For the 2018–19 season, the Yale Symphony Orchestra will feature this year’s winners of the annual William Waite Concerto Competition — violist Sarah Switzer ’19 and saxophonist Nick DeWalt ’21 — as soloists in their concerts, the YSO announced on Monday.

The competition, a YSO tradition, offers two undergraduate musicians at Yale the opportunity to perform their respective concertos as soloists in the orchestra’s subsequent concert cycle.

“As long as we’re here, we’d like to continue this,” Yale Symphony Orchestra Music Director Toshiyuki Shimada said. “It’s a great opportunity for undergraduates to be selected to play a major concerto with an orchestra.”

DeWalt, a first year in Saybrook College and a Texas native, will play the Saxophone Concerto “Cyberbird Concerto” for alto saxophone, piano and orchestra, which Takashi Yoshimatsu composed in 1994.

DeWalt started playing the saxophone in sixth grade and enjoyed performing in middle school and high school as a member of the Texas All-State Band. While he focuses primarily on classical saxophone, he admits to having “dabbled” in jazz.

On campus, DeWalt is a part of the Yale Concert Band, a member of a saxophone quartet and a student of Yale School of Music professor Carrie Koffman. Although he is a prospective medical school student, DeWalt plans to continue playing saxophone on the side — and cites this musical passion as part of his reason for attending Yale.

Asked what excited him most about winning the competition, DeWalt noted that the piece, which showcases much of the saxophone’s musical versatility, “may be going against what people typically think of [saxophone music]” — and how he plans to “bring that to light.”

“I’m excited to play with an orchestra in general, because I never have, but also to play with an orchestra the caliber of YSO,” DeWalt said. “It’s going to be a unique experience for us all.”

The second winner, Switzer, will perform the Bartók Viola Concerto as a featured soloist in a separate concert next season. Switzer, who began playing violin at age five and picked up viola at 13, is excited to perform with the orchestra, especially after hearing her older sister Emily Switzer ’17 MUS ’19 perform as a soloist in the 2016–17 season.

In addition to being a member of the YSO, Switzer currently takes lessons for course credit with professor Wendy Sharp ’82 and plays in a group for her chamber class.

“Bartók is a piece that’s inaccessible for a lot of people,” Switzer explained. “I hope a lot more people will like the piece after I play it, because it’s definitely not something that appeals to the mass public because it’s more modern and harder to understand.”

Switzer said she looks forward to auditioning for graduate music schools next year, adding that she is striving for “some sort of career in music performance.”

William Waite GRD ’51, the namesake of the competition, taught solely at Yale and helped facilitate the formation of the orchestra. During his tenure, Waite was “one of [the YSO’s] strident advocates,” according to the managing director of the YSO, Brian Robinson.

While the competition was not called the William Waite Concerto Competition until later, Shimada told the News that featuring undergraduate soloists with the orchestra has been a tradition since 1965, whether it was through a similar competition process or through selection at the music director’s discretion.

The competition process includes a preliminary video audition round, with Shimada and others reviewing the tapes to narrow a list of candidates. Those selected to proceed then compete in a live final audition round, which includes judges outside of Yale to maintain professionalism and objectivity.

“Typically, there are three judges,” Robinson explained. These judges “are from different instrument types” — typically including a pianist, a string player and a woodwind player — so that when participants come with a series of repertoire, “one of the judges will know it.”

Asked about next season’s potential repertoire, Shimada said he has a list of works he would like the YSO to play at some point, and he considers fitting the two concertos within the five-concert cycle like a “puzzle game.”

“It’s always nice to find out the winners of the concerto competition because it really helps us plan what the season’s going to sound like,” Robinson added. “[Having] these two relatively contemporary pieces as the groundwork for starting the season up — we’re very excited for that.”

The final Yale Symphony Orchestra concert of the 2017–18 season will be held this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Woolsey Hall.

Allison Park |