UPDATED: HSO's Norbert Mueller Young Artist Competition returns to Lakeshore

NOTE: Due to severe weather, the Holland Symphony Orchestra's Norbert Mueller Young Artist Competition has been rescheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27.

Some of the Holland area’s most talented young musicians will perform a recital Saturday, Jan. 27, during the Holland Symphony Orchestra’s Norbert Mueller Young Artist Competition.

The free event — 1 to 3 p.m. at the recital hall in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts at Hope College (221 Columbia Ave.) — will include 11 students competitors, playing instruments from tuba to violin to alto sax to piano. 

New format

The Holland Symphony Orchestra has changed the parameters of its student competition to encourage wider and more diverse participation, including dropping the requirement that students memorize their musical piece. The goal is to celebrate the musical achievements of high school students from Ottawa and Allegan counties, officials say.

Although the symphony managed to maintain the competition during the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment dropped off with fewer students taking private lessons, and the competition was suspended in 2022 and 2023, HSO President and CEO Kay Walvoord says.

This year, 13 high school musicians have signed up.

“It’s a way to recognize student musicians,” Walvoord says. “There are awards banquets and all kinds of things for student athletes and debaters, but there’s nothing in the area where student musicians can be recognized.”

The Holland Symphony Orchestra has invited area high school musicians to perform in the Norbert Mueller Young Artist Competition since 1995 with the exeption of two post-pandemic years.


Performing is “not for everybody,” she says.

“It takes real courage to do that,” Walvoord says. “If you can get up on a stage alone and play a piece that is 10 minutes long, you can get up in front of anybody.”

Judges will choose three winners who will walk away with prizes ranging from$150 to $500.

The competition is underwritten by an endowment created from the legacy of Norbert Mueller, a former violinist in the Chicago Symphony and a relative of a Holland Symphony board member. Mueller was a long time teacher of and advocate for young musicians. When told a child was studying violin or viola, he would always ask to see their hands, checking for and approving the calluses that develop from much practice.

Each student has studied their instrument for several years, taking private lessons and spending many hours by themselves practicing to hone their craft. They have all invested a lot of time — even over the holidays — to perfect the pieces they will be performing. The competition is presented in a recital format, so audience members can enjoy and celebrate the accomplishments of each student.
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