasmussen. The quartet received top honors at the Pittsburgh Concert Society’s Young Artists Auditions with their performance of Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 27.

Lee, a junior at Mt. Lebanon High School, won as part of a group, the Cygnus Quartet, which she formed in 2017 with three other Pittsburgh-based musicians. The group’s first public performance was in Pittsburgh’s Korean Music Festival in 2017, which aligned with the quartet’s vision to advocate cultural diversity and awareness in the Pittsburgh area. They also competed in the International Great Composers Competition in July and won second place for Best Grieg Performance.

Ishizaki and Lee both feel very fortunate to count themselves among the PCS winners. Read about their experiences in a Q&A on the next page.

How do you feel winning the Pittsburgh Concert Society Young Artists competition will help you to pursue your musical endeavors?

“I get very nervous playing alone for people, so having to play alone in front of not only the judge, but in the concert in front of an audience, was a great experience for me … I have also

gotten more performance opportunities as a soloist. For instance, I [performed] on Saturday Light Brigade [on Saturday, August 11].” –Hannah Ishizaki

“It completely debunked any preconceived notion that music, especially classical music, is something you do alone. I definitely learned to appreciate the level of teamwork and

cooperation that exists in the musical community and how  these connections can bring to any audience member. As Cygnus performs on stage, it’s important to realize that we are

standing on the shoulders of our families, friends and mentors—music is far from a solitary endeavor.” –Sein Lee

What were the auditions and concert like for you?

“Having feedback from the judge was extremely useful for my preparation for the performance. I am also in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, and we had a concert the same day as the PCS, which I also played part of my PCS program at, and the winner’s recital was back-to-back with the PYSO concert! It was quite a busy day.” –Hannah Ishizaki

“This competition was nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. During the audition, all I could feel was a mixture of sheer competitiveness, nerves and determination … I can’t express how incredibly grateful I am to have competed alongside my friends … communication, body language, even breathing together—every single action that we did in those few minutes in the audition or later in the concert was something that we spent hundreds of hours to rehearse together.” –Sein Lee

What do you plan on doing after high school?

“I am very excited about Juilliard! Although I will be studying composition, I plan on continuing playing the violin and taking lessons, hopefully through Juilliard’s Secondary Applied Study

program.” –Hannah Ishizaki

“Although music plays a big role in my life, I have a passion for the sciences and would love to major in something related to biology or the medical field in college. Recently, I was thrilled to

get accepted into a summer program called the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science program at the University of California, Irvine, where I did graduate-

level research in genetics and bioengineering … In the future, my dream would be to have an internship at a medical facility to gain a similar hands-on experience in the medical field.” –Sein Lee