New York (AP) -- Some of the artists take the stage shyly, others stride on with purpose, while the judges whisper to each other and take notes.
This isn't the latest episode of "American Idol," but the finals of the 2003 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Instead of splashy debuts on national TV, the winners will receive the keys to a career in classical music.
Young Concert Artists Inc., a 42-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to discovering and launching young musicians' careers, holds a rigorous audition process -- three rounds, nearly 300 applicants and more than a dozen judges.
At Friday's last round for this year's 16 soloists and groups, violinist Mikhail Simonyan brought a little drama to the proceedings by announcing a last-minute program change: He would open with the "Porgy and Bess Suite" instead of a sonata by Franck.
"I'm never nervous. You just have to go on stage and enjoy yourself. There's nothing to worry about. It's my job," Simonyan, a 17-year-old from Siberia who now studies in Philadelphia, said right before his performance.
His confidence wasn't shared by violinist Meg Freivogel, 22, playing with a quartet.
"It's scary. You want to think of it as a concert, but there are people there judging you, deciding which one is better," said Freivogel, from St. Louis. "It's hard to get that out of your head."
YCA's famous alumni include soprano Dawn Upshaw, pianists Emanuel Ax and Ruth Laredo, and flutist Paula Robison. The competition is also the subject of a documentary, "Playing for Real," which will be shown on public television this spring.
Judges can pick as many winners as they like from the finals, awarding each $5,000.
Along with the prize, said founder Susan Wadsworth, the winners receive management services from YCA at no cost -- including the booking of concert engagements, publicity, promotional materials and career guidance -- for at least three years.
"You become part of a music world that's more than just practicing and playing," Wadsworth said.
YCA arranges performances at New York's Lincoln Center and Washington's Kennedy Center, and offers advice on everything from upgrading to a better instrument to knowing when a musician should slow down before burning out.
The judges chose four winners this year -- a cello player from Romania, a French trumpet player, a French viola player and a bass player from China.
Many others left the concert hall downcast, and a few in tears.
After calling her parents in Leicestershire, England, flutist Katherine Bryan prepared to head out into the cold but said she might come back next year.
"You just have to keep competing in these things until you win one," she said.
On the Net:
Young Concert Artists: www.yca.org
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