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First place American Prize win for David Rahbee, UW Symphony 

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on October 12, 2023 - 1:18pm
UW Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Mark Stone/UW Photography)
UW Symphony Orchestra (Photo: Mark Stone/UW Photography)

The UW’s director of Orchestral Activities racks up another American Prize win with a recent first-place showing. 

David Alexander Rahbee, senior artist-in-residence and director of the UW Symphony, has been awarded a 2023 American Prize for innovative programming developed for the UW Symphony Orchestra during the 2020-21 season. Rahbee and the UW Symphony Orchestra placed first in the collegiate division for Orchestral Programming, winning the Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award. Second and third-place winners were orchestra directors from Cornell University and Carnegie Mellon University.

The orchestra was selected from applications reviewed recently from across the United States. The American Prize Competitions in the Performing Arts, administered by Hat City Music Theater in Danbury, Connecticut, were founded in 2009 by composer/conductor David Katz and are awarded annually in many areas of the performing arts. Winners of The American Prize receive cash prizes, professional adjudication and regional, national, and international recognition based on recorded performances.

The Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award, which recognizes and rewards the best achievement in the field of orchestral programming, honors the memory of Lithuanian conductor Vytautas Marijosius, music director of the Lithuanian State Opera and for nearly thirty-five years director of orchestral activities at the Hartt School of Music of the University of Hartford. Guidelines for this special award, bestowed in recognition of the importance of repertoire in the success of university-level orchestra programs, affirm that "the selection of repertoire by knowledgeable, creative and courageous music directors builds orchestras and audiences, educates young people and adults, and enriches the community."  

For Rahbee, the most recent award tops off a string of American Prize wins over the past decade, including a first prize win in 2021 for Orchestral Performance, collegiate division. But the 2020-21 season, conducted during the pandemic lockdowns and subsequent pivot to remote learning, required unprecedented resilience, adaptability, and creativity.

“The 2020-2021 season was a huge challenge for all of us in the arts,” Rahbee says. “All year we were only allowed ensembles of eight or nine players (strings, percussion, harp & keyboard), spaced six feet apart, and in 30-minute rehearsal segments. No audiences, but when we were ready to “perform” a piece, we made a formal video on stage.” Rahbee chose 25 different works for orchestra members to study and perform that year, a few of which may be heard at the links below, from the School of Music YouTube channel.

UW Symphony with Rachel Lee Priday: Joseph Boulogne, Violin Concerto No.9 in G Major, Op.8, Mvt. I

UW Symphony Orchestra with Renee Zhang: J. S. Bach: Violin Concerto No.2 in E major, BWV 1042