A new award for emerging young artists

Catherine Clifton receives dance tips from David Rubio (left), a student at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts as her husband, Anthony, watches on the garden roof at the Kimmel Center. The Cliftons created an award for young artists; Rubio is a recipient. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

Ready to debut: a new award for young performers that comes with a substantial cash prize.

Five musicians and one dancer will receive the first Emerging Artists Awards from the Clifton Foundation at the Kimmel Center on Wednesday evening. Each will receive $5,000 plus the visibility of a public performance at the awards event.

Alan Schlichting, a composition student at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, said he was "completely floored" by the news that he was one of this year's winners.

"Such a profound gesture will do so much more for me than simply help pay tuition bills for my continued study in music composition - although that is a reality that this award will clearly make easier to manage," said Schlichting, 21, who is from Warrenton, Va. The award, he says, has done nothing less than "revitalize my mission to share my gifts in order to provoke deeper thoughts about our lives. It reminds me that we still desire to reflect on our unique humanity through music and has reaffirmed for me that that my artistic voice is a valid means to this end."

Performers cannot apply for the merit-based award. Local philanthropists Catherine R. and Anthony A. Clifton have structured the program so that recipients are chosen by program heads at several area schools that the Cliftons have identified. In addition to Westminster, they are the High School for Creative and Performing Arts in South Philadelphia, West Chester University, Rowan University, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The area's most prestigious music school, the Curtis Institute of Music, was purposely excluded.

"I picked these schools because they have established programs, but in contrast to Curtis, these kids do not have many performance opportunities," said Catherine Clifton, a daughter of Suzanne and Ralph J. Roberts, co-founder of Comcast. "That seemed to be lacking. To be able to perform at the Kimmel Center is a real joy for these kids. When we researched this, we learned that would mean a lot."

The Cliftons have funded the program with a $1 million gift from their foundation to the Kimmel Center endowment to cover production and administrative costs, and separately have committed themselves to funding the $5,000 awards for the next 10 years. They say they expect the program to grow and change. While the concentration is on musicians, this time the winners include one dancer - David Rubio, a 17-year-old junior from CAPA.

In addition to Rubio and Schlichting, the winners are soprano Ella Potjanaporn Duangkaew (Penn); clarinetist Dylan James (Rowan); baritone Andrew Shaw (Temple); and percussionist/marimba player Matthew Earl Wycoff (West Chester).

"I think it will evolve," Clifton says. "I know that Princeton is interested, and we may want to look at some [other] high schools. I think we have some incredibly talented young people, and I think it could develop in a lot of ways. We're really going to spotlight these young people and give them a chance to shine."

For instance, the concert accompanying the awards ceremony will provide Schlichting not only with an audience but also with performers. Students from Curtis will play his string quartet, Illusions, which he calls "a fitting summary of my musical inspirations and musical growth during my studies at Westminster Choir College." The composer was influenced by Bernstein and Copland, but also, he says, by Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, with whom he sang in performances of the Mahler Symphony No. 2 and Bach St. Matthew Passion this past year.

"His incredible sensitivity and connection to the raw truth of the world's greatest music, whether intimate or bombastic, pushes me to think deeply about what my music should say."

With this piece, he hopes that "on some small level I may reach people and compel them to think about what brings them joy and what they do to share that joy with others."


The Emerging Artists Awards will be presented at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Kimmel's Perelman Theater, Broad and Spruce Streets. Admission is free, but reservations are required at www.cliftonfdn.org (password: Emerge). Information: 610-940-1999.