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Overture Competition Winners

CUSO Is Excited to Perform New Works!

The Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra is excited to perform the works 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 named two winners:

  • Maya Benyas, age 14, 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.

The two winning overtures will be performed by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra at the CUSO season finale concert on April 27, 2019.

CUSO Overture Competition Winners

Maya Benyas, age 14
Carbondale, IL

Maya Benyas is 14 years old, and has played cello for 7 years and piano for 12 years. She is a cello student of Southern Illinois University Professor, Eric Lenz, a piano student of her mother, and a composition student of SIU Professor Christopher Walczak. Maya has served as Principal Cello of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra, played as a member of the SISO String Quartet, and performed as a member of the fully professional Southern Illinois Music Festival Orchestra since 2015. Maya served as Principal Cello of the Illinois Music Educators Association District VI Junior Orchestra as a 6th grader and of the Senior Orchestra as a freshman and as a sophomore, qualifying for All-State. She has appeared as soloist with the Southern Illinois Music Festival Orchestra and the Southern Illinois Civic Orchestra, and has appeared at chamber music festivals in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and Abruzzo, Italy. Maya’s first composition, a string quartet, received 1st Prize in the state of Illinois for her age group from the National Federation of Music Clubs in 2016, and her work for chamber orchestra received 1st Prize in the 2017 Competition. Maya has received Garwin Family Foundation scholarships to study in summer enrichment programs in Neuroscience and Physics at Brown University and Stanford University. In 2017, she qualified for the Illinois State MathCounts competition in Chicago. She won 2nd place in the Carbondale Public Library Teen poetry contest in the same year. In 2018, Maya won 1st Prize in her division of the Illinois State Science Fair, and was an award winner at the Southwest Illinois Math Conference in 2017 and 2018. She was among the Top Ten Freshmen and Top Ten Sophomores at Carbondale Community High School. Maya participates in CCHS Student Council, Math Team, Future Business Leaders of America, Lifesavers, Science Team, French Club, and Model United Nations, and was elected Vice-President of the freshman and sophomore classes. She is also fluent in Spanish and French. Maya participated in National History Day and represented her school and the state of Illinois at the National competitions in Washington, D.C. in 2016 and 2017. She has danced in five fully staged ballet productions and sung in three operas with the Southern Illinois Music Festival. She has also been a member of the Saluki Swim team for 10 years.

Notes from the Composer About “Fantasy House Overture”
“Fantasy House Overture” is part of an orchestral suite inspired in part by the four houses of the book series Harry Potter. The suite consists of four distinct movements, each signifying a house from the series. This overture is the first completed movement of the suite, paralleling the 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.) Several themes are presented throughout the overture, each one demonstrating a different personality characteristic (i.e., deviousness, ambition, etc.). The first theme is introduced with the style marking “Cunning,” a 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.