Students of note
Dreams can come true, but they just don’t happen. They take effort and time.
Viktoria Kogan’s dream came true this past weekend when 70 young artists participated in a three-day concert and competition she had organized.
You Got Rhythm was a celebration of the works of George Gershwin, she said. The event was something she had wanted to do since she came to the United States from the Ukraine in 2002.
The Somerton resident had worked as a composer, pianist, educator and producer of musicals for children in Kharkov, Ukraine, and continued teaching music to children when she emigrated.
Her idea to create a “professional-grade music competition for youth” began to take form in the last two years, Kogan said during an interview at her Philmont Avenue home.
Gershwin’s work was chosen for a few reasons. The composer is a son of Russian parents, yet “he is an icon of American music,” Kogan said. “He is a good example of the American dream.”
His music, Kogan said, “is a blending of classical style and jazz improvisational style.”
Gershwin’s music is attractive to students, she said, and keeps them interested. And, the 75th anniversary of his death is coming up in July.
“He had a short life,” Kogan said, “but legendary fame.”
Some of the most enduring music of the 20th century, Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Someone to Watch Over Me and even Swanee were written in the 1920s and 1930s. Gershwin, who had teamed up with his brother, Ira, was just 39 when he died.
Kogan’s own American experience began 10 years ago when she came to the United States. Her son, Alexander, was studying at the Curtis Institute of Music here in Philadelphia.
She said she also has other family and friends in the city.
She teaches piano, which she did in the Ukraine, too, but here she sees differences in attitude. Back home, Kogan taught in a special music school for gifted children.
“I got used to a community of colleagues and students,” she said. “We were very close. Our relationship was easy and close … and very stable.”
She taught in Ukraine and Russia, and emphasis was put on producing shows for the children that had professional looks to them. She said she put together four musicals for the kids. In her Somerton home, she has framed posters of one of the shows’ international performances.
There was a seriousness in the approaches of both students and instructors, she said. Here, she said, children are involved in many activities, and doing something “just for fun” is very popular.
In 2011, with the help of several colleagues, Kogan founded the non-profit Music for Youth Company. Last weekend’s three-day You Got Rhythm festival and competition was the organization’s first major event.
During the opening gala on Friday, Russian jazz pianist Daniel Kramer made his American debut at the Philadelphia Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square. Francesca Gershwin, the composer’s grandniece, also made an appearance.
The first round of competition for voice, piano and violin for all age categories was conducted on Saturday at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr and was not open to the public. Round II was held at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St. That round was a juried competition for piano, violin and voice with jury awards. Members of the public were invited to vote for their favorites.
Contestants came from six states. Those from several countries entered via DVD submissions.
Judges included pianist Susan Starr; Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Amy Oshiro Morales; Sergei Polusmiak, pianist and artist-in-residence and professor of music at Northern Kentucky University; and Karen Saillant, artistic director of the International Opera Theater. The event was hosted by broadcaster and music columnist Robert Sherman.
Kogan said the generosity of the region’s Russian community helped make the event possible. That community was well-represented during the gala opening, said Inna Lobanova-Heasley, Kogan’s spokeswoman.
Lobanova-Heasley said that Kramer’s performance was inspiring. The pianist and Francesca Gershwin were invited to perform on WRTI-FM after Friday’s concert, she said, adding that WRTI was a big supporter of You Got Rhythm. ••
The winners are …
Senior Division: First place, Kevin Jang, piano; second place, Mary Loftus, violin; third place, Michael Mei, piano; honorable mention, Kira Mathias-Prabu.
Intermediate Division: No winner was chosen. Honorable mention: Eric Hu and Selena Hue, both piano.
Junior Division: First place, Jennifer Liu, piano; second place, Samantha Lee, violin; third place, John May, piano.