Brainerd senior, Royalton graduate win youth concerto competition

Winners will perform at April 1 concert in Little Falls and April 2 in Brainerd

Abigail Benson (1).jpg
Clarinet player Abigail Benson, of Brainerd, won the Echo Kowalzek Youth Concerto Competition in Little Falls in January 2023.
Contributed / Heartland Symphony Orchestra

LITTLE FALLS — Abigail Benson, of Brainerd, and Arriana Schwab, of Royalton, are Heartland Symphony Orchestra's Echo Kowalzek Youth Concerto Competition winners and will perform in the upcoming spring concert series.

In its 46th year of performing in central Minnesota, the Heartland Symphony Orchestra hosts a youth concerto competition every other year, alternating with a composers competition.

Due to the global pandemic, there was no possibility of a 2021 competition or performance.

This year, auditions took place at St. Francis Music Center in Little Falls in January. The judges panel included Ryan Webber, HSO music director; Leslie Zander, HSO concertmaster; and David Thompson, HSO vice president and Central Lakes College winds instructor.

Benson is a senior at Brainerd High School where she mainly plays Bb clarinet in the wind symphony.


She started playing clarinet at age 10 and has been taking private jazz lessons for the last three years.

Benson has gained experience with many different clarinets, including Bb, Eb, A, bass and alto clarinet. She has played various saxophones in jazz bands, learned to play the flute, played in percussion ensembles and is attempting to pick up the oboe.

Outside of music, she is president of the Spanish club and vice president of both Key Club and the student council. She enjoys serving her community by volunteering or helping to organize school events.

After she graduates this year, Benson will attend Concordia College in Moorhead to pursue her bachelor’s degree in music education. She hopes to either teach music or play professionally in orchestras.

Arriana Schwab Photo 2.jpg
Arriana Schwab, of Royalton, won the Heartland Symphony Orchestra's Echo Kowalzek Youth Concerto Competition in January 2023.
Contributed / Heartland Symphony Orchestra

Schwab, 17, is a homeschool graduate from Royalton who has been playing violin for four years.

She joined the St. Francis Music Center’s string orchestra. In October 2019, Schwab had her first experience playing with HSO during a collaboration with St. Francis Music Center students.

Earlier this season, Schwab began playing as a member of HSO and is also a member of several other ensembles, including Central Minnesota Youth Orchestra, the St. Francis Maestoso and Chamber orchestras, and the St. Francis Percussion Ensemble.

She has performed with the Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra and Central Lakes College String Orchestra as well.


Last year, Schwab had the opportunity to work at the St. Francis Music Center teaching beginning piano and violin.

Outside of music, she enjoys drawing and writing. Her future plans are to continue studying music in the hopes of going into a full-time career in violin performance/teaching.

Benson and Schwab will attend rehearsals and perform with the HSO in the upcoming spring concert series, “The Youth Concerto Competition Returns,” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1, in the Charles D. Martin Auditorium at Little Falls High School and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 2, at the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts in Brainerd.

These concerts are made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Five Wings Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

In Little Falls, the Laura Jane Musser fund provides additional support.

The Echo Kowalzek Youth Concerto Competition is funded in part by a grant from Crow Wing Power Community Trust for each winner to be awarded a $500 scholarship toward continuing their musical studies.

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