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Announcing the winners of the 2018 Creative Reactions Contest

May 1, 2018

May 2, 2018
INFO:  609-258-2800
CONTACT:  Dasha Koltunyuk,, 609-258-6024

Dedicated to the memory of Vera Sharpe Kohn

The Creative Reactions Contest is one of Princeton University Concerts’ (“PUC”) programs aimed at engaging Princeton University students in classical music. The fourth annual reiteration of this contest included two categories: Creative Writing and Visual Arts. 75 students signed up for the Creative Writing category, attending a range of concerts throughout the first half of the 2017-18 season. 20 students enrolled in the Visual Arts category, attending a performance by the Tenebrae Choir at the Princeton University Chapel in March. All students were asked to creatively respond to and relay their experience of hearing live chamber music. As in past years, submissions were anonymous and could use any written form for the Creative Writing category – including free verse, prose, poetry, narrative, and lyrics – and any medium that could be digitally submitted for the Visual Arts category.

We are excited to announce that after three rounds of judging, there are four winners in the Creative Writing category and one winner in the Visual Arts category. In the Creative Writing Category, Sang Lee ‘18 was awarded first place ($500); Diana Chao ‘21 and graduate students Xin Rong Chua and Jason Molesky each received honorable mention ($100). In the Visual Arts category, Sebastian Cox ‘18 was the inaugural and only winner, also winning $500.

The community is invited to hear the winning submissions read and displayed in a pre-concert event on Thursday, May 3, 2018 at 7:00PM at Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall. Excerpts from the music to which the winners reacted will be interspersed throughout the readings. This event will be followed by PUC’s final concert of the year at 8PM with cellist Truls Mørk and pianist Behzod Abduraimov. For more information about both events, please visit

While participants in the Visual Arts category were limited to one concert by the Tenebrae Choir, the winning submissions in the Creative Writing category react to a range of concerts. Lee’s first-place poem and Chua’s honorable mention short story were both inspired by Shostakovich and the Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy, a multimedia theatrical realization featuring the Emerson String Quartet and actors, including Len Cariou and Jay O. Sanders. The other two honorable mentions reacted to a recital by bagpipe virtuoso Cristina Pato (Chao) and a performance by violinist Jennifer Koh (Molesky).

‘The Creative Reactions Contest,” says Professor Scott Burnham, “has been a marvelous motivator for many evocative and provocative poems and essays. I’ve been lucky enough to act as a judge since the contest’s inception, and it has been just about the most gratifying assignment you can imagine. People like to say that words can never capture the fleeting yet profound effects of music.  Yet for those of us who love both music and language, it’s a powerful temptation to try to find words to describe what music does for us.  The students we are honoring with these awards have found such words.”

The entries were read anonymously in three rounds by twelve judges:

Round One:
Dasha Koltunyuk ‘15, Marketing and Outreach Manager for Princeton University Concerts
Kristin Qian ’18, Co-Chair of the Student Ambassadors of Princeton University Concerts
Marcia Snowden, Member of the Princeton University Concerts Committee
Marue Walizer, Past Chair of the Princeton University Concerts Committee

Round Two:
Olga Hasty, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Clerk of the Faculty at Princeton University
Andrew Lovett, Composer and Research Specialist in the Department of Music at Princeton University
Dorothea von Moltke, Owner of Labyrinth Books
William Stowe ‘68, Benjamin Waite Professor Emeritus of the English Language at Wesleyan University

Round Three:
Scott Burnham, William H. Scheide Professor Emeritus of Music History at Princeton University
Jeff Dolven, Behrman Professor of the Humanities and Professor of English at Princeton University
Susan Stewart, Avalon Foundation University Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English at Princeton University

Sang Lee ’18, “A Couple of Fiddles” inspired by Shostakovich and the Black Monk with the Emerson String Quartet, First Prize, $500

Diana Chao ’21, “Gaita (Gal)ega” inspired by bagpipe player Cristina Pato, Honorable Mention, $100

Xin Rong Chua ’GS, “Interlude” inspired by Shostakovich and the Black Monk with the Emerson String Quartet, Honorable Mention, $100

Jason Molesky ’GS, “Tempest” inspired by violinist Jennifer Koh, Honorable Mention, $100


Mary Hamill, Co-Director of Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School
Marsha Levin-Rojer, Artist, Princeton University Concerts subscriber
Helen Lin ’18, Princeton University student artist, designer of the 2016 ­–17 Princeton University Concerts Student Ambassadors brochure
Marna Seltzer, Director of Princeton University Concerts

Sebastian Cox ‘18, “Untitled” inspired by the Tenebrae Choir, First Prize, $500


Sebastian Cox, a senior in the English Department, has already received much acclaim as a singer—including a Gramophone Award for his solo with the New College Choir at age 12. Perhaps best known to the community through his lead role in the Department of Music’s recent production of Monteverdi’s ‘L’Orfeo,’ Sebastian is also an aspiring filmmaker and a passionate sculptor. Having taken all of the sculpture courses offered by the University, he is fascinated by sculpture’s physical form embodying abstract ideas. He has also been inspired by his teacher Martha Friedman, the Director of Visual Arts in the Lewis Center for the Arts. Joby Talbot’s “Path of Miracles” came directly in the wake of the 7-7 bombings in London, where Sebastian grew up. Sebastian pays tribute to the 56 lives lost in his creative response. His sculpture reaches up toward light, reflecting the rising motif in the music’s first movement and the restrained search for hope and light in times of darkness.

Diana Chao, a member of the Class of 2021, intends to concentrate in the Department of Geosciences while also pursuing Certificates in the History and Practice of Diplomacy, as well as East Asian Studies. The scope of her musical pursuits is as impressive: in addition to singing in VTone, an a cappella group, Diana plays several instruments that include the piano, erhu (Chinese fiddle), bagpipes, hulusi (Chinese gourd flute), and guitar. She finds that embracing such an international range of music resonates with her dual Chinese-American identity, allowing her—like Cristina Pato—to both fuse and transcend cultures through sound. Diana wanted to capture that fluidity in Pato’s performance, channeling the music’s simultaneous turbulence, rawness, and subtle femininity through an unconstrained style that similarly defied expectations. Her poem’s structure followed the beat of Pato’s performance, and its content arose from the desire to elicit a “sense of wilderness, of proud ocean waves, of Galician history carved into song.”

Xin Rong Chua is a fourth-year PhD candidate from Singapore. As part of the Program of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, she researches the effects of atmospheric heating on tropical rainfall. Having taken piano lessons as a child, Xin now furthers her interest in music by playing the carillon and attending concerts on campus. She was fascinated by how the characters in ‘Shostakovich and The Black Monk’ are both part of Anton Chekhov’s story and emblematic of Dmitri Shostakovich’s struggle to find artistic fulfillment under the scrutiny of the Soviet regime. She was inspired to imagine the characters having an awareness beyond what their creators had prescribed. By exploring how they might grapple with imposed identities, she hoped to convey her impression of how the performance blended music, art, and biography. Xin was the first graduate student to be named a winner of the Creative Reactions Contest when she received an Honorable Mention in the 2016–17 contest. This is her second consecutive win.

Sang Lee is a senior in the German Department, pursuing a Certificate in Creative Writing. He plays many musical instruments—piano, violin, trombone, acoustic guitar, and danso (Korean bamboo flute)—and is also a singer and former member of the Princeton University Glee Club. He could not imagine his life without music, always listening to something—often in the hip hop/jazz/funk genres and usually by Kendrick Lamar. Putting together a collection of poems as his second thesis, Sang attended ‘Shostakovich and The Black Monk’ in search of new inspiration for his work. Having read Anton Chekhov’s short story, ‘The Black Monk,’ prior to the performance, Sang was awed by the way in which the production synthesized the text with Dmitri Shostakovich’s life story and by the frenzied dialectic between the figures of the genius (embodied by Shostakovich) and the critic (embodied by Joseph Stalin). The structure of his resulting poem was guided by the “music” of the words that stayed with him from the performance.

Jason Molesky, a second-year PhD student in the English Department, is focusing his academic studies on American literature, environmental studies, and race and immigration. Listening to everything from hip-hop to folk rock to Zeppelin to Chopin, Jason sometimes plays the rock guitar. Although he did not have ready access to many live classical music performances growing up, Jason found that listening to classical music—the local church organ and particularly solo performances that allow him to focus on a single line of feeling—was helpful to his artistic pursuits as a writer. Responding to Jennifer Koh’s recital was thus a natural fit. Freewriting during her performance, Jason allowed his poem’s structure and focus to develop organically as he listened to the music, taking time afterwards to ‘prune’ his work. He found
that listening to the concert with the intention of writing about it greatly deepened his experience of the music and recommends that others give it a try!

The Creative Reactions Contest, now in its fourth year, is hosted by the Student Ambassadors of Princeton University Concerts, a small group of classical music-loving students whose mission is to increase student interest and participation in Princeton University Concerts programs.  The contest is funded by PUC.  Each year PUC presents a professional concert series featuring renowned classical musicians from all over the world. The Creative Reactions Contest seeks to further PUC’s mission by connecting students to the arts and celebrating classical music’s unique contributions.  The Creative Reactions Contest is dedicated to the memory of Vera Sharpe Kohn, a loyal member of the Princeton University Concerts Committee whose support and enthusiasm contributed to the health and well being of Princeton University Concerts.

All of the winning entries will be available online at For more information or press inquiries, contact Dasha Koltunyuk at or at 609-258-6024.


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Dasha (Darya) Koltunyuk
Phone:  609-258-6024