Steelpan Player Jaden Teague-Núñez Wins 2024 CSO Young Artists Competition

By Robbie Ellis |

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Clad in a patterned red-black suitcoat, Jaden Teague-Núñez accepts a heartfelt ovation

Jaden Teague-Núñez onstage at Symphony Center (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

In a first, a steelpan player has won the Crain-Maling Foundation CSO Young Artists Competition.

16-year-old Jaden Teague-Núñez of DeKalb High School took first prize, performing selections from A Visit to Hell, a feature for solo steelpan and orchestra composed by Liam Teague and orchestrated by Jamie Whitmarsh. Jaden’s prize includes an engagement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in its 2024-25 season, and a solo recital on Introductions on WFMT.

Three finalists appeared at Symphony Center on Saturday to perform concerto movements with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and conductor Kyle Dickson. 16-year-old horn player Elyse Schlesinger, a student of the CSO’s David Griffin, was named First Alternate for her performance of the opening of Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1. Finalist Chloe Nam, 15 and a student of Hideko Amano, played the first movement of Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concerto. After their performances, competition emcee and Introductions host Robbie Ellis interviewed the three finalists together on stage before the judges announced their decision.

Clad in a patterned red-black suitcoat, Jaden Teague-Núñez strikes the steelpan with dynamism and athleticism

Jaden Teague-Núñez onstage at Symphony Center (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Jaden Teague-Núñez was born in Panama City, Panama, and moved to the United States at the age of 3. His mother, Lorena Núñez, was principal viola of the Panama National Symphony, and his father, Professor Liam Teague, is also a steelpan soloist. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Liam studied music at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and is now the school’s Head of Steelpan Studies. NIU is one of only a handful of colleges in the United States that offers a major in steelpan. In addition to studying with his father, Jaden studies piano with Austyn Menk and drum set with Joshua Bedeau.

While percussionists have previously won the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s competition with marimba concertos, this year is the first time a steelpan soloist has entered, let alone won. Jaden’s winning performance at Symphony Center on Saturday was an echo of the world premiere of the first ever concerto for steelpan and orchestra. Composed by Jan Bach, it was first performed by Liam Teague, the Chicago Sinfonietta and conductor Paul Freeman on the very same stage in Orchestra Hall in 1995.

All three finalists will be broadcast on Introductions on WFMT on Saturday, April 20, and previous winners of the Crain-Maling Foundation CSO Young Artists Competition have consistently appeared on Introductions too. Last year’s winner, violinist Esme Arias-Kim, is set to give a return solo radio recital on Saturday, June 1, while 2022 winner Noah Kim gave a live piano recital in December. Other past winners include cellist and new music advocate Gabriel Cabezas, Young Steinway Artist Kimberly Han, and Cedille Records Emerging Artist Competition finalist Maya Anjali Buchanan.

A group of 9 people pose onstage at Symphony Center, including Robbie Ellis, prizewinner Jaden Teague-Núñez, horn player Elyse Schlesinger, and flute player Chloe Nam

Onstage at Symphony Center (L-R): Robbie Ellis, Fernando Meza, Kyle Dickson, Chloe Nam, Jaden Teague-Núñez, Elyse Schlesinger, William Ward, Margaret Tung, Daniel Gilbert (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Presented by the League of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the competition operates on a three-year instrumentation cycle, rotating between piano, strings, and winds/brass/percussion/harp. Illinois high school students in their junior year and younger are eligible to enter.