Ben Justis Emerges as 2014-15 Concerto Competition Winner

By Spencer Gillard

Justis, Ben (2)If you had to sum up Ben Justis in one word, it would have to be variety. The CSU graduate student, earning his Master’s in percussion performance at Colorado State, was recently named the winner of the Annual Concerto Competition after placing in a semi and then final round of the competition. As one of the final three, Justis performed a piece in accompaniment with the CSU Sinfonia Orchestra under the direction of Wes Kenney in a public performance in Griffin Concert Hall last week.

Adjudicators for the competition included regional guests: Peter Cooper, percussion instructor at the University of Northern Colorado;  Myroslava Bartels, violinist with the Colorado Symphony;  and April Johannesen, 2nd clarinet and bass clarinet soloist for the Fort Collins Symphony and Colorado Ballet.

“I was a little nervous,” said Justis, “I worked with a phenomenal accompanist here at the UCA who helped me with the piece but when it came time to perform it with the actual string orchestra, I was really hoping it would work out well.”

And it did. Justis beat out fierce competition from the other two finalists, Ji Hye Chung and Julie Park, both also graduates in CSU’s music program.

“The other soloists played so well,” he said. “They definitely gave it their best.”

Justis performed Emmanuel Sejourne’s Concerto for Vibraphone and String Orchestra as his final piece of the competition.

“I was first exposed to [the piece] while playing an accompaniment part for another student’s recital on a version for percussion ensemble.” Justis said. “The beauty, emotions, and technical challenges of the work appealed very strongly to me. The lyricism and jazz vocabulary exhibited in the first movement make it a suave and captivating opening to the concerto.”

The competition meant a lot to Justis who saw the chance to perform and the win as the highlight of his performance career.

As a student of Dr. Eric Hollenbeck, Justis started his collegiate journey as an undergraduate at CSU, earning his Bachelor’s in Music Education in 2013. Though towards the end of his undergraduate years, Justis found what he believes is his true calling.

“I started in education, thinking I would teach, but I found that I really enjoyed composition,” he reflected.

Justis has composed pieces for a wide range of styles and ensemble sizes including solo instrument, duets and chamber groups, as well as pieces for jazz, orchestra, concert and marching band, and choir. Justis sees his varied style worked relating to why he took up percussion in the first place.

“There are just so many instruments and styles, rhythms, and techniques that it’s impossible to learn them all but I want to learn as many as I can,” he said.

Once finishing his Master’s, Justis looks to continue composing and is contemplating perusing a Ph.D. in music composition.

The University Center for the Arts at Colorado State University provides an enriched venue in which the study and practice of Art, Dance, Music, and Theatre are nurtured and sustained by building the skills and knowledge needed by future generations of arts professionals to become contributors to the essential vitality of our culture and society.