SALINA – The Kansas Wesleyan University String Orchestra has been named semi-finalist in the collegiate division of a prestigious national music competition. The American Prize Ernst Bacon Memorial Award in the Performance of American Music recognizes the best recorded performances on all levels, from secondary school to professional.
“It is such an honor to be listed next to heavy-weight music programs like Yale, Peabody, NEC and Cornell,” said Dr. Jesse Henkensiefken, director of the Kansas Wesleyan strings program. “Not bad for an undergraduate string orchestra in the middle of Kansas! It’s actually quite surreal. This type of award is what puts a small program like ours on the map.”
The 22-member orchestra is being honored for their 2017 performance of Mark O’Connor’s Strings and Threads Suite during the Kansas Music Educators Association Conference. The piece portrays how folk music styles hundreds of years apart are interconnected – possessing a common thread, from an Irish reel to jazz.
“I selected the piece because the KWU Orchestra was in a year of performing American Music, and we had the talented student leaders to tackle the tricky fiddle passages that the O’Connor demands,” said Henkensiefken.
The university received special permission from the composer to write their own arrangement of the solo parts.
Founded in 2009, the American Prize is a series of national competitions designed to recognize performing artists across the country. According to their website, the American Prize demonstrates “no bias against small city versus large, or well-known artist versus unknown.”
The winner of the Ernst Bacon Memorial Award in the Performance of American Music will receive a cash award of up to $500. Finalists will be announced next month.
Additionally, at KWU over the last 15 years, the number of music majors has quadrupled, the orchestra program and International Music Festival have been added, and attendance at the university’s largest concert has increased by 25% to over 1,000.