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Nygil Witherspoon 

Fifteen-year-old Nygel Witherspoon, a cellist, chose one of classical music’s most beloved  works as his competition solo in YPSCA’s annual School Music Auditions – Dvořák’s Cello Concerto – and his outstanding performance of the work’s first movement brought him top honors at the Finals of the 2017 competition on Sunday, January 29. 

Witherspoon, a 10th-grader at Connections Academy, took home First Prize, which includes an award of $1,500 from the Edwin and Edith Norberg Fund as well as a chance to star as soloist in a Minnesota Orchestra Young People’s Concert next season. In addition, he won the Claire Givens Award, a grant of $600, for giving the highest-ranked performance by a string player. Witherspoon, of Minneapolis, is the son of Katie Daniels, and his cello teacher is David Holmes of St. Louis Park. 

This is the 60th year YPSCA has presented the School Music Auditions (SMA), a competition for talented instrumental students and pianists in grades 7 through 12 who are enrolled full-time in an accredited school in the Upper Midwest. 

Following is a complete list of the finalists and their awards:  

  • Nygel Witherspoon, cello: the Edwin and Edith Norberg Fund Award and opportunity to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra
  • Katia Tesarczyk, cello: the Edwin Norberg Award
  • Abigail Arkley, piano: the Edith Norberg Award
  • Nygel Witherspoon, cello: the Claire Givens Award
  • Chen Chen, piano: Schmitt Music Award
  • Eliot Johnson, cello: Bonnie and Donn McLellan Award
  • Emma Taggart, piano: Margaret Ankeny Award
  • Madeline Sheard, cello: Karen Lundmark Holmes Award
  • Abigail Hansen, harp: David Colwell Award
  • Joseph Tranvik, piano: Katie Berg Memorial Award
  • Catherine Carson, violin: Judith and David Ranheim Award
  • Abigail Arkley, piano: Minnesota Music Teachers Forum (MMTF) Performance and Honorarium Award  


YPSCA volunteers’ preparations for the 2017 competition began months ago and have been particularly intense in recent weeks. After a busy day of preliminary auditions on January 21, 10 young musicians were chosen to participate in the Finals at Orchestra Hall on January 29, competing for 12 awards with a collective value of $7,100.  Among them were four pianists, three cellists, two violinists and one harpist.
YPSCA is grateful to the generous individuals and organizations that provided this year’s awards: the Edwin and Edith Norberg Fund, Claire Givens Violins, Schmitt Music, Bonnie and Donn McLellan, Margaret Ankeny, Karen Lundmark Holmes, David Colwell, Katie Berg Memorial Fund, Judy and David Ranheim and the Minneapolis Music Teachers Forum (MMTF).
YPSCA also thanks the judges who donated their time and professional expertise. Judging the Preliminaries were Conor O’Brien, Paul Shaw, Rebecca Shockley and Steve Staruch; Finals judges included Ken Freed, Herb Johnson and Laura Sewell.
Of course, the competition could not have taken place without dedicated and experienced YPSCA volunteers, notably SMA Chair Judy Ranheim and her hardworking core committee, as well as other YPSCA members who assisted during the Preliminaries and Finals, provided refreshments and supported the talented young participants in many additional ways. Finally, we thank the superb Orchestra Hall staff whose professionalism keeps the SMA operating at a high level each year.  


The Young People's Symphony Concert Association (YPSCA) holds an annual competition called SCHOOL MUSIC AUDITIONS for students enrolled full time in an accredited school, grades 7 through 12, from the Upper Midwest. One of these students is selected to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra and receive the $1,500 Edwin W. and Edith B. Norberg Trust Award. Other cash prizes and scholarships are also presented.

 Recent History

Anders Peterson, a 16 year old clarinetist from Northfield, won the 59th Annual School Music Auditions sponsored by the Young People's Symphony Concert Association held at Orchestra Hall on January 24th. A sophomore at Northfield High and a student of Dr. Jun Qian, Peterson played Weber's Concertino for Clarinet to take top prize among the nine finalists. In addition to his monetary award, he earned the privilege of performing with The Minnesota Orchestra at a series of Young People's Concerts.









The 2015 winner is Zhen Tu, a 10th grade at Eagan High School recently performed with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall.  She was featured soloist for the Colors Of Music YP concerts in October 2015 and February 2016.  

2015 winner