It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the University of Houston made a strong first impression at the Béla Bartók International Choir Competition.
This year marked the first time the Concert Chorale was invited to the renowned competition, and the UH singers made it one to remember. Cheered on by supporters near and far — including the dean of the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts (KGMCA), Andrew Davis, who traveled to Hungary with the choir — the Concert Chorale sailed through the four-day competition. They tied for first place in the Mixed Choir division and placed second in the Chamber Choir division, before ultimately winning the Grand Prix award on July 8.
The Concert Chorale was one of only eight collegiate and professional-level choirs invited to the 28th annual competition. “We competed against some of the best choirs from around the world,” recalls Betsy Cook Weber, director of the Concert Chorale. “We brought drive, determination and Cougar spirit to the stage.”
Though the Concert Chorale has competed in several international competitions under Weber’s leadership, she was especially excited by this one. Unlike many other choir competitions, the Béla Bartók International Choir Competition requires singers to perform only contemporary works created after the legendary composer’s death. “It’s very unusual,” says Weber. “But it’s a great chance for students to sing contemporary work and premiere new pieces.”
The Concert Chorale performed 20 works at the competition, including three original compositions by UH composers. Graduate student Carlos Cordero, whose piece “This Sky” was among the three original UH works, described the experience as the highlight of his composing career.
“I was incredibly excited and nervous,” he says, recalling the moments before the performance. “On stage, right before starting the piece, Dr. Weber looked at me and smiled and then it hit me: This is happening!”
The performance crystalized everything Cordero loves about being a composer. “It was such a special moment to share the stage with my friends, who are such passionate artists. They are some of the finest artists I’ve worked with,” he says.
“I am proud to sing with the Concert Chorale because I can see how every person on stage — or in the rehearsal room — cares for the music. I feel fortunate to be one of the voices that represent the University of Houston.”
Andrea Walker, the Moores School of Music alumna who served as student director during the competition, agrees.
“In preparation for this concert, we did all we could do,” she says. That meant working tirelessly to demonstrate their love of music in each performance — and it paid off. “Hard work and passion together result in the unthinkable.”