2012 Competition Finals
The final round of the 2012 Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Foundation Annual Voice Competition [www.jensenfoundation.org] was held on May 26, 2012 at Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City. The final concert featured arias from the 15 top competitors of the week long preliminary competition. Judge heard over 125 voices to narrow the field to the extraordinary talent showcased on Saturday.
Judging the Jensen Competition finals this year were Palm Beach Opera General Director Daniel Biaggi, world renowned soprano Leona Mitchell Bush, and OPERA America President & CEO Marc Scorca.
Baritone David Pershall took home the Jensen Competition first prize of $15,000. The award includes an offer of an engagement with Opera Carolina within three years. Second prize of $10,000, was awarded to soprano Kisma Jordan and third prize of $5,000 to baritone Scott Johnson. Two Lendon and Danielle Munday Encouragement Awards were given to soprano Youna Jang and baritone Michael Preacely. These $2000 prizes include automatic entry into the 2013 competition.
The Jensen Foundation competition is open to any legal US resident between the ages of 25 and 35 who has not yet received an engagement from an Opera America Level I organization [or international equivalent], exclusive of cover, chorus, or young artist program roles.
The Jensen Foundation's mission is to foster the development of young operatic singers, which it does through its annual competition as well as via funding given through scholarship grants. Established in Statesville, North Carolina by Lavinia Jensen in honor of her late husband Fritz, the Jensen Foundation held its first competition in New York in 2000; since then, the Foundation has provided over $200,000 in support to young artists planning careers in opera.
Past Jensen Competition winners include Edward Parks, baritone; Andrew Garland, baritone; Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor; Wendy Bryn Harmer, soprano; Gaston Rivero, tenor; Andrew Gangestad, bass; Dana Beth Miller, soprano; Audrey Babcock, mezzo-soprano; Gioacchino Lauro Li Vigni, tenor; and Kristen Chávez, mezzo-soprano.Other Jensen award recipients include Sebastian Catana, Sarah Coburn, Kyle Ketelson, Angela Meade, Indra Thomas, Katrina Thurman, and Erin Wall.
Baruch Performing Arts Center is located at Baruch College, E. 25th St., bet. Lexington & 3rd Ave., NYC, www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac
For more information contact Ann Todd, Competition Director, 704-651-3089.
PICTURED: Judges and Winners from the 2012 Competition Finals.
2009 Grant Recipients|
In order to expand its services to young opera singers, the Jensen Foundation also provides competitive grants to young artists programs run by opera companies operating in the United States. The Jensen Foundation is proud to announce four grant recipients for 2009.
2008 Competition Winners
The Fritz & Lavinia Jensen Foundation announces soprano NaGuanda Nobles as the first prize winner of the Ninth Annual Voice Competition held May 17, 2008 in New York City . Ms. Nobles recieved a cash award of $15,000 as well as an offer of an engagement with Opera Carolina in Charlotte.
2008 Grant Recipients
Each year the Jensen Foundation provides grants to a select group of American opera companies in support of young and developing artist programs. The Foundation is proud to announce the 2008 recipients.
2007 Competition Winners
The Fritz & Lavinia Jensen Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of its Eighth Annual Voice Competition, held in May, 2007. First prize was awarded to soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer, who received a cash award of $15,000 as well as an engagement with Opera Carolina in Charlotte.
2006 Winner Gaston Rivero
The Jensen Foundation 2006 Competition winner, Gaston Rivero, headlined Opera Carolina's season opener Roméo et Juliette. As part of the competition 1st prize, Opera Carolina conductor Jim Meena has agreed to offer winners a contract role.
Jensen Foundation Makes Grant to Opera Carolina
Continuing a commitment to support and encourage young singers pursing a career in opera, the Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Foundation made a grant to Opera Carolina in support of Opera Carolina's Outreach program. Opera Carolina's Education and Outreach program includes a school touring company, a curriculum for opera education in element schools and a young artists program.
First Place Award to Include Placement with Opera Carolina Production
James Meena, General Director & Principal Conductor of Opera Carolina, has generously offered to hire the first-place winner of the Jensen Foundation Voice Competition to perform with Opera Carolina. After the 2005 competition, Mr. Meena began working with the winners to schedule appropriate roles with Opera Carolina within three years of the competition.
Jensen Foundation Makes Grant to Young Artists Programs
Continuing a commitment to support and encourage young singers pursing a career in opera, the Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Foundation made grants to two young artists programs for the 2006 summer season. The two recipient programs were the Young American Artists Program at Glimmerglass Opera and the Young Artists Program at Chautauqua Opera.
Music is legacy of philanthropist
From the Statesville Record & Landmark, August 5, 2001.
By Allison Hart
Some say a love of music drove Lavinia Jensen to give so generously. Others say it was her tenderness for young people. Some insist it was just a love of mankind that made Jensen open her heart and her checkbook to some of Statesville's budding musicians over the years.
Jensen died on July 28 at the age of 88.
Her legacy streches to opera houses in San Francisco, Atlanta, New York and Europe, to schools of music across the country and to the rhythm & blues clubs of Los Angeles. All are places where the young musicians she befriended and nurtured are living out their dreams.
The Michigan native helped launch the careers of promising young musicians through scholarships to music camps and colleges and by offering financial support to her young friends as they struggled to turn their art into a living.
But beyond her monetary gifts, those who knew Jensen and grew to know music through her say her gifts of love, support and dedication to music were the guides to their success.
Oliver Worthington got a call from Jensen when he was a junior high student in Statesville. She wanted to meet with him about a scholarship to the Brevard Music Center's summer opera program.
Jensen told him she was looking for a young male singer to send to the prestigious camp, and someone told her the young Worthington had talent.
"I had no idea what the Brevard Music Camp was," Worthington said from his Georgetown, Texas, home. "I went to her house and she gave me an interview. At the end, she said she would be glad to give me the scholarship."
Worthington admitted the camp wasn't what he expected. His only exposure to classical music had ben through the junior high school band. This was a whole new experience.
"It was an entire summer of opera, and I hated it," he said. "But by the end of the summer; I loved it."
When Worthington returned home, he joined Jensen's troupe of music aficionados driving to Charlotte and Winston Salem for opera and symphony performances.
"At the time, I felt I was in a circle of incredibly old ladies going to concerts," Worthington said. "She always had me drive. I was 16 and had just gotten my driver's license and I had to drive her big, old Cadillac."
But watching singers from the darkened balcony, Worthington developed a passion for opera, he said. He went on to earn music degrees from Converse College, New England Conservatory of Music and University of Texas.
Now the instructor of voice at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Worthington shares that passion with his own students.
Worthington said there's not a chance he would be where he is today without Jensen's generosity.
"She had a genuine love for music," he said. "It made her happy and she wanted to help other people find that."
Jensen helped Cassandra Riddle by providing living expenses for her while she built her singing career in New York.
Now a professional opera performer, Riddle said she owes her achievements to Jensen.
"It would have been impossible for me to go without her help," she said.
The most important thing Riddle remembers about Jensen was her unconditional support.
"One of the most poignant things she said to me is when she gave me the scholarship. She said, "whatever you decide to do, this does not require you to have a singing career. If you decide to stop at any time, you can," Riddle said.
"Someone who was helping me achieve my goal expected nothing from me in return. It was an incredible thing for her to say."
Riddle has been singing in New York operas for seven years. She is performing in Barcelona, Spain, this fall.
Jensen traveled the world to watch the young performers. She wanted to applaud their achievements in person, and she wanted their parents to do the same.
Nan Leaptrott thought she would never see her son, Ben, an international pianist, perform when he was touring Europe. But Jensen made it possible for her to see Ben.
Jensen first met Ben when she lived in the Leaptrott's neighborhood off East Broad Street. She eventually got to know the children and their familes.
"The kids would play out in the yard and hit balls into her garden," Leaptrott said. "Instead of getting angry when they'd come in to her yard, she'd ask them to come have lemonade."
Leaptrott said Jensen came over to their house one day and heard Ben practicing the piano.
"She said he had a natural ability." Leaptrott said.
Jensen also gave Ben the Brevard Music Camp scholarship and helped him contact music professionals that catapulted his career.
After graduate school, Ben was accepted at a music conservatory in Amsterdam where he toured Europe.
During that time, Leaptrott and her husband, Dick, hadn't been able to go see Ben perform. Jensen, not wanting the Leaptrotts to miss Ben's final performances before he returned to the U.S., bought three plane tickets to Amsterdam, one for herself and two for the Leaptrotts.
They were able to see Ben's concert, and Jensen paid for them to stay in Europe for an extra week.
"She did wonderful things," Leaptrott said. "I asked her, "What can I do to pay you back?" and she said, "It's just my pleasure." She not only loved the children, but she loved their families."
Ben is now the assistant director for the Atlanta Opera.
My son would not be where he is in his career had it not been for her," Leaptrott said.
Jensen's trips to Europe were common. She also had a propensity for fine dining and a flare for eclectic art.
But those who knew her in Statesville said Jensen's life at home was simple. She lived in a modest but tidy home on Queens Court.
Her husband, Fritz, founded Southern Screw, now called Southern Fastening System. Jensen stayed at home to raise their children and take care of the house.
When Fritz died in 1969, Jensen turned her love and inheritance toward the community.
She donated time and energy to Iredell Concert Association and MacDowell Music Club.
Gerri White, the former president of MacDowell Music Club, remembers Jensen supporting local artists and taking them to see performances around the state.
She was also a patron of local shows, and she reserved her donations for local music guilds and individuals, White said.
"She was an artist supporter more than an organization supporter," White said. "It was more rewarding for her to support the people she knew, and I think she chose the better of the two."
White remembers Jensen's best efforts going toward a young man named Todd Munday. Munday was a talented singer and a graduate of Statesville High School.
He went on to a study music at Winthrop University. Not long after he graduated college, Munday's parents died.
White recalls how Jensen took him under his wing and became a mother figure.
With Jensen's help, Munday found his way to Eastern Opera Theater in San Francisco. His work in California led to performances across the U.S. and in China.
His roles included Lancelot in Western Opera's Camelot and Sharpless in the New York City Opera's Madama Butterfly. Jensen always flew out to see him, she said.
In 1998, Jensen started the Fritz and Lavinia J. Jensen Foundation to offer financial assistance to young adults pursuing musical careers. She asked Munday, along with Oliver Worthington and Ben Leaptrott, to serve on the board of directors.
Munday and his wife finally settled in North Carolina in the late 90s, but by early 2000 started planning to move back to upstate New York.
One evening in March, 38-year-old Munday felt a numbing sensation in his arms and legs. His wife rushed him to the hospital, where doctors discovered a tear in his aorta. But surgery came too late, and he went into cardiac arrest.
Munday died March 20.
Jensen was devastated.
She decided to name the first prize in the Jensen Foundation's annual competition in honor and memory of Munday.
Finals for the competition, now in its second year, will begin this month.
Olivery Worthington's mother, Doris, recalled a trip she and her husband took with Jensen to see one of Oliver's performances.
"We were riding along in the car and we were talking about the children. She said she lived vicariously through the children she helped," she said.
"It's almost superhuman how someone could have so much love for children who were not her own."