Announcing the 2023-2024 Concerto Competition Winners

The winners of the 2023-24 Princeton University Orchestra’s annual Concerto Competition are: 

Invited to perform on the PUO concerts March 1 and 2, 2024:

Kaivalya Kulkarni ’26 (Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129)

Wesley Sanders ’26 (Vaughan Williams Concerto for Bass Tuba)

Daniel Lee ’27 (Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major)

Invited to perform on the PUO concerts October 4 and 5, 2024:

Kasey Shao ’25 (Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue)

Invited to perform on the PUO Reunions Fireworks Concert May 25, 2024:

Sara Shiff ’25 (Mozart’s E Susanna non vien!… Dove sono)

Elliott Kim ’27 (Dvořák’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in B minor, op. 104)

The Princeton University Orchestra‘s Concerto Competition offers all currently-enrolled Princeton University students a chance to perform as a soloist with the ensemble—an internationally-recognized orchestra of over 100 undergraduate and graduate student musicians, conducted by Maestro Michael Pratt. This year’s preliminary round was judged by Marna Seltzer, Director of Princeton University Concerts, and Dasha Koltunyuk ’15, Marketing & Outreach Manager of Princeton University Concerts. 

The final round was judged by special guest Nina Lee.  Nina Lee has been on the faculty at Princeton and Columbia Universities and is currently coaching chamber music at the Yale School of Music where the Brentano Quartet has been in residence since 2014. Regular summer appearances in performing and teaching include the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and the Taos School of Music. She has also participated as a guest faculty member at the St. Lawrence String Quartet Chamber Music Seminar and the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music and this summer she will join the faculty of Kneisel Hall. She also has made numerous appearances at the Spoleto Festival USA and the La Jolla SummerFest. She served on the jury of the Salzburg International Quartet Competition in 2023 and future plans include joining the jury of the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition Jury in 2025. Lee’s principal teachers have been Joel Krosnick, David Soyer, and Anne Fagerburg-Jacob. She has received degrees and certificates from the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School.

About the 2023-24 Concerto Competition Winners:

Kaivalya Kulkarni 

Cellist Kaivalya Kulkarni is a sophomore planning on concentrating in mathematics. Kaivalya started learning cello as a five-year-old in the local Suzuki program in Okemos, Michigan. Later he studied with Horacio Contreras and Richard Aaron. For the past six years, he has been studying under Prof. Amir Eldan, a professor of cello at the University of Michigan.

At Princeton, Kaivalya has participated in several ensembles. During the 2022-23 season, he was a member of the Princeton University Orchestra. He is also a current member of the cello ensemble La Vie en Cello and the chamber music group Opus.  Outside of music, Kaivalya enjoys mathematics, sports, and ice cream. 

“Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor is perhaps one of the most heartfelt, sensitive, and profound pieces of music in the cello concerto repertoire. The lack of pauses between the movements, the long lines and phrases, and the dreamlike character all lend themselves to create this sense of floating between reality and fantasy that tells a unique story that is so distinctive of Schumann.” –Kulkarni

Wesley Sanders 

Tubist Wesley Sanders is a sophomore planning to major in Chemistry with a minor in Tuba performance.  From Vernon, NJ, Wesley is an active member of numerous musical groups at Princeton, including the Princeton University Orchestra, Sinfonia, Creative Large Ensemble, Afrobeat, Wind Ensemble, OPUS, and Triangle Club.  He also gives trombone lessons through Trenton Arts at Princeton.

“The Vaughan Williams tuba concerto is a staple of the tuba’s solo repertoire, and rightfully so.  The first concerto composed for tuba and orchestra, this piece perfectly captures the tuba’s capabilities as a solo instrument, in both lyrical and technical contexts.  With this being the first tuba concerto PUO has performed, the Vaughan Williams tuba concerto is the perfect piece to introduce many to the tuba as a solo instrument.”– Sanders

Daniel Lee

Violinist Daniel Lee is a freshman hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, intending to study Economics. Daniel initially started playing the piano at the age of 5 and eventually picked up the violin at the age of 10. Throughout high school, he studied with Byron Tauchi until college where he study with Brennan Sweet. Back at home, Daniel was a part of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra. He made his professional orchestra debut on piano when he was 12 with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), performing with them two years later on violin. He participated in several summer music programs over the years, most recently with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA), touring and performing in North America and Europe with renowned conductors and soloists.  

“I chose the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto for its captivating, exhilarating, and over-the-top nature along with its beautiful, soaring lyricism. The solo violin part really steals the show and never fails to get my heart pumping with the exciting orchestra part beside it.”– Lee

Kasey Shao

Kasey Shao is a junior concentrating in Music with minors in Piano Performance and Engineering Biology. 

Gilmore Young Artist, Young Steinway Artist, and Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Kasey began piano at the age of 6 and is currently studying with Professors Ran Dank and Margaret Kampmeier. She made her concerto debut when she was 12 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin as the first-place winner of the Albert M. Greenfield Concerto Competition. 

She has won top prizes in numerous piano competitions and scholarships including the New York International Piano Competition, Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, Hilton Head International Piano Competition, Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and was the Gold Medal Winner in the Classical Music Division of National YoungArts Week. She has been recognized as a 4-time Chopin Scholar, Cincinnati MacDowell Artist Grant recipient, and a 2-time Matinee Musicale Nancy F. Walker Memorial Scholarship Winner. 

“The Rhapsody in Blue was introduced to me when I was in middle school through an animated short that brought the piece to life through a day in NYC. The exaggerated busyness, getting lost within the city crowds, the cartoonishly large buildings and business men – the animation captured everything I loved about the city as a kid and naturally made me fall in love with the piece. Having the opportunity to learn it and work on it was an absolute joy and I knew that having the chance to play it with PUO would be not only incredibly memorable, but also so much fun!”– Shao

Sara Shiff 

Soprano Sara Shiff, from Minneapolis, MN, is a junior at Princeton studying History and Vocal Performance. The two-time winner of the MacPhail Concerto/Aria Competition, Sara has also won the Schmidt Vocal Competition, Dakota Valley Symphony Concerto/Aria Competition, and Thursday Musical Scholarship Competition. Her summer experiences include the Berlin Opera Academy, Princeton in Pisa Italian Language Program, Brevard Music Center, and Minnesota Opera Vocal Artist Program. Upcoming highlights: featured soloist with the Princeton Camerata Orchestra, selections from Norma for Princeton’s Opera Scenes workshop, and Pamina in the Princeton Music Department’s production of The Magic Flute. Recently, Sara debuted four scenes from Sarah Kirkland Snider’s new opera Hildegarde

An avid entrepreneur, Sara is the Director of Human Relations for Business Today, Princeton’s largest student-run non-profit. She has also worked with Anthony Roth Costanzo ’04 and the Metropolitan Opera’s NYC student ticket initiative and sang for the Georgetown Prisons & Justice Initiative.  

Sara studies in the studio of David Kellett. Her previous teachers are Elizabeth Bishop, Dr. Wendy Zaro-Mullins, and Dennis Petersen.

“During my freshman year at Princeton I saw Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met Opera; after hearing one of my favorite sopranos, Golda Schultz, sing the beautiful aria “Dove sono”, I knew I had to learn it — despite being one of the hardest arias for a soprano. After working on it for over a year with my teacher, I chose to present it for the competition. The graceful lyrical lines, dramatic emotions, and the dynamic range make it one of my favorite arias to sing.”—Shiff

Elliott Kim

Cellist Elliott Kim is a freshman at Princeton who has studied with Kyeong Hwa Kim and is a current student of Julia Lichten. Elliott is the 1st place winner of the 2022 CAPMT State Concerto Competition and an Honorable Mention winner of the 2022 National Young Arts Competition. His piano trio, the Aveta Trio, also won the Gold Medal in the Junior Division of the 2021 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and won 2nd place at the 2022 WDAV Classical Public Radio’s Young Chamber Musicians Competition. 

Elliott has studied with and performed in masterclasses for musicians including Astrid Schween, Antonio Lysy, Yeesun Kim, Steven Doane, Rosemary Elliott, Peter Stumpf, Itzhak Rashkovsky, Amit Peled, Natasha Brofsky, Amir Eldan, Hans Jensen, and David Geber. In past summers, Elliott has attended the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Orford Music Festival, Meadowmount School of Music, NYO-USA, and the Heifetz International Music Institute. 

“I’ve always dreamed of performing the Dvorak Cello Concerto with an orchestra ever since I was extremely young. Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of this concerto was one of the main performances that actually inspired me to start playing the cello, so this piece is extremely meaningful to me as performing it has allowed me to see how far I’ve come in my musical journey.”– Kim

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