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Top local musicians featured at final Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra concert

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Posted: Friday, April 23, 2010 5:08 pm | Updated: 1:09 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS - Performing with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra has been a goal for pianist Jamina Gerl since moving to Fairbanks last August. The 23-year-old German-born musician will have her chance Sunday during the Fairbanks Symphony Association’s Concerto Competition Winner’s Concert, the final show of the FSO’s 2009-2010 season.

“No one would usually expect such a great orchestra in such a small area. Everyone takes so much time and care to perform so well. I am very happy to have the opportunity to play with such an orchestra,” she said.

Gerl is one of five featured performers in Sunday’s concert. Each will perform as a featured soloist with the orchestra, all winners of the annual concerto competition hosted by FSO.

In past years, winners performed as part of the holiday concert, but FSO took a different approach this year to accommodate its audience.

“People want to hear holiday music at the holiday concert, and so it often became extremely long,” director Eduard Zilberkant said. “We wanted to separate this performance to further highlight the winners, so it became our final concert of the season.”

The annual concerto competition was held in January and brought nearly 50 contestants together. Winners will perform their pieces Sunday.

• Age 12 or younger: Charlie McNeill, playing Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A minor;

• Age 15 or younger: Kendra Frey, playing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnola;

• High school: Sasha Bult-Ito, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major;

• Undergraduate student: Eva Tillit, playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1;

• Graduate student: Gerl, playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major.

Once a participant wins at a given age level, he or she is automatically moved up to the next category the subsequent year, regardless of age. Zilberkant said that is how Bult-Ito managed to win at the high school level despite being only 11 years old, calling her “extremely talented.” But she is not the only one.

A sixth grader at Ticasuk Brown elementary, McNeill began playing with Jean Krause, who will direct him in Sunday’s performance, when he was 4 years old. In 2009 he performed in the Southwest with the Fairbanks School of Talent Education’s Heart of Alaska Strings and performed solo at outdoor music venues in Alaska, Oregon and Montana, according to information provided by the FSA. He is the son of Curtis and Doreen McNeill.

Fifteen-year-old Frey is a sophomore at Lathrop High School. She started playing the violin when she was 4 years old, influenced by a musical family: Her parents, Sheryl and the late John Frey, were both musicians, as is her sister, Taylor. Frey is now a two-time winner of the competition and currently studies with Kathleen Butler-Hopkins, who will direct her Sunday.

Bult-Ito, 11, is a student at Chinook Montessori Charter School. She began playing piano at age 4, working closely with her mother, Yuri Bult-Ito. She also studies with Ilia Radoslavov, who will direct her Sunday. She is the daughter of Yuri and Abel Bult-Ito. 

Tillit is a violin performance major in her junior year at UAF. Butler-Hopkins, who has been Tillit’s professor since 2001, will lead her Sunday. Tillit played in the Fairbanks Youth Orchestras for 10 years, including two years as a concertmaster. She has been part of the Fairbanks Symphony for six years. She is the daughter of Patricia Carlson of Fairbanks and Bjorn Tillit of Norway.

Born in Bonn, Germany, Gerl received her first piano lessons at age five. Three years later she started playing violin and successfully participated with both instruments in national competitions. She decided in 1998 to pursue professional education in piano and became a student of Professor Roswitha Gediga at the Cologne University of Music. She graduated in 2009 and now continues her studies at UAF in the Master of Arts Program in Music. She is a student of Zilberkant, who will direct her Sunday.

Zilberkant said it is important for competition winners to perform, featured with the orchestra, because “it is a big part of the whole experience” that prepares them for the future.

“These are students who are looking to make this their life and their career, and to perform in such a featured concert is a good step for them,” he said. “They are young, but they are artists and we treat them as such.”

Gerl agreed. She wants to have a career in music, but admitted that life can be unpredictable and she is just along for the ride.

“You can never know what life will bring, so for now I am enjoying this opportunity, and will see what opportunities come to me in the future,” she said.

In addition to the pieces performed by featured soloists, Zilberkant said the orchestra will open the show with “The Flying Dutchman Overture” by Richard Wagner. It is a well-known piece — it was featured in the Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera Doc?” and therefore easily recognizable — and will be fun for the audience.

“This will be a great concert for everyone,” he said.

Erica Franich is a freelance writer who lives in Fairbanks.


WHAT: Concerto Competition Winner’s Concert, season finale for the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra’s 2009-2010 season

WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Davis Concert Hall, UAF Campus

TICKETS: $30 adult, $25 seniors and military; $10 student/child, available by calling 474-5733 or online at


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