Pictured left to right: pianist Ching-Yun Chen and soprano Dr. Naomi Merer (photo by Zach Mendez)

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Adriane Cleary
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June 24, 2021

UC Santa Barbara doctoral candidate Ching-Yun Chen and alumna Dr. Naomi Merer took top prizes in the annual Performing Arts Scholarship Foundation (PASF) Competition, held live with appropriate social distancing on April 25, 2021 in the Lotte Lehmann Recital Hall at the Music Academy of the West. Ms. Chen, a Doctoral Candidate in Piano Performance, was awarded First Prize in the Adult Instrumental Division and Dr. Merer, now an alumna of UC Santa Barbara, was awarded Second Prize in the Vocal Division.

Ms. Chen received a cash award of $6,000 and Dr. Merer received a cash award of $3,000. 

For her prize-winning performance in the PASF Competition, Ms. Chen performed the "fiendishly difficult" Fuga: Allegro con spirito; the fourth movement of American composer Samuel Barber's Sonata for Piano. Written in 1949, the work was first championed by virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz and was commissioned by the League of Composers. Funding for the commission was provided by popular composers Irving Berlin and Richard Rogers. Barber's Sonata for Piano has remained a staple of the virtuoso piano repertoire for more than 70 years. 

Ms. Chen received her Master of Music degree from the University of Miami where she was a student of renowned pianist Santiago Rodríguez and was a finalist in the University of Miami Concerto Competition. Ms. Chen is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at UC Santa Barbara, studying with Senior Lecturer Dr. Charles Asche.

Dr. Merer performed the final aria, “Ved’ mé kroky” (Lead my steps), from Czech composer Dr. Sylvie Bodorová’s opera, Legenda o Kateřině z Redernu (The Legend of Catherine of Redern) (2014). Dr. Merer noted that "the opera, based in history, takes place in the early seventeenth century, at a time when the Austro-Hungarian Empire had taken over the Czech Republic. During this time, the Austro-Hungarians forced the people of the Czech Republic to convert from their native Protestantism to Catholicism. However, Kateřina—a Czech noblewoman—and her son, Kryštof, refuse to convert. Right before singing this aria, Kateřina convinces her son to flee the country to safety, but she stays to defend her homeland and her religion. In this aria, she uses the texts of several psalms to ask God for strength and to lead her down the right path." Dr. Merer shared that she first learned the piece when she traveled to perform in the Czech Republic in 2019, where she studied Czech diction with Dr. Timothy Cheek. Dr. Merer performed this aria as an opera scene with Dr. Bodorová in the audience.

Dr. Merer received her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degree from UC Santa Barbara (Spring 2021). She is a student of Dr. Linda Di Fiore.

The 2021 winners also included soprano Patricia Westley (First Prize, Vocal Division), pianist Noelle Hadsall (First Prize, Junior Instrumental Division), and guitarist Joseph Malvinni and pianist Holly Hadsall, both Co-Second Prize winners for the Junior Instrumental Division. Ms. Noelle Hadsall and Ms. Holly Hadsall are both students of alumnus Dr. Pascal Salomon, who received his Doctor of Musical Arts in 2017 from UC Santa Barbara, where he studied with Professor Paul Berkowitz.

The full competition is available to watch on YouTube or below:

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