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VSA International Young Soloists Award Program
A Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program

Each year a select number of outstanding young musicians with disabilities, ages 14-25, from around the world receive the VSA International Young Soloists Award. These emerging musicians win a $2,500 prize, professional development experiences, and the opportunity to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Started by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith in 1984, the program, open to musicians of any instrument or genre, has provided opportunities for hundreds of emerging young musicians with disabilities.

VSA International Young Soloists VSA International Young Soloist Program Meet the 2013 VSA International Young Soloists Winners.
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2014 VSA International Young Soloists Winners are:

Andrew Bambridge is a 17 year-old multi-talented musician from New Jersey. Andrew, who has achondroplastic dwarfism, first began piano lessons at the age of six. At the age of seven, he participated in a school musical where he discovered his love of singing and acting. He continued with his studies of piano and voice, and later on moved to percussion as well. After three years of studying percussion privately with Greg Giannascoli, Andrew was accepted at The Juilliard School's Pre-College Division and studies with Jonathan Hass, Pablo Rieppi, and Greg Giannascoli. Along with studying percussion at Juilliard, Andrew also is a part of the JPC Orchestra and Percussion Ensemble. He performs with both ensembles at Julliard, and also conducts and composes for the Percussion Ensemble regularly.

Mike Casey, a jazz saxophonist originally from Storrs, Connecticut, is currently a Jazz Studies student at the acclaimed Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz (University of Hartford's Hartt School, C.T.) and a graduate of the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. Mike, who has Non-verbal Learning Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, has been fortunate to study with some of the world's top jazz musicians, including saxophonist Abraham Burton, trombonist Steve Davis, and bassist Nat Reeves. Mike has performed at well-respected venues such as Smalls Jazz Club (NYC) and the Hard Rock Cafe (Boston), as well as numerous venues across Connecticut such as Black Eyed Sally's and Wadsworth Atheneum. Past festival appearances include the Hartford Jazz Society's Monday Night Jazz in Bushnell Park, The Boston GreenFest, the New England Autumn Fest, and more. Mike's current project, The Mike Casey Trio, is a unique blend of his original music with exciting, fresh arrangements of jazz standards. To hear Mike, please visit http://www.mikecaseyjazz.com

Juna Gjata, born in Fieri, Albania, moved with her family to Boston when she was four. Juna, who is legally blind, started learning the piano at age seven, and participated in the Longy School of Music Young Performers program from age 11 to 17. There, she received various merit awards, including the Award for Excellence in Piano Duo, and the Judith Kudok scholarship. Graduating with honors from Longy School of Music and Boston Latin School summa cum Laude, Juna is now a freshman at Harvard University. She has played at the Edward M. Pickman Hall and this year will perform at Carnegie Hall. She is also a winner of this year's American Fine Arts Festival competition.

Eliot Heaton, a native of Geneva, N.Y., has played the violin since he was three. Eliot, who has had Type I Diabetes since he was thirteen years old, has appeared as a soloist with numerous orchestras in upstate New York. He attended Oberlin College and Conservatory where he double majored in History and Violin Performance. During this time he frequently served as the Concertmaster of the Oberlin Chamber and Symphony orchestras, and also played, recorded, and toured with the Contemporary Music Ensemble. Eliot is now entering the final year of his Master of Music degree at Indiana University. Last year, he won the school concerto competition, performing Stravinsky's Concerto in D with the IU Chamber Orchestra. In addition to his studies, he serves as the Assistant Concertmaster in the Terre Haute Symphony and the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. He also enjoys playing chamber music and will spend this summer at Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival.

Evan Pensis is a pianist based in Los Angeles, California. Pensis, who has protanomaly, a form of color-blindness, has won numerous national and international piano competitions, including the 9th Siegfried Weishaupt International Klavierwettbewerb, Grand Prize and Audience Award (Bad-Wurttemburg, Germany, 2013). In the past year, Pensis also won the Redlands Bowl National Young Artist, First Place (Redlands, CA, 2013) and the Susan Torres International Piano Competition, Second Place (Fresno, CA, 2014). Pensis has been featured in several music festivals including Redlands Bowl National Young Artist Festival, ISAM Ochsenhausen Sommerakademie, Colorado Piano Festival, Arizona Musicfest, Classical Exposure, Chandler Symphony Young Geniuses, and many more. Pensis is currently studying music on scholarship with Maestro Daniel Pollack at the University of Southern California with a Minor in Linguistics. He was recently invited to be a USC Renaissance Scholar and Fellow of the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study. Pensis plans to continue his musical studies, working toward a Master's degree, and to continue performing on national and international stages.

View the full press release here

VSA International Young Soloists
Call for Entries

Our 2014 Competition is now closed. Watch for information on our 2015 competition this fall.