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Announcing the winners of our 2017-2018 Concerto Competition

December 27, 2017


For the first time in 20 years, a bassoonist has won the Mead Witter School of Music’s concerto competition and will perform solo on stage on March 18, 2018 in our annual “Symphony Showcase” winners’ recital.

Bassoonist Eleni Katz will play Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K. 191 with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Chad Hutchinson. Eleni, a student of Professor Marc Vallon, graduates this spring with a bachelor’s of music degree in bassoon performance.

She will join three other soloists on stage: Kaleigh Acord, violin, a doctoral student of Professor Soh-Hyun Altino; Aaron Gochberg, percussion, an undergraduate student of Professor Anthony Di Sanza; and Eric Tran, piano, a doctoral student of Professor Christopher Taylor.

In addition, the winner of the composition competition, doctoral student Mengmeng Wang, will have her work, “Blooming,” premiered by the symphony. Mengmeng studies with Professors Laura Schwendinger (composition) and Daniel Grabois (electronic music) of the School of Music and Professor Joseph Koykkar (composition) of the Dance Department.

The program will open with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. “A dashing overture in … a shapely sonata form with points of canonic imitation and a sparkling Rossini crescendo to close.” —  John Henken.

The School of Music’s annual “Symphony Showcase” concert is a perennial crowd-pleaser that combines the joy of youthful accomplishment with the beauty of live music. The community is invited to attend and remain afterwards for a free reception in the lobby of Mills Hall. We will see you on March 18!

$10 adults, free to all students and children.

Ticket information here.


Kaleigh Acord, violin

Beethoven, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 61, movement 1

Kaleigh Acord. Photograph by Michael R. Anderson.

Violinist Kaleigh Acord hails from Fairfax Station, Virgina and is now pursuing a doctorate of musical arts at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. There, she is a student of Soh-Hyun Park Altino and a recipient of the Paul Collins Fellowship. She holds a graduate performance diploma from the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, as well as a master’s of music and an undergraduate diploma from the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her previous teachers include Violaine Melancon and Laura Bossert. At Longy, Kaleigh served three years as Ms. Bossert’s teaching assistant, and received both the Margaret Rohde Award for Excellence in Solfege and Theoretical Studies, and the Roman Totenberg Award for Highest Academic and Artistic Achievement. An avid chamber musician, Kaleigh has spent her summers at music festivals including Bowdoin International Music Festival, Kent/Blossom Music, the Garth Newel Chamber Music Fellowship Program, Lyricafest, and the Charles Castleman’s Quartet Program. She made her solo radio debut on WQXR’s McGraw Hill Financial Young Artist Showcase in March 2014.

Aaron Gochberg, percussion

Keiko Abe, Prism Rhapsody

Percussionist Aaron Gochberg, an Oregon, Wisconsin native, is completing his fourth year of undergraduate study under Professor Anthony Di Sanza, a program which has presented him with opportunities to perform in Carnegie Hall, the Overture Center, and the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall, as well as to tour Beijing and Shenyang, China. In 2016, Aaron was a Performance Fellow at the nief-norf Summer Festival, where he performed, premiered, and recorded numerous works by both new and established composers. He has collaborated with artists and ensembles such as Sō Percussion, Clocks in Motion, Sound out Loud, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, Acoplados Latin Jazz Project, the Wisconsin Collegiate All Star Percussion Ensemble, and he continues to seek shared experiences with performers from around the world.

Aaron Gochberg

Aaron has enjoyed an eclectic range of musical experiences, giving him a distinct perspective on percussive artistry. He is a collaborator at heart, and is deeply invested in working directly with living composers. His interest in Afro-Cuban music has granted him multiple opportunities to travel to Cuba, where he has been fortunate to study with some of the most influential musicians on the island, including Mario “Aspirina” Jagerui, Alejandro Carvajal Guerra, Marino Angarica, Luis Cancino Morales, Dolores Perez, and Maximino Duquesne. In 2017, the University recognized Aaron’s study of Afro-Cuban Batá drumming traditions by awarding him a Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Recently, he joined the Wisconsin Union Theater as the World Music Coordinator on the Performing Arts Committee.

Growing up in Oregon, Aaron was very fortunate to participate in a musical community, granting him many formative experiences. He would like to thank Lynn Callendar, a member of the School of Music Board of Visitors, for her gracious support over the past four years. He would also like to sincerely thank his many private and collegiate music teachers, who have included Dr. Anthony Di Sanza, Dr. Todd Hammes, Tom Ross, Donald Skoog, and David Skogen.

Eleni Katz, bassoon

Mozart, Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K. 191

Iowa City native Eleni Katz will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s of music in bassoon performance, where she studies with Professor Marc Vallon. While in high school, Eleni studied with University of Iowa Professor Benjamin Coelho, who sparked in her a new level of passion for the instrument. Her experience at the Interlochen Bassoon Institute was the pivotal moment when she decided to pursue a career in music.

Eleni Katz

Eleni has always loved the art of performance and is particularly excited to play W.A. Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B Flat K.191, because this is the first time in 20 years that a bassoonist has won the university’s concerto competition. This bassoon concerto is arguably the most important concerto in the bassoon’s repertoire, highlighting the instrument’s range, articulation, and refinement.

Eleni was a runner-up in the Marquette Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Concerto Competition and was a winner of the Irving Shain Piano-Woodwind Competition and the University of Iowa Double Reed Day Concerto Competition.

Under Professor Marc Vallon’s tutelage, Eleni has had six solo recitals, participated in both the IMANI Winds and Madeline Island Chamber Music Festivals, and the Brevard Music Center and Chautauqua Institution Summer Music Festivals.

She plans to attend graduate school in bassoon performance next year. Her future goal is to gain experience in performance by playing in a symphony orchestra and chamber music groups. Her long-term goal is to teach bassoon at the university level and to lead a vibrant bassoon studio of her own.

Eleni would like to thank her friends and family, bassoon studio, and professors, who have inspired and supported her throughout her musical journey. Lastly, Eleni would like to thank Professor Vallon for every lesson and for always helping her find new ways to improve her performance of this concerto. Tonight’s performance is the “cherry on the cake” of an incredible, transformative four years of study at UW-Madison.

Eric Tran, piano

Bach, Concerto No. 4 in A Major, BWV 1055

Pianist-composer Eric Tran, originally from Piedmont, California, is pursuing a doctorate of musical arts in piano at UW-Madison with Christopher Taylor. He is known for his friendly stage manner, thoughtful programming, and bold risk-taking. He has appeared in music festivals such as PianoTexas, Aspen, Art of the Piano, as well as festivals in Europe. His principal studies were with pianists Sharon Mann, Thomas Schultz, and composer Jaroslaw Kapuscinski.

Eric Tran

Eric is a graduate of Stanford University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. During his studies, he was the winner of the concerto competitions of both institutions, and he was awarded the prestigious Robert M. Golden Medal for outstanding contributions to the arts. As a composer, he won the Pacific Musical Society Composition Prize, and his sets of children’s music have been programmed for over six years on the syllabus of the US Open Music Competition. His music has been performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the Friction Quartet, his generous friends, and his charming piano students.

​Eric also comprises one half of the notorious “Happy Dog” piano duo, with his piano partner, Nathan Cheung. They won both first prize and the Abild American Music Award at the 2017 Ellis Duo-Piano Competition, hosted by the National Federation of Music Clubs. For over a decade, they have performed four-hands originals, transcriptions, and classics alike with a focus on bringing humor and joy to the classical music world.

Mengmeng Wang, composer


Mengmeng Wang

Mengmeng Wang, a native of China, is a doctoral student studying composition with Professor Laura Schwendinger and electro-acoustic music with Professors Daniel Grabois (School of Music) and Joseph Koykkar (Dance Department). She received her master’s degree in music in composition from Shanghai Conservatory of Music, studying with Professor Liang Zhao. She also studied composition with Professors Guang Zhao and Heng-lu Yao.

Her works have been performed in the Beijing Modern Music Festival, in a recital by German violist Christiane Edinger and also by the Shanghai Opera Symphony Orchestra. Her film music was awarded the Honor Award of 1st eARTS Digital Audio China Competition in Shanghai, 2010; one of her art songs was awarded a golden prize at the 4th Chinese National Music Exhibition and Performance in Beijing in 2014; and she won the composition competition of Xinghai Conservatory of Music for one of her chamber music works. She was also named a “top-notch talent” of Chinese popular music by the China Association of Popular Music.

Program Note – “Blooming”
Blooming was inspired by flowers selected by Professor Schwendinger. “Blooming” is the language of flowers; I feel that they are trying to say something to me. I used different types of musical language to describe them. There are also important themes presented in bright metallic timbres and textures which express the flowers’ quiet glory as they bloom, and then a peaceful fading away.

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2016-2017 Concerto Competition Winners Announced – Concert Feb. 12

Two violinists, one pianist, one trumpeter, and one vocalist will solo with UW Symphony Orchestra with conductor James Smith. In addition, the music of composition student Nathan Froebe will be performed.

The concert is in Mills Hall at 7:30 PM.  There will be a free public reception immediately following at the University Club, 803 State Street.

Ticketed: $10 adults; students & children free. Buy tickets here or at the door.

The winners are:

  • Violinist Shing Fung (Biffa) Kwok, a doctoral student of Prof. David Perry and recipient of a Collins Fellowship. He will perform Tzigane by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).
  • Violinist Matthew Lee, an undergraduate senior who studies with Prof. Soh-Hyun Altino. He will perform the cadenza from the Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, opus 77 of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).
  • Trumpeter Matthew Onstad, a master’s student of Prof. John Aley. He’ll perform the Trumpet Concerto in F Minor, Op. 18 by Oskar Böhme (1870-1938).
  • Soprano Anna Polum, who will sing “Amour, ranime mon courage,” written by Charles Gounod (1818-1893) for his opera adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Anna studies with voice professor James Doing.
  • Pianist Shuk-Ki Wong, to perform the first movement of the Piano Concerto in G Major by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Shuk-ki studies with Professors Christopher Taylor and Jessica Johnson.
  • Composition student Nathan Froebe (not pictured) is the winner of this year’s composer’s contest. More information coming soon.
L-R: Shuk-Ki Wong; Matthew Lee; Anna Polum; Matthew Onstad; Biffa Kwok. Photograph by Hannah Olson.

L-R: Shuk-Ki Wong; Matthew Lee; Anna Polum; Matthew Onstad; Biffa Kwok. Photograph by Hannah Olson.

A native of Hong Kong, Biffa Kwok began his violin lessons at the age of ten, studying with Chu Tong Lo. In 2004, Kwok entered the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and graduated in 2013 with a bachelor of music degree in violin performance. Kwok also holds a master’s degree in violin performance and literature from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Mikhail Kopelman, former leader of the Borodin and Tokyo String Quartets.

Kwok has received many awards, including the ExxonMobil Scholarship, Chan Ho Choi Enchanting Music Scholarship during his studies at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts; the Eastman Graduate Assistantship during his master program at the Eastman School of Music, and the James R. Smith Orchestral Leadership award during his studies at the Mead Witter School of Music.

Kwok has collaborated with many artists such as Trevor Pinnock, Uroš Lajovic, Perry So, Kokman Liu, Neil Varon, Brad Lubman, Zhu Dan, Nobuko Imai, and John Demain. A strong advocate of chamber music, Kwok actively participated in many chamber performances, including masterclasses with the Chilingirian; the Endellion; the Penderecki; the Ying, and the Dover string quartets. Kwok also actively performed in orchestral performances including participation in the Academy (Hong Kong) Symphony Orchestra; Eastman Philharmonia; Eastman Graduate Chamber Orchestra; Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes (Elmira, NY), the Dubuque (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He is also a member of Sound Out Loud, an ensemble based in Madison that specializes in performing contemporary music.

At UW, Kwok studies violin performance and arts administration. The ten-minute work he will perform, “Tzigane” by Maurice Ravel, is a Hungarian-styled rhapsody written in the early 1920s and first played by the Hungarian-English violinist Jelly d’Aranyi—a great-niece of the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim— in 1924. The name “Tzigane” is derived from the generic European term for gypsy, and it shows Ravel’s interest in violin showmanship in the manner of Paganini and Sarasota.


Violinist Matthew Lee is a Madison native and former member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra is is majoring in music performance and biology. Matthew began playing the violin at age 6 and studied with Hiram Pearcy for eleven years prior to entering college. He performed with WYSO orchestras for eight years, serving as concertmaster for the Youth Orchestra from 2011-12, including during their Eastern European Tour in 2012. He was a winner of the Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition in 2013, received honorable mentions in the Madison Symphony Orchestra Bolz concerto competition. At UW-Madison, his teachers have included Eugene Purdue and Prof. Altino.

“I chose this piece because I love Shostakovich’s work in general,” says Matthew. “His violin concerto is significant because it was written during a time when Shostakovich was scrutinized carefully by the Soviet government, in a time of increased arrests of people who wrote in an anti-Soviet manner. The violin concerto was therefore hidden from the public until after Stalin’s death. I love the whole concerto, but the cadenza and fourth movement stand out because of the desolate, barren quality of the cadenza transitioning into the exaggerated, frenzied movement of the burlesque.”


Trumpeter Matthew Onstad, who hails from Beaver Dam, is pursuing a master’s degree in trumpet performance, studying with Prof. John Aley. He is a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and recently won the post of principal trumpet with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, where he holds the Francis Neiswanger Memorial Principal Trumpet chair. Aside from his duties with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, Matthew has been a member of the 132nd US Army National Guard Band since 2012, and has performed with the Madison and Oshkosh Symphony Orchestras. Matthew received his bachelor’s of music degree at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where he studied with Marty Robinson and Robert Levy.

“The Böhme is one of the very few well-known trumpet concerti that was written in the Romantic era of music,” Matt says.”Although it is not a ‘standard’ in the trumpet repertoire, it certainly deserves the title, with all of the different colors it offers to the audience. It’s outer movements demonstrate virtuosic and acrobatic technique, while the inner movement possesses such beauty and sensitivity, thus making it one of my favorite pieces of music to perform.”


Soprano Anna Polum is a native of Kodiak, Alaska, and is pursuing a master’s degree in voice performance, studying with Prof. James Doing. She holds degrees in music education and voice performance from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Anna has won or placed in competitions offered by the National Organization of Teachers of Singing in both Alaska and Wisconsin. Recently, she sang Contessa Almaviva in University Opera’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro, and next spring will sing Miss Jessel in University Opera’s production of The Turn of the Screw. For the 2016-2017 season, Anna is the soprano studio artist for Madison Opera and covered the roles of Juliet in the company’s performances of Romeo and Juliet; Chan Parker in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird; and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). She will also sing the role of Papagena in the same production of Die Zauberflöte.

Gounod’s operatic adaption of Romeo & Juliet premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for Faust, Romeo & Juliet was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.

“I covered Juliet with Madison Opera this past November, so this role is fresh for me,” Anna says. “The setting is quite dramatic, especially in the middle recitative section, where Juliet envisions Tybalt’s ghost coming for her and Romeo. Between her fear of losing Romeo and her love for Romeo, she decides to take the poison that Friar Lawrence gives her, claiming ‘je bois a toi!,’ meaning ‘I drink to thee (meaning Romeo).’ I love the dramatic flair to this piece, especially since the rest of the opera is quite mellow, flowing in and out of love duets and party scenes.”


Hong Kong native Shuk-Ki Wong is a doctoral pianist who studies piano performance and pedagogy with Professors Christopher Taylor and Jessica Johnson. She was a winner of the 31st Annual Beethoven Piano Competition at UW-Madison as well as the Exhibition Award from Trinity College London, and has appeared as soloist at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong City Hall and Verbrugghen Hall in Australia. During her studies, Shuk-Ki was invited to perform at the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival and the Asia-Pacific Music Summit, and she has participated in master classes with Colin Stone, Sa Chen, Stephen Savage, Murray McLachlan and Jack Winerock. Shuk-Ki is also on the piano faculty at the School of Professional and Continuing Education in Madison Technical College, where she teaches students with diverse interests and abilities.

Shuk-Ki obtained her bachelor of music degree and diploma of music from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts with the support of the First Initiative Foundation Music Scholarship and Grantham Scholarship. She subsequently received the Molly McAulay Memorial Scholarship to fully support her graduate studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, under the tutelage of Mr. Clemens Leske.

“The brightness, energy, and the blend of ‘light-hearted and brilliant’ qualities and jazz music in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major have drawn my interest, and I am excited to perform this masterpiece with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra,” she says.