By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
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Ventura native is Prokofiev finalist


Courtesy photo Composer-conductor Daniel Black, a native of Ventura, has been living and studying in St. Petersburg, Russia.

April 8, 2008/Ventura County Star

Communication is key for composer

For Daniel Black, music is a form of human communication that in a way is truer than real life.

"Truer than speech anyway," said the 28-year-old composer and conductor, who grew up in Ventura. "And the really great moments that happen in music, whether you're a composer, performer or conductor, are a result of communication: touching an audience."

This philosophy is the foundation that fueled his most recent accomplishment: being named one of seven finalists in the composition for solo instrument and orchestra division of the Fifth International Prokofiev Competition.

Black is the only American to reach the final rounds of the event, to commence Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia, and run through April 22. His entry, Concertino for Horn and Orchestra, will be premiered in the Glazunov Hall of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, with final results and prizes announced after the concert.

"To be chosen as one of the finalists is a big honor for me," said Black, who graduated from Ventura High School in 1997. For the past two years, he has lived in St. Petersburg, studying conducting with Leonid Korchmar of the Kirov Opera.

This is the first time that Black's composing has been noticed on an international, high-end professional level, he said.

"The Prokofiev Competition is a big deal in Russia, and among musicians everywhere, it is a recognizable name," he said.

It has been a long time coming: "I think every musician who is trying to break into the business can wallpaper a small hotel with the rejection letters they've received over the years," Black said. "And that's certainly true for me."

The Prokofiev Competition, founded in 1992, is one of two major international contests sponsored by the International Cultural Center and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. (The other is the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.)

Prokofiev is a serious and authoritative competition, and to be selected as a finalist shows that Black has serious talent as a composer, and good prospects for a successful career, said Leonid Korchmar of St. Petersburg, Russia, conductor of the Mariinsky Theater and professor of conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where Black has been a student in the conducting department for the past two years.

Regarding Black's talent as a conductor and composer, Korchmar said, "musicians are able to make a career as both — for example, (Leonard) Bernstein and (Esa-Pekka) Salonen," "But it is rare enough that it is quite exceptional. It says a lot about Daniel that he has the talent and motivation to have a chance to follow such examples."

Being a finalist in the competition is "in itself is a major achievement and will certainly put him on the map," said Andrew Sewell of Madison, Wis., music director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Wichita Symphony Orchestra.

Sewell met Black about six years ago when Black was an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. Black was studying flute but was also very interested in conducting and composition.

"He asked to sit in on rehearsals for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra during the summer and generally hang out," Sewell said. "In order to have his own compositions performed and promoted, he put together and conducted his own orchestra, the Mendota Philharmonic, to an impressive standard. I invited him to conduct several pieces on our annual Halloween concert in 2003 and 2004, before he embarked on his master's degree."

Black, who started his musical studies as a flutist, was a member of the 1997 California All-State Honor Band, a soloist with the New West Youth Symphony and a semifinalist of the 1997 Discovery Artist competition of the New West Symphony.

He went on to get a bachelor's degree in composition from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2002 and a master's degree in orchestral conducting from the Eastman School of Music in 2006.

Over the years, Black has won composition prizes and performances from the Wisconsin Alliance of Composers and the Eastman Wind Ensemble, and has guest-conducted the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra.

"I have loved classical music since I was very small, partly because my mother loves it," Black said. "No one in my family was a trained musician, so I had to be my own self-motivator in seeking it out. I think that has given me a lot of persistence and determination."

He found some of his greatest role models in Ventura County, including Laura Walter Roth, his flute teacher in high school, and conductor Boris Brott of the New West Symphony.

Over the years, he's also had some great teachers, including David Becker and Stephen Dembski at the University of Wisconsin, Neil Varon at the Eastman School of Music, and Leonid Korchmar, assistant conductor at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

"And, of course, I have to say that without the support of my parents, Janet and Jim, I wouldn't have been able to continue my studies and get to where I am today," Black said.

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