First-year piano student Rafael de Tablan and junior vocalist Afton Rhodes-Lehman won the 2023 Concerto/Aria Competition, earning them each performance spots with the EMU Orchestra during its spring Concerto/Aria Orchestral Concert on Saturday, April 22, 2023, at 7 p.m. in Lehman Auditorium.
De Tablan, a music performance major who hails from the Philippines, played Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and Rhodes-Lehman, a studio art major with music and honors minors from Dayton, Virginia, sang “The Silver Aria” from The Ballad of Baby Doe to win the competition.
When de Tablan heard his name announced, he cried. “Playing with the orchestra is one of my biggest dreams,” he said. Rhodes-Lehman echoed de Tablan’s comments. “Not that many young people can say they’ve sung with an orchestra by the time they’ve graduated.”
According to EMU Music Program Director David Berry, “Our winners this year are both excellent musicians and passionate about music. Rafael’s flair and virtuosity at the piano is something truly special. And Afton is a wonderful singer with a beautiful, rich and resonant voice.”
Berry is de Tablan’s piano instructor at EMU, and Rhodes-Lehman studies voice under Shannon Kiser. Both de Tablan and Rhodes-Lehman had been working on their pieces for several months prior to the competition. Kiser selected Rhodes-Lehman’s aria, and de Tablan says growing up with the Disney movie Fantasia 2000 inspired him to learn and chose his concerto.
“The competition gives performers the chance to work up some of their most challenging repertoire… and the winners an opportunity to perform as a soloist with an orchestra, which provides so much learning beyond what students are used to when performing with a collaborative pianist,” shared EMU Orchestra conductor Benjamin Bergey.
De Tablan and Rhodes-Lehman will perform their selections at the spring Concerto/Aria Orchestral Concert. Also performing will be the Shenandoah Valley Youth Symphony and Dan Ott, dean of the School of Theology, Humanities and Performing Arts.