SFCM Students and Alumni Shine in Competitions

Left to right: Handel Aria Competition winners Jonathan Woody, Morgan Balfour, and Emily Yocum Black

Several SFCM alumni and a current student have recently been the recipients of some top prizes on the competition circuit. Soprano Morgan Balfour ’18 came in first place at the 7th Annual Handel Aria Competition, held on June 7 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin, and guitarist Alec Holcolmb ’19 received second prize at the Parkening International Guitar Competition, held from May 28 to June 1 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Additionally, Pre-College alumni Stella Chen and Stephen Kim received first and third prize, respectively, at the 2019 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition, held from April 29 to May 25 in Brussels, Belgium.

For winning the top prize, Balfour, a leading soprano in several SFCM productions during her time at the Conservatory, including Handel’s Rodelinda, will be given the opportunity to present a recital at the London Handel Festival next spring.

“I had a wonderful time taking part in the Handel Aria Competition and performing with the Madison Bach Musicians,” says Balfour. “Preparing with my teacher, César Ulloa, and coaching with Sun Ha Yoon, Corey Jamason, and Peter Grunberg put me in a really positive frame of mind. Meeting the other competitors and seeing their artistry as performers of early music repertoire was very inspiring.”

“It’s been a pleasure having Morgan in my voice studio at SFCM for the past two years,” says Ulloa. “She has always been totally committed to working very hard, taking her singing and overall artistry to the highest level. It is no surprise to me that she won first place in this competition. Morgan is an exceptionally talented young singer and I am sure she will go far in the field of the vocal arts.”

For receiving the silver medal at the Parkening Competition, Alec Holcomb, a student of Judicaël Perroy, was awarded $15,000.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my second time competing in the Parkening International Guitar Competition, and I was honored to receive the second prize,” remarks Holcomb. “The friendly atmosphere and camaraderie among the competitors—as is the norm in all guitar competitions—made what could have been a stressful situation into one of fun and learning. Many thanks to my teacher, Judicael Perroy, for his support and guidance in preparation.”

Perroy, the ever-proud teacher, noted Holcomb’s innate artistry as a major factor of his success.

“Alec has a unique and personal way of making music,” comments Perroy. “He has a talent for totally absorbing the classical music heritage and, at the same time, escaping it to give his own interpretation.”

With placements at a major international competition under their belts, Stella Chen and Stephen Kim can walk away proud. For receiving the grand prize, Chen was awarded $25,000 euros and, for a period of four years, will be loaned the “Huggins” 1708 Stradivarius by the Nippon Music Foundation. For receiving third prize, Kim received $17,000 euros.

Faculty member John McCarthy, who was director of the preparatory division at SFCM during Chen’s time as a student, remembers her fondly.

“As a young student enrolled in our program, it was evident that Stella was a true artist, and had real potential to become a major violinist on the world stage,” he remembers. “The magic of her playing is still vividly with me.”