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School of Music

BYU Music Professor Wins National Award in Orchestra Conducting

Kory Katseanes Won First Place in the 2022 American Prize in Conducting Orchestras at the College and University Division

Professor Kory Katseanes conducted BYU’s Philharmonic performance of Gustav Mahler’s 9th Symphony in April 2019. He then sent a recording of the live performance to The American Prize and was surprised when he found out he was awarded first prize in conducting.

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Katseanes has been the director of BYU orchestras for more than 20 years. He compared receiving the award to “being named coach of the year in an athletic sport. It’s humbling.”

The American Prize’s website describes the contest as “the nation’s most comprehensive series of contests in the classical arts.” This is the first time anyone at BYU has won this award, according to Katseanes, and he attributes it to the hard work and skill of the students.

“It’s very rare for a university orchestra to tackle this piece," said Katseanes. “This is a good indication or measuring stick of the level of playing in the BYU School of Music and the BYU Philharmonic. We have a tradition of excellence.”

BYU’s School of Music has five orchestras, which Katseanes says speaks to the musicality of the student body. Many students who participate in the orchestras are not music majors but have a desire to keep up their skills.

The BYU Philharmonic is primarily music majors. Katseanes was impressed with the time and attention that the students brought to this piece.

Students prepared for a full school year leading up to this performance; they watched recorded performances of Mahler’s 9th Symphony through the digital concert hall that BYU students have free access to. The members of BYU Philharmonic also read about the piece's history and what Mahler and other musicians said about it.

“What makes Mahler particularly hard is not just its technical challenges, which are big, but its emotional and musical challenges as well,” described Katseanes. “His 9th symphony is very demanding. Mahler is really talking about the end of his life here. It’s a very profound piece of music.”

What Katseanes also finds profound is the excellence of the students in the School of Music. “This award really isn’t about me,” said Katseanes. “It’s about the players. If you get nominated for an award like this, you've got musicians that are putting you out there.”

The BYU Philharmonic records and posts videos of their performances to their YouTube channel, where other performance recordings can be found. A video of the award-winning performance can be found on their channel.

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