During the 2012 Utah State High School swim meet, Carson Malen spent much of the 500-meter finals in last place. But the Brighton High School student kept a steady pace, ending with a final kick that propelled him to a fourth-place finish. The patience and persistence he displayed in the pool were learned during years of piano lessons.
Malen and Ubeeng Kueq, a student at the University of Utah, are winners of the most recent American West Symphony Orchestra Piano Competition and will play the first movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the orchestra. Malen will perform on Friday, May 10, at Sandy's Good Shepherd Church; Kueq will play May 13 and 14 at the University of Utah's Libby Gardner Hall.
Todd Etherington, Brighton High boys swimming coach, said Malen consistently gets better at everything he does, including swimming, academics and the piano. He has been an important part of four state-championship swim teams, and Etherington says his leadership as one of this year's team captains was a key to the Bengals' success.
"Carson is always upbeat and positive and one of the hardest workers on the team," Etherington said. "Still, he has a life and is pretty grounded."
The Rachmaninoff concerto was featured in the movie "Shine" and is notoriously difficult. Few pianists could tackle its technical demands when it was written in 1909.
Malen approached the piece by biting off small portions and allowing the music to digest at a natural pace. "I learned the first page and then the last, starting slowly and gradually increasing the speed," he said about his practice habits, which include working about three hours a day. But during swim season, he is lucky to squeeze in more than an hour.
The son of Annette and Peter Malen of Holladay, Carson started playing the piano when he was 6 and has been studying for nine years with Susan Duehlmeier, the head of the U.'s piano area. Friday's concert will mark the fourth time he has performed with an orchestra.
Duehlmeier appreciates her student's musical instincts. "He's not someone you have to tell what to do on every note." She also pointed at the unusual frequency with which he been able to play with an orchestra.
"A lot of students who go to music conservatories or major music schools never have the opportunity to play with an orchestra," Duehlmeier said. That is one of the reasons she was happy when American West conductor Joel Rosenberg founded the piano competition in 2011 as part of the orchestra's community outreach program.
This competition is different from most contests as Rosenberg selects the music that competitors will play a work he wants to present as part of a regular season concert. He works with soloists before they rehearse with the orchestra to establish tempos and agree on interpretation.
The May concerts mark the conclusion of the organization's 25th season, and Rosenberg believes the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto's technical fire and romantic themes will add a celebratory element. It also pairs well with French composer Camille Saint-Saëns' towering Symphony No. 3 ("Organ"), which will be performed by Teresa Clawson, a master's candidate from the U.
According to Rosenberg, Saint-Saëns composed the symphony in 1886 at the zenith of his career. The composer, who was also the organist for several cathedrals in France, conducted the work's premiere in London. He then switched roles, playing the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto while Sir Arthur Sullivan (half of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta team) conducted the rest of the program.
Rosenberg also will be the viola soloist during Giulio Caccini's "Ave Maria" for Viola and Orchestra. He is performing the work in memory of his friend Cliff Millward, who recently passed-away. Millward was a longtime board member and the organization's vice president. Concerts will also include Giuseppe Verdi's Overture to "Nabucco."
Competition winners perform
American West Symphony and Chorus presents pianists Carson Malen and Ubeeng Kueq, playing the first movement of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. Also on the program: Saint Saëns' "Organ" Symphony No. 3 with organist Teresa Clawson. Joel Rosenberg conducts.
When • Friday, May 10, 8 p.m.; Monday and Tuesday, May 13-14, 7:30 p.m.
Where • May 10 concert at the Good Shepherd Church in Sandy, 8600 S. 700 East; May 13 and 14 at Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $10 adults; $8 students; at the door; $5 youth tickets (8-15 years old) available for the May 10 concert only
Details • americanwestsymphony.org