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Violinists outnumber pianists in youth competition

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Across 27 years of the Jackie McGehee Young Artists’ Competition, the number of violinists has soared, while the piano entrants have dwindled.

“There’s such an active string program with the (New Mexico) Youth Symphony in Albuquerque and the emphasis on the string program at the New Mexico School for the Arts,” event founder McGehee said. “They are accepted into school orchestras.”

This year’s lineup of 24 contestants will feature 19 violinists and five pianists at Robertson and Sons Violin Shop on Saturday, Feb. 16. Participants may range from ages 10 to 21 and must submit a DVD of a concerto with a second piece of their choosing.

This year’s competition will feature a career seminar by renowned violinist Pasha Sabouri, the author of “UPBEAT: A Guide to High School, Business and Life for Young String Musicians.”

The symposium is the first since famed pianist Awadagin Pratt spoke to the artists four years ago, McGehee said.

A professional pianist and teacher, McGehee launched the event after being awed by the amount of statewide talent.

“I was a judge for the National Guild and a pianist myself,” she said. “I would travel the state and see so much talent.”

Over the years, the competition has given $170,000 to young musicians. This year’s version will distribute $7,500 in cash awards. First-place winners in each category will receive $2,000 plus a performance opportunity with the New Mexico Philharmonic. Second- and third-place participants also receive monetary awards.

Today, the competition boasts more than 157 donors, plus sponsors.

McGehee taught at New Mexico Highlands University and at the University of Albuquerque before opening her own private studio.

“We have found that there are so many prodigies,” she said. “A couple of years ago, we had a child prodigy at 12. He’s studying at Juilliard with Itzhak Perlman’s group now.”