A week of master classes in Miami and chance to become Presidential Scholar

Idyllwild Arts Academy senior music student Ben Champion is one of 171 finalists, out of a pool of 8,000 applicants nationwide, chosen in the 2018 National YoungArts Foundation’s annual search for top emerging young artists. Winners are chosen through a blind adjudication process conducted by an independent panel of highly accomplished artists.

Ben is one of two NYAF finalists from Riverside County and one of only two finalists nationally in the category of classical composition. There are 26 NYAF finalists from California. Two other Riverside County students were included among the 757 awardees in the finalist, honorable mention and merit award categories including classmate Idyllwild Arts Academy merit award recipient Moe Fienberg, jazz trumpet.

NYAF was founded in 1981 by Carnival Cruise Lines founder Ted Arison and wife with a mission of identifying and supporting young artists.

Ben Champion Photo by Marshall Smith

Awardees are selected from cinematic arts, classical music, dance, design arts, jazz, photography, theater, visual arts, voice and writing. They receive cash prizes of up to $10,000, as well as financial, professional and artistic development opportunities. Young artists ages 15 to 18 compete in categories.

Finalists attend a week-long, all-expense-paid arts intensive in Miami from Jan. 7 to 14 with master classes and workshops presented by internationally recognized leaders in the various disciplines in which applicants competed. Past mentors have included Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sarah Brightman, Placido Domingo and Frank Gehry. This year’s mentors include renowned dancer, choreographer and artistic director Bill T. Jones, celebrated photographer Sylvia Plachy, American painter Will Cotton, saxophonist and composer Jimmy Heath, and acclaimed actress Olympia Dukakis.

YoungArts alumni who have gone on to become leaders in their fields include actors Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, recording artist Josh Groban, Met Opera star  Eric Owens, musician Gerald Clayton, choreographers Camille A. Brown and Desmond Richardson, visual artists Daniel Arsham and Hernan Bas, New York Times bestselling author Sam Lipsyte and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Doug Blush.

2018 finalists, in addition to attending the Miami intensive, also are eligible for nomination to the highest honor, U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, with awards ceremonies held at the Kennedy Center.

At the age of 17, Ben already has a distinguished musical pedigree. He won first place in the 2013 Grant Piano competition and the South Dakota Music Teacher’s Association for piano and composition, Junior Division. In the summer of 2014, he was chosen to study and perform as a Young Artist at the Dakota Sky International Piano Festival.

He is in his third year in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Young Composer Fellowship Program, where he has studied composition with Andrew Norman and Sarah Gibson. Through this program, Ben wrote many chamber pieces that were performed by the musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the L.A. Percussion Quartet.

Ben’s orchestral compositions “Pale Blue Dot” (2016), and “Migrations” (2017) were premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic during their Symphonies for Schools concerts. Bassoonist Rebekah Heller and the International Contemporary Ensemble premiered Ben’s solo bassoon piece at the Ojai Music Festival during the summer of 2016. Benjamin also studied composition with Martin Amlin and Justin Casinghino in the Young Artist Composition Program at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute in summer 2016.

Through it all, Ben is nonplussed by the honors even while acknowledging how hard he has worked and continues to work to evolve his craft. He knows his disciplines — the history of classical music, piano, composition and orchestral arranging, and has his favorite composers, favorite musical periods and favorite teachers to whom he remains indebted for his growth and success. Yet he remains a soft-spoken, polite and respectful young man with a ready smile.

“I’m looking forward to Miami,” he said. He said he’s also looking forward to a two-week Christmas vacation at home with his family in South Dakota followed by the professional challenges and learning opportunities at Miami. His post IAA choices for professional study include renowned schools in Scotland, London, New York and Boston.