By Melissa Chavez

One of the most impressive and endearing highlights of the festival is the Paderewski Festival Youth Piano Competition, in which serious piano students play their best for judges to rank highest in their age divisions. Held at the Park Ballroom in downtown Paso Robles in October, the event is a shared experience of both nail-biting competition and camaraderie among the best young performers in the region.

The contest is open to current students from Fresno, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. This year, three competitors in both the senior division (15-18) and the Junior Division (ages 10-14) from San Luis Obispo County were named finalists.

In the Junior Division, Suri Kim, 11, earned First Place. The sixth-grader from Ralph Dunlap Elementary School in Orcutt studies piano with Dr. Lynne Garrett. Second Place went to Andy Shen, 13, of Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo. An eighth-grader, Shen studies piano with Prof. Alan Boehmer. In Third Place was Noelle Hadsall, 10. The fifth-grader from Mountain View School in Santa Barbara is a student of Prof. Pascal Salomon.

Colin Foster, 11, who is a sixth-grader at Christ Classical School in San Luis Obispo, was named the Paderewski Legacy Awards winner. In the Senior Division, Isabella Osgood, 16, a junior from San Luis Obispo High School, won the Senior Division for her outstanding performance. Both Foster and Osgood are piano students of Prof. Lynne Garrett.

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Among the audition requirements for Junior competitors are two prepared works. Each selection must vary in degree of difficulty, style and period. For Seniors, three works that vary in difficulty, style and period are required. Among them, one of the compositions must be by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, and all repertoire must be performed from memory. 

The Competition Jury for the Youth Competition are three experts in their fields: Concert pianist and composer Marek Żebrowski is the Director of the Polish Music Center at UCLA and Artistic Director of the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles. India D’Avignon serves as a Professor and Department Chair in Class Piano and General Music at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo. Paul Woodring is a faculty member and staff accompanist at
Cal Poly University. 

He has worked with a multitude of organizations and musicians, including Opera San Luis Obispo, Festival Mozaic, and San Luis Obispo Master Chorale. 

Some exciting news is in store for this year’s finalists, as well as Youth Competition finalists in 2020. Both groups are eligible to participate in a Cultural Exchange Program in Poland in 2021. Part of the Paderewski Festival Youth Exchange Program, the itinerary includes piano workshops, master classes and concert performances at Paderewski’s estate in Kąśna Dolna and Jagiellonian University in Kraków. The fully sponsored student exchange program is made possible by the Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles and its local partners in Poland.

To learn more about the Youth Piano Competition, Cultural Exchange Program and The Paderewski Festival in Paso Robles, send email to youth@paderewskifest.com, visit paderewskifest.com or call 805-235-1530.