After 17 years of lessons, daily practice, winner says he didn’t feel nervous

Brandon Lee playing “Piano Concerto No.1” by Tchaikovsky wins the Young Artist Competition final Round at the Mesa State College Recital Hall.

Between awestruck head nods, four young pianists showed an audience why a Yamaha grand piano has the potential to be more than dusty living room furniture.

On Sunday, John Ahern, Norman Anderson, Brandon Lee and Grace Lee performed in the finals of the Young Artist Competition at Mesa State College.

The winner received a $1,500 cash prize and the opportunity to perform with the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra.

The refined musicality of all four pianists — each younger than 25 years — made it easy to forget Sunday was a competition.

Brandon Lee, who is not related to Grace Lee, was named the winner Sunday for his dynamic and powerful performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.”

Lee’s fingers were moving so fast at times during his performance they literally were a blur. He received a standing ovation when he stood up from the bench.

“Some of his melodies are the most beautiful ever written,” Lee said of the concerto he performed. He selected Tchaikovsky’s famous concerto to showcase his ability.

Lee, who lives in Logan, Utah, admitted it took him just five days to memorize the performance piece, but it is a piece he has been playing for five years.

Lee, 22, began lessons 17 years ago.

Ahern received $500 and runner-up honors. Ahern, 16, is a local sophomore in high school, studying with Dr. Andrea Arese-Elias. He is schooled from home, where four older siblings — all musicians — led him to select his performance piece, “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini,” which was composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

“I love Rachmaninoff,” Ahern said.

Ahern began piano lessons 12 years ago. Both Ahern and Lee said they started learning piano much like others: by playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

When Lee was 10, he said, attention shifted from his being just another piano student to a performer. He hasn’t stopped performing.

Lee’s family moved from California to Hawaii to Utah, where he now resides, so he can focus on piano performance. He has two younger sisters.

Although Ahern admitted to feeling nervous before Sunday’s concert, Lee said he felt no nerves. He is done being nervous and worrying about mistakes, he said.

It was tough to tell if Lee played any keys out of order Sunday, which could be expected from a pianist who practices three to five hours daily.

Lee plans to take the stage with the local orchestra in October.


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