When 16-year-old William Han begins his solo concerto at the Empire State Youth Orchestra's spring concert on April 14, he will be nervous, he said. But he's also willing to battle through the nerves to play an emotionally difficult piece of music.
"You have to fight the fear to bring out the best performance," Han said.
A junior at Shenendehowa High School, Han was the 2018-2019 winner of the Lois Lyman Concerto Competition, a contest named for Lyman, a music teacher and one of ESYO's founding members.
The winner of the annual competition, which began in 1985, is selected through a rigorous application and audition process from the orchestra's membership each year. Applicants must perform a concerto from memory before a judging panel. The chosen musician is given the opportunity to perform a solo in concert each season.
Han will be performing Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1.
Though he's just 16, Han is no stranger to the cello. He started playing when he was just 5 in his native Taiwan, where he began taking lessons.
Initially, Han was interested in becoming involved with orchestra music, and he and his parents searched to find the instrument that was the right fit. Han's father was also a cellist, so the instrument hit home for him, he said.
"I liked the sound of it," Han said.
He and his family traveled to the United States in 2013. Once here, he continued his lessons.
Han has auditioned in the past for the soloist position, and even though he hasn't won until now, he said the constructive criticism he received from the judges served to make him a better musician. He used those skills in selecting the tricky concerto this year that ultimately landed him the soloist spot.
Han had heard the piece before and decided to work on it as his solo selection. The difficulty, he said, was coming to understand the emotional anguish that is very clear in the Shostakovich piece.
"To express what he was feeling at the time -- which was being pressed by the government -- and the anxiety, was hard. It's an emotional piece to play. The hardest part was getting into the mood of the piece," Han said.
Conductor Carlos Agreda said ESYO is a crucial program for young musicians because it allows them to focus on fostering different skills. That includes giving musicians the chance to learn how to back a solo player.
"That's something that we never have the opportunity to practice," Agreda said.
The concerto competition does that, and also gives the soloists a chance to shine, he added.
Agreda said Han's chosen piece is an amazing one, but difficult.
"I was very surprised when I saw that he chose that concerto to compete. It's technically challenging and I was very impressed when I saw it on the application," he said.
But he's confident Han will pull it off.
"It's very dark and deep. You need to be able to approach it correctly. William is doing a great job with that. You really need a high level of skill to play this symphony," he said.
Han hopes his solo career won't end with the ESYO concert. His goal is to continue to pursue a career in music. Doing that will take hard work, Han said, but he knows everyone needs to start somewhere.
"I want to be a cello performer. I would say, just do what you like and then stay on it," he said.
The concert takes place at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall at 3:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online.