Passion, gratitude mark winners of Young Artists Competition

PORT ANGELES — Every Monday night, 16-year-old Erin Hennessey drives to Tacoma and back.

Hennessey spends an hour there with a doctor — Maria Sampen, a doctor of music who is one of her biggest fans.

Hennessey is the winner of the 2012 Young Artists Competition, a contest sponsored by the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 28.

Symphony conductor Adam Stern and other veteran musicians voted her the top player in the field of 11 contestants from across the North Olympic Peninsula and awarded her a $500 cash prize.

While Hennessey won the competition for musicians age 22 and younger, pianist Wei-Yan Fu, 13, topped the Junior Young Artists Competition for students in ninth grade or below.

As the winner in the field of 12 competitors, he took home $250 in cash.

Passion, gratitude

Both teens are striking in two respects: unabashed passion and gratitude.

Fu won with his performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat, a melody he said astonished him from the first moment he heard it.

“I love music, and I always will,” said Fu, who has been playing piano since first grade.

He started out with teachers Thelma and Richard McCoy and now studies with Kayla Dyment.

“She has taught me a lot about shaping my music,” he said.

Fu, an eighth-grader at Stevens Middle School, also took up the cello four years ago.

Hennessey is both a violinist and a fiddler: She’s concertmistress of the Port Angeles High School Chamber Orchestra and a member of the Black Diamond Fiddle Club, a Port Angeles band.

“She has something really special. And she works hard. Those two things go hand in hand,” said Sampen, a professor at Tacoma’s University of Puget Sound and a violinist who performs as a soloist all over the world.

Musical future

Hennessey’s musical future is wide open, Sampen added.

“When Erin performs, she just lights up. There’s a new element that comes into her playing . . . she is very passionate, very sincere.”

Another thing that stands out about this teenager: She’s grateful to be a young musician in Port Angeles.

“In such a small area, we are extremely lucky,” Hennessey said, “to benefit from the Port Angeles Symphony and the expertise of our private teachers.”

The Port Angeles High School junior studied with Jo Dee Ahmann in Port Angeles for nine years before starting lessons with Sampen in Tacoma.

After the competition, she expressed her gratitude to Ahmann, Sampen and Port Angeles High orchestra director Ron Jones “for their expertise and wisdom.”

Teaching Hennessey — who started lessons at age 4 — “was my delight,” said Ahmann, adding that Hennessey is a natural — yet humble about it.

Violinist’s showpiece

For the competition, Hennessey chose Ravel’s “Tzigane,” a showpiece for violinists.

“It’s flashy and full of technical tricks,” she said.

“I heard it performed when I was younger, and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to play it myself.”

After graduation next year, Hennessey hopes to go either to a music conservatory or a college with an affiliated school of music — to pursue degrees in both music and biology.

As for that $500 in cash, she’s saving it for after high school.

“I hope to spend it, after I graduate, on a trip to Ireland to study Irish traditional music,” Hennessey said.

Other standouts in the Young Artists Competitions include pianists Jeremy Choe, 14; Curry Winborn, 18; Tarah Erickson, 17, and Cole Urnes, 15; and double bassist Michael Helwick, 14, who received honorable mentions.

For more information about the contests and other Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra activities, phone the symphony office at 360-457-5579 or visit


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at

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