Music Student Takes 1st Place In Competition

Erin Dostal

By Erin DostalThe Daily Northwestern

The Northwestern School of Music has a lot to toot its horn about these days.

Ethan Bensdorf, a Music senior, won first prize in the inaugural Armando Ghitalla Trumpet Competition.

“All 18 of the semifinalists were just fantastic players,” said Rolf Smedvig, director of the Armando Ghitalla Foundation and lead trumpet player for the Empire Brass quintet. “Ethan was the unanimous choice and clear winner.”

The competition began in April when applicants sent in an audition videotape or DVD. From an applicant pool of more than 100 players, 18 were chosen as semifinalists and asked to send in another audition tape.

“Four finalists were chosen to go to Pittsfield, Mass., to play a live final round for judges,” Bensdorf said. “I was a big ball of stress.”

As the winner of the competition, Bensdorf won $7,500 and a guest appearance with the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 27.

According to Smedvig, Bensdorf is not only the first to win the competition, but he was also the first to apply. He said he first knew of Bensdorf when the college student wrote the foundation a “very nice” letter, apologizing that he would be unable to create a video audition.

Soon after, Smedvig allowed Bensdorf to use his studio to tape his audition.

Competitors from all over the world applied and ranged in age from 20 to 42. The other finalists included two graduate students from UCLA and one graduate of the Julliard School.

The competition was sponsored by the Armando Ghitalla Foundation. Ghitalla was a distinguished American trumpet player and educator who spent more than 28 years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The competition is not Bensdorf’s first success as a performer. Bensdorf, an Evanston native, has played the trumpet for 12 years, and performs with NU’s Symphony Orchestra.

In 2005, he was one of four students chosen by NU to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He was also a founder of the Panoramic Brass Quintet and was a semifinalist in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in 2003. His other accolades include performing at the National Orchestral Institute in Maryland and the Pacific Music Festival in Japan.

“It is a regular occurrence that the Northwestern students do well nationally,” said Barbara Butler, a music professor at NU. “The students are all good … they all believe in themselves.”

Although Butler is Bensdorf’s primary teacher and mentor at NU, she said she had little direct involvement with his participation in the Armando Ghitalla Competition.

She said personal initiative like Bensdorf’s is “really the signature of people who are going to make it.”

As one of Butler’s students, Bensdorf takes private lessons, a solo performance class and an orchestra class for which students must audition.

“(Bensdorf has) been a fabulous student,” Butler said. “He’s a nice man, as well. Everyone is happy for his success.

“I love listening to him play,” she added.

Bensdorf’s award is sizable, but he already knows where the money is going.

“I’m going to use some of (the prize money) towards tuition,” he said. “We all know how expensive that is.”

He said he will use the rest of the money to help pay for travel expenses while he auditions for symphonies this year. Ideally, he said, he would like to end up playing for a nationally-recognized orchestra.

“I prophesize a great future for him,” Smedvig said. “He’s got the talent, got the ambition, got the drive, got the focus, got the energy … it’s a magical combination for a musician.”

Reach Erin Dostal at [email protected]