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The Plowman Chamber Music Competition's Artistic Director Looks Back on its Roots

We caught up with Ayako Tsuruta to learn more about the competition taking place on March 25-26, 2023 in Missouri


A biennial event, The Plowman Chamber Music Competition offers two categories: Piano & Strings and Brass, Woodwinds & Percussion. Held in Columbia, Missouri, the competition is open to instrumental ensembles of three to six players, and for those interested in, or already pursuing a career in music.

Full livestreaming of this year's Semi-Final and Final Rounds will be available LIVE here on The Violin Channel.

The 2023 jury includes pianist Lucille Chung, cellist Amit Peled, and horn player Jeff Scott. There are two application deadlines: February 10 or February 17, 2023. Apply here!

We talked with Plowman Competition's Artistic Director Ayako Tsuruta to get an inside look at the competition.



Tell us about the Plowman Chamber Music Competition. When was it founded and what was the inspiration behind it?

Plowman Competition was founded in 2005, and it was a collaborative project between what was then the Missouri Symphony Society (now "The Missouri Symphony") and myself. Having just landed in Columbia in 2003, I had all these great ideas which my new organization Odyssey Chamber Music Series (est. 2004) could not support financially. Missouri Symphony Society understood the importance of what I was trying to do and came up with a joint project now known as the Plowman Chamber Music Competition.


What is the main mission of the competition?

We wanted to show our Mid-Missouri area audiences the exceptional talents of young chamber musicians across the nation, and in turn, share our enthusiastic and well-educated audiences with the next generation of performers.


Why did you feel it was important to focus on ensembles without management?

We did not want professionally managed ensembles to be judged by our panel of guest artists because I strongly feel it is a conflict of interest. Someone at the management obviously is enthusiastic about an ensemble they decided to take under their wings, and Plowman is not, and should not be a place for anyone to pass a judgement on whether the manager's decision is good or bad. Most importantly, we wanted to encourage ALL musicians who are pursuing performance as a career choice.


This year’s edition of the competition is open to piano & strings ensembles as well as brass, woodwinds, & percussion ensembles. What groups can apply

We have always had two general categories: Piano/Strings and Woodwinds/Brass/Percussion. Any combination of six musicians or less goes! Very interesting combinations of instruments did well at the competition. For example, we have had a very charismatic and memorable euphonium quartet, a marimba quartet, and even a harp trio with flute and viola. While I would love to cater to all the ensembles' needs, I did have to prioritize the presentation of the event and keep the staging to less than 2 minutes. Unfortunately, this limits the ensembles like percussionists who require time to set-up.


What prizes are you offering the winners?

We have five cash prizes: One Grand Prize ($5000), Two First Prizes ($2000), one to each category, and Two Honorable Mentions ($500). There is also Audience Prize ($500), which audiences will vote for from the five Finalists. The Grand Prize Winner will also be offered an opportunity to perform at the following season of the Odyssey Chamber Music Series concert with an additional $2000 cash award. In addition, exceptional, promising ensembles are awarded Judges Special Recognition, which allows them to compete at the next Plowman Competition without the preliminary audition.


What are you looking for in a potentially winning ensemble?

If I were judging, I would be looking for an ensemble that has both charisma and professional polish, and most importantly, the desire and passion to perform chamber music. At Plowman, interactions with our community members are strongly encouraged.


How did you select your jury?

Judges are selected between Dr. Peter Miyamoto, the competition's Executive Director, and I.  While many of them are our mentors and/or colleagues, they are all musicians we have profound respect for the knowledge of their instruments and in collaborative music.


The competition is named after Janice Plowman. Can you tell us about her and her contribution to the arts?

After working as a foreign service ambassador to the State Department during the war, Janice Plowman worked at the music department of Stephens College in Columbia and was a longtime member of the Missouri Symphony Society. When she passed away in 2002, Janice left a sizeable endowment to the Missouri Symphony Society. When I approached the Missouri Symphony Society's then-Executive Director David A. White, III, he thought it would be a perfect way to honor someone who loved music.


What is your favorite thing about Columbia, Missouri, where the competition is taking place? How does the community get involved in the competition?

My favorite things about Columbia, Missouri - which we residents fondly call COMO - are the creative, generous people and a variety of good restaurants. In the past 20 years I have known Columbia, it has been consistently voted the top 10 places to retire, and for a good reason: With five hospitals and three collegiate institutions in a town of some 127,000 residents, our community thrives with young generations of workers always interacting with the seniors, keeping everyone active and involved.

Our community loves interacting with our young competitors and guest artists, because they are curious about traveling musicians and what they do. Columbians' kindness is genuine, and it is apparent to me how positively this influences a good performance from our contestants. Our audiences will also vote for the $500 Audience Prize at the Finals.

I should note that the Plowman Chamber Music Competition would have not happened had it not been for the kindness and trust the Missouri Symphony continues to share with the Odyssey Chamber Music Series, as well as the First Baptist Church of Columbia and the University of Missouri. I feel it is truly appropriate that this community-backed national chamber music event is supported by four different institutions, making COMO a special place to be.

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july 2024

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