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Overture Competition Results

CUSO Congratulates Overture Competition Winners!

The Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra is pleased to announce the selection of two winners of the Overture Composition Competition held in partnership with New Music USA and Music Alive to promote the creation and performance of new music. Music Director Stephen Alltop and Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Stacy Garrop adjudicated the competition and have named two winners:

  • Maya Benyas, age 12, Carbondale, IL, for “Fantasy House Overture”
  • Roger Zare, age 33, Woodridge, IL, for “Strontium Red”


The two winners were selected from five finalists who participated in the Music Alive Reading Session on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Their works were rehearsed and performed for an appreciative audience who attended the free event and watched the dynamic process used to bring new orchestral music to life.

Ms. Benyas and Mr. Zare will each receive a $500 prize. The two winning overtures will be performed by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra at the CUSO season finale concert in April, 2019.

CUSO Overture Competition Winners

Maya Benyas, age 12
Carbondale, IL

Maya BenyasMaya Benyas is 12 years old and is a freshman at Carbondale Community High School, where she was elected CCHS Freshman Vice-President in 2017. She has played cello for five years and piano for ten years. She studies cello with SIU Professor, Eric Lenz, piano with her mother, and composition with SIU Professor Christopher Walczak. Ms. Benya serves as Principal Cello of the Southern Illinois Symphony and Civic Orchestras, was Principal Cello of the 2017 ILMEA District VI High School Orchestra, and performed as a member of the fully professional Southern Illinois Music Festival Orchestra in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Maya has appeared as soloist with the Southern Illinois Music Festival Orchestra and the Southern Illinois Civic Orchestra.

Ms. Benyas’ first composition, a string quartet titled La Fantasia, received First Prize in the state of Illinois for her age group from the National Federation of Music Clubs in 2016. Her work for chamber orchestra, after a recorded reading by the Southern Illinois Symphony, received First Prize in the 2017 Competition. Other compositions include works for cello quartet and solo piano.

Notes from the Composer About “Fantasy House Overture”
I am in the process of writing an orchestral suite called “Fantasy House,” inspired in part by the four houses from the book series Harry Potter. The suite consists of four distinct movements inspired by the various houses. “Fantasy House Overture” will be the first completed movement of the suite, which is inspired by Slytherin House. (Although this music is inspired by the Harry Potter series, the music in no way attempts to specifically depict any of the characters, names and related indicia from the series). “Fantasy House Overture” is written in the key of d minor. The first theme is introduced with the style marking “Cunning,” an accurate description of the manner in which the movement should be played. A second theme emerges, followed by a brief section in D major. An interlude in 6/8 time then leads back to a variant of the opening D minor theme over an underlying repetitive pattern of 1/16 notes. The 1/16 note pattern, briefly developed, soon leads to a return of the main theme, now in C minor, followed by a dramatic finish.


Roger Zare, age 33,
Woodridge, IL

Roger ZareRoger Zare has been praised for his “enviable grasp of orchestration” (New York Times) and for writing music with “formal clarity and an alluringly mercurial surface.” Often inspired by science, nature, and mythology, he seeks to create compositions that are vividly descriptive. His works have been performed across the United States and on five continents by such musicians and ensembles as the American Composers Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Sarasota Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva, the Symphony Orchestra of Minas Gerais, the Akropolis Reed Quintet, the Donald Sinta Quartet, violinist Cho-Liang Lin, and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein.

Mr. Zare’s awards include the ASCAP Nissim Prize, three BMI Student Composer Awards, an ASCAP Morton Gould award, a New York Youth Symphony First Music Commission, the 2008 American Composers Orchestra Underwood Commission, a Copland House Residency Award, and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has served as composer-in-residence at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, the Salt Bay Chamber Music Festival, the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington and the SONAR new music ensemble. He has collaborated with CERN to present his music in Switzerland and Bulgaria in programs about the collision of music and physics. Mr. Zare holds degrees from the University of Michigan, the Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Southern California. His teachers include Bright Sheng, Michael Daugherty, Paul Schoenfield, Kristin Kuster, Christopher Theofanidis, Derek Bermel, and Morten Lauridsen. He currently serves as instructional assistant professor of music theory and composition at Illinois State University.

Notes from the Composer About “Strontium Red”
“Strontium Red” is charged with energy, bursting with rapidly flowing streamers of notes and explosive percussive cracks. Strontium is the element that gives fireworks and flares their bright red color, and the rousing energy of this piece reflects the heat and brilliance of red fireworks. The piece begins with sporadic bangs that imitate the sound of a fireworks display. As it progresses, the music alternates between agitated and almost pointillistic sections and a sweeping melody that is supported by a lush accompaniment. The piece is propelled forward by an incessant rush of virtuosity in the woodwinds and strings. Wave after wave of energy builds until the music comes to a triumphant close.


The CUSO Overture Composition Competition is made possible by funding from Music Alive. Major funding for Music Alive comes from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, The Amphion Foundation, The ASCAP Foundation Bart Howard Fund, the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.