WMU News

Music students receive $2,000 Liberace scholarships

Oct. 1, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- For the third consecutive year, the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts has awarded a grant to the Western Michigan University School of Music, which will again be used to support WMU's most prestigious student string ensemble.

Named the "Liberace Quartet" in honor of the benefactor, the string ensemble members are selected via live audition by members of the School of Music string faculty. From a field of seven applicants this year, four winners were named earlier this semester. They are Alan Daowz-Mendez, cello; Blake Espy, violin; Christina Gaston, violin; and Aleksandra Holowka, viola. Each student selected (see below for more information) was awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

According to the guidelines of the Liberace Foundation, the grant is to be used "exclusively for scholarship assistance to talented and deserving students." This use of funds stems from Liberace's own youth. As a child of seven, Liberace received a scholarship to the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music (now The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music), where he studied classical music.

For the next 17 years of Liberace's life, scholarships played an integral role in the continuing musical education of a man who would become one of the world's most famous and successful entertainers. Liberace never forgot his debt to scholarships and considered the creation of the Liberace Foundation one of his greatest accomplishments.

Since its incorporation in 1976, the Liberace Foundation has awarded more than $4.3 million in scholarship grants to 109 of the nation's premier arts institutions. During the 2001-02 academic year, 30 schools will be awarded a total of $227,600. In addition to WMU's School of Music, this year's grant recipients include the Florida State University School of Music and the Eastman School of Music at Rochester University.

In May 2001, the previous WMU Liberace Quartet was named a semi-finalist of the prestigious Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. The Liberace Quartet rehearses regularly and is coached by viola professor Igor Fedotov.

2001-02 WMU Liberace Quartet

Alan Daowz-Mendez, cello, is a graduate assistant in the School of Music, where he studies with Bruce Uchimura and serves as principal cello of the University Symphony Orchestra. Daowz-Mendez received his bachelor's degree, with honors, from the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Mexico. From 1998 to 2001 he was principal cello of the Universidad Michoacana Chamber Orchestra in Mexico, and he is a former member of the Michoacau Symphony Orcheatra, Salvador Coutreras String Quartet, and La Catrina String Quartet. Daowz-Mendez has taken lessons and master classes with Misha Katz and Hans Jorgen Jensen, and chamber music coaching sessions with Gela Dubrova.

Blake Espy, violin, was born in Savannah, Ga., and began playing the violin at age five. He attended the ENCORE School for Strings from 1998 to 2000, studying with Linda Cerone and Dorothy Mauney. Espy came to Western Michigan University in the fall of 1999 and has studied with Renata Artman Knific since that time. This past summer Espy attended the International Festival Institute at Round Top (Texas). He is a member of the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra, and a substitute for the Kalamazoo and South Bend symphonies.

Christina Gaston, violin, holds a graduate assistantship in the School of Music at WMU, where she is studying for her Master of Music degree in violin performance with Renata Artman Knific. Gaston received her bachelor's degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music under the tutelage of David Updegraff. During the summers she attended the ENCORE School for Strings, studying with WMU cello professor Bruce Uchimura. During the summer of 2000 she participated in the Henry Mancini Institute, a summer program of the American Jazz Philharmonic in Los Angeles, California. She performs with the Kalamazoo, Southwest Michigan, and Andrews University symphonies.

Aleksandra Holowka, viola, started her musical education at the age of seven in her hometown of Krakow, Poland. She went on to high school at age 12, and three years later, switched from violin to viola and began taking lessons from Ewa Morasiewicz. She has performed and recorded with several chamber ensembles in Poland, Germany, and the United States. Holowka holds a principal viola position in the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. She is a scholarship student at WMU, where she has studied with Eric Shumsky and is currently studying with Igor Fedotov.

Media contact: Kevin West, 616 387-4678, kevin.west@wmich.edu

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