The battle is on for the country’s best young instrumentalists, after SAMRO Foundation unveiled the 12 semi-finalists in the 2016 Overseas Scholarships Competition. 

Six Jazz and six Western Art Music performers will be competing for two R200 000 scholarships to further their music studies abroad, plus an array of additional awards. 

The Jazz semi-finalists are Keenan Ahrends (guitar), Justin Bellairs (alto saxophone), Siyasanga Charles (trombone), Benjamin Jephta (bass guitar), Sidney Rash (drums) and Linda Sikhakhane (tenor sax).

The Western Art Music semi-finalists are Matthew Lombard (saxophone), Sally Minter (flute), Myles Roberts (flute), Neil Robertson (flute), Dylan Tabisher (marimba) and Tatiana Thaele (flute).

Truly 12 of the best, the participants will compete in the semi-final round in Johannesburg on 18 August, where they will be judged by a high-level panel of music professionals.

Two Jazz and two Western Art Music finalists will go head to head during a public concert at the Linder Auditorium on Saturday, 20 August 2016.  Included in the finalists’ repertoire will be premiere performances of challenging commissioned works written by top South African composers.

The SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition rotates on a four-yearly cycle between rewarding singers, instrumentalists, composers and keyboard players.

“What is interesting about our competition is that some performers hold it in such high regard that they are willing to wait a long time to re-enter our competition. It speaks to the values of persistence, patience and perseverance, qualities that often make for long-term successful careers in the music business,” remarked SAMRO Foundation Managing Director André le Roux.

“For us it bears testament to the stature of this competition that we are seeing repeat entrants, some from eight years ago and others from four years ago. This year they have returned, having sharpened their musical chops, for another shot at the top prize.”

Jazz trumpeter Darren English, winner of the 2012 SAMRO Overseas Scholarship, graduated from Georgia State University with a master’s degree in 2014.  Now based in Georgia, he recently released his first album, Imagine Nation, which is doing exceptionally well. He is the youngest artist to be signed to leading Atlanta jazz label Hot Shoe Records. On the website music reviewer Dan Bilawsky gave the album four stars, hailing English as “a bright new voice and a force to be reckoned with … clearly destined for big things”.

The 2012 winner of the Western Art Music category, Avigail Bushakevitz, is this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for music and is due to perform at the Gala Concert at the National Arts Festival this week.

Previous winners of the golden double – a SAMRO scholarship and a Young Artist award – include Bokani Dyer, Kesivan Naidoo and Ben Schoeman. Many former semi-finalists are also making a name for themselves at home and abroad, and some of the current candidates are already well known on the music scene.

Like English and Bushakevitz, many of the previous award winners have already achieved high levels of professional accomplishment, and credit their participation in the SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition with being a stepping-stone to even greater heights. Last year’s Singers Competition winners Levy Sekgapane, already has two more top international competitions under his belt and Zoe Modiga was a finalist in The Voice and is becoming a household name.

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