SEPF Alumnus and Rising Star Guest Artist Adapting to Life in the Big City

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2010 Arthur Fraser International Competition first prize winner Naomi Causby is returning to Southeastern Piano Festival this year in a different role.  The three-time SEPF participant and Columbia, South Carolina native made her orchestra debut in 2010 with the Greenville Young Orchestra and Greenville Symphony performing Beethoven’s C minor Concerto.  A Juilliard freshman, Steinway Young Artist and prize winner of multiple national and international competitions, Naomi will perform a recital with fellow alumnus and Arthur Fraser first prize winner Micah McLaurin during the festival.  The two will also serve as the official pianists of the Conductors Institute of South Carolina playing Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations in a rehearsal setting.  Naomi is set to make her Alice Tully Hall debut in late January, 2013. We recently sat down with Naomi to get an update on her career, her advice for high school students, and her experiences with Southeastern Piano Festival:

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SEPF:  Naomi, thanks for joining me today.  You recently completed your first semester at Juilliard.  How was it?

Naomi: My first semester at Juilliard has been amazing. The teachers, faculty, and students are all so inspiring. When first arriving into Juilliard, I automatically thought that no one would be friendly and that everyone would be very mean and competitive. However, everyone at Juilliard is so warm and caring and very open. Most of the upperclassmen understand that it can be very stressful to come to such a large and well-known conservatory and especially transitioning into New York City. But because of that, everyone is so warm. There is definitely underlying competitiveness at Juilliard but it’s a somewhat “nice” competitiveness that won’t overwhelm anybody.

SEPF: You study with Jerome Lowenthal. What stands out about his teaching?

Naomi: Mr. Lowenthal is the most spectacular teacher. He’s literally a walking music dictionary. He knows everything about every single composer, piece, and pianist. It’s really inspiring listening to him tell stories of how he studied with Cortot, when he went to concerts by Horowitz and Rubinstein, and just listening to him play makes me realize that I have so much to learn and that I’m in very capable and brilliant hands. I couldn’t ask for anything better in a school or teacher.

SEPF: The transition from high school to the conservatory can be quite an interesting experience for many.  What helped you prepare for your first semester?

Naomi: Transitioning from Columbia to New York was certainly an experience.  I had to get used to using the subway systems, I had to learn new street signs, and I had to learn how to be a master jaywalker because in New York no one stops for anything. It’s always, go, go, go, don’t ever stop. Oh plus, the food is totally different. Goodbye sweet tea and fried chicken, hello vegan foods. But in all, it was a smooth transition. Luckily, my experience with summer festivals such as SEPF helped prepare me for the rigors of the conservatory music program.

SEPF: If the absence of sweet tea and fried chicken are your biggest transition issues, I’d say you’re doing well!  What kind of advice would you give to a high school student preparing for the transition into a major conservatory?

Naomi: I think my only advice for those preparing to go into high-level conservatories is just to be yourself. Of course, you have to prepare to pass all of your pre-screening and live auditions but most of all, you have to be yourself. A lot of auditions that I had to do included an interview process. Be who you are and who you were made to be. That’s my advice to everyone.

SEPF: Did attending summer festivals aid in making your transition smoother?

Naomi: I believe attending summer festivals, specifically SEPF, helped me with transitioning into Juilliard. From my experience, I’ve met so many different personalities in the students that really cross over into how some of the Juilliard students are. Also, with each year that I’ve participated in SEPF, the level of playing has sky rocketed. This also helped me prepare for Juilliard.

SEPF: You’ve attended many music festivals in the past.  What makes Southeastern Piano Festival different?

Naomi: SEPF is different from other programs because it has a set time schedule. Most other festivals allow you to do whatever you want in a large time space. Sometimes in those large time scenes you don’t do anything and all you do is sit around and not practice. However at SEPF, you’re on a strict schedule which forces you to practice and to get better instead of your mind going somewhere else where you are distracted. Also, SEPF hosts some of the most amazing concerts ever with very distinguished guest artists. I’ve heard so many great concerts by Di Wu, Eric Zuber, Oxana Yablonskaya, and so many more. Like this year, I’ll be able to hear Sergei Babayan and Illana Vered! You can’t ask for anything better!

SEPF: This year, you’re returning to Southeastern Piano Festival, but in a different role.  What does it mean to come back to where it all started for you, but this time as a leader and a role model to SEPF participants?

Naomi: It means so much to come back to SEPF. It makes me feel old, but in a good way.  It brings back so many great memories that I’ve made at SEPF throughout all of my years that I’ve participated.  I see so many smiling newcomers, so many of the regulars that come to SEPF and especially I get to see my old teachers, Marina Lomazov and Joseph Rackers

SEPF: You’re certainly a valued member of the SEPF community. In the most ideal of circumstances, where would you like to see yourself in 10 years? Is there a particular artist you would like to emulate your career after?

Naomi: I love performing. That’s definitely where I can see myself.  Performing in prestigious halls, performing at local areas, anything. Though, I’ve gotten really into collaborating with other musicians and pianists. I love collaboration and that’s certainly a part of what I want to do in the future. I really want to be like Elizabeth Roe. She’s so successful with what she does. She programs amazing pieces with her partner, Greg Anderson. I really want to be like her after I graduate from Juilliard.

SEPF: Thank you for your time, Naomi!  We’re looking forward to June!

Naomi: Thank you

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