Esme Arias-Kim, 17, Wins 2023 Crain-Maling Foundation CSO Young Artist Competition

By Robbie Ellis |

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Esme Arias-Kim and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago

Esme Arias-Kim and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (Photo: Elliot Mandel)

The Crain-Maling Foundation CSO Young Artists Competition has named Esme Arias-Kim as its 2023 winner.

The 17-year-old violinist claimed first prize with her performance of Ernest Chausson’s Poème for violin and orchestra. Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, William Grubb told her that she “put poetry in that Poème“. Her prize includes an engagement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in their 2023-24 season, and a repeat solo recital on Introductions on Classical WFMT.

Three other finalists also had the chance on Saturday to play with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and conductor Andrew Grams at Symphony Center. 16-year-old cellist Jan Vargas Nedvetsky was named First Alternate for his performance of the first movement of Franz Joseph Haydn‘s Cello Concerto in D; and violinists Aiden Yu and Henry Auxenfans — 13 and 15 respectively — played concerto movements by Aram Khachaturian and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Between the music and the announcement of prizes, WFMT host Robbie Ellis interviewed the four finalists about their lives, their interests, and their musical goals.

Originally from Hoffman Estates, Esme Arias-Kim is a high school junior at the Colburn Music Academy in Los Angeles studying violin with Robert Lipsett. She formerly attended the Music Institute of Chicago Academy and studied with Almita Vamos. Saturday’s performance at Symphony Center was Esme’s second appearance in the final round of the CSO Young Artist Competition: in 2020 she was named First Alternate. Among her many other competition wins was the Junior Division of the 2020 Sphinx Competition.

Onstage at Symphony Center (L-R): Robbie Ellis, Henry Auxenfans, Esme Arias-Kim, Aiden Yu, and Jan Vargas Nedvetsky

Onstage at Symphony Center (L-R): Robbie Ellis, Henry Auxenfans, Esme Arias-Kim, Aiden Yu, and Jan Vargas Nedvetsky (Photo: Elliot Mandel)

Esme had a particularly busy weekend as an orchestral soloist. Mere hours after her win at Symphony Center, she performed Korngold’s Violin Concerto with the New Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director Kirk Muspratt at the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn. The following day, she returned to the Loop in her capacity as the previous year’s winner of the International Young Artist Concerto Competition, reprising Chausson’s Poème at that competition’s 2023 final.

Esme has also been featured multiple times on WFMT’s weekly show Introductions. She first appeared at the age of 10 as a winner of the 2016 DePaul Concerto Festival, and she gave a full solo recital in November 2020. Her winning International Young Artist Concerto Competition performance aired in April 2022, and her chamber playing also went to air in May 2020, August 2020, August 2021, January 2022, and August 2022. She was also part of WFMT’s 70th Anniversary Day of Celebration in December 2021. As part of her prize package in the CSO Young Artists Competition, Esme has been offered a repeat solo recital before she finishes high school.

Finalists Jan Vargas Nedvetsky and Henry Auxenfans have also appeared on Introductions: Jan gave a solo cello recital in January 2021 and has played with multiple chamber groups; and Henry has been featured as a Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras concertmaster and has twice performed in a duo with his older brother Louis, including live from Navy Pier.

Recent winners of the Crain-Maling Foundation CSO Young Artists Competition include pianist Noah Kim, violinist Isabella Brown, and flutist Rosie Wang. The competition is presented by the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and typically operates on a three-year instrumentation cycle, open to pre-college soloists on strings, winds/brass/percussion, and piano.