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Winners of 2015-16 Creative Reactions Contest Announced

April 28, 2016

At the final concert of their 2015-16 season, Princeton University Concerts announced the winners of the second annual Creative Reactions Contest. This writing competition involved over 80 Princeton University undergraduate and graduate students who received a free ticket to one of six concerts offered this past winter, in exchange for a creative response reflecting on the experience of listening to live classical music. The form that the written “reaction” could take was open-ended, and invited a range of poetry and prose. After three rounds of judging by distinguished members of the community, faculty, and the student body, four winning poems were selected—sophomore Anna Leader and senior David Ting took two first prizes of $500 each, and sophomore Magdalena Collum and senior Emily Tu each received two second prizes of $250.

Before baritone Matthias Goerne closed the season with his own joining of poetry and music in Franz Schubert’s lieder, the four winners read their work in a pre-concert event, with excerpts from the music to which they reacted interspersed throughout the readings. Marna Seltzer, Director of Princeton University Concerts, commented, “the Creative Reactions Contest is one of my favorite new initiatives.  It allows students to make an entirely personal connection to the concerts we present, and it offers the opportunity to hear the music we present in a different way.  For our adult audience, it gives a glimpse into the thoughts of the next generation of concertgoers and music lovers. I congratulate this year’s winners, all poets, and continue to be astounded by the talent and creativity of Princeton students.”

The entries were read anonymously in three rounds by 12 judges:

Round One:
Marna Seltzer, Director of Princeton University Concerts

Paul von Autenried ‘16, Chair of the Student Ambassadors of Princeton University Concerts

Marue Walizer, Chair of the Princeton University Concerts Committee

Round Two:
Gabriel Crouch, Senior Lecturer in Music. Associate Director, Program in Musical Performance. Director of the Princeton University Glee Club.

Olga Hasty, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Clerk of the Faculty

Noreen McAuliffe, Program Assistant, Creative Writing, Lewis Center for the Arts

Dorothea von Moltke, Owner of Labyrinth Bookshop

Marcia Snowden, Member of the Princeton University Concerts Committee

John Weeren, Program Director, Princeton Writes

Round Three:
Leonard Barkan, Class of 1943 University Professor of Comparative Literature

Scott Burnham, William H. Scheide Professor of Music History at Princeton

Esther Schor, Professor of English


Anna Leader, ’18 “Untitled,” inspired by the Arcanto String Quartet, First Place, $500

David Ting ’16, “Scenes from ‘SCARLATTI/CAGE SONATAS, Journey Between Worlds,” inspired by pianist David Greilsammer, First place  $500

Magdalena Collum ’18, “Ritual, in Four Parts,” inspired by pianist Igor Levit, Second Place, $250

Emily Tu ‘16, “Voice,” inspired by pianist Igor Levit, Second Place, $250

Anna Leader is a sophomore who just declared her major in Comparative Literature. A friend of hers who plays in the Princeton University Orchestra convinced her to enter the Creative Reactions Contest. This was her first “serious adult concert” since coming to Princeton, and she found it very “elegant” and a little intimidating. Anna is an accomplished and prolific writer of poetry and prose, and she is a two-time winner of the national literary prize in Luxembourg (her home country) in the under-25 category. Anna also has a serious interest in literary translation, working from both French and German. This summer she will meet one of her favorite contemporary poets – Jan Wagner - who reached out to her after he read her prizewinning translation of one of his poems. The rhyme scheme for her Creative Reactions Contest piece was drawn from another poem she loves by Rubén Dario called “Sonatina.” She played the clarinet and sang in choirs while she was growing up but otherwise has not had a lot of exposure to classical music. Her Creative Reactions poem is intended for people who are not classical music aficionados.

David Ting is a junior from Springfield, Missouri.  He is pre-med History of Science major pursuing Certificates in the Humanities and European Cultural Studies. Although David has played the piano since he was 6 years old, he stopped taking lessons when he came to Princeton. His entry in the Creative Reactions Contest grew out of the pain of having dropped a practice regimen over the last three years. He is a regular concertgoer, and has attended many of PUC’s piano recitals.  Greilsammer’s performance was his favorite of this season, but the highlight of his concertgoing experience at Princeton was hearing the Princeton Glee Club sing Verdi Requiem last year.  In approaching this piece, he wanted to capture the intimacy of Greilsammer’s dialogue with the pieces by Domenico Scarlatti and John Cage by using these poems as snapshots.

Magdalena Collum is a sophomore at Princeton pursing a major in music.  She plays the violin and is currently taking lessons with Anna Lim. She has been a fan of classical music since the age of 5, when she started studying the piano. Magdalena has attended many concerts at Princeton but says that the Creative Reactions Contest made her hear the music differently.  She was immediately struck by the image of Igor Levit worshipping the piano and this was the initial inspiration for her piece.  After taking lots of notes at the performance, she tried to see the concert as a complete narrative and structured her Creative Reactions piece to reflect this.

Emily Tu is a senior who will be graduating this year with a major in Comparative Literature and a Certificate in American Studies.  She will be attending Law School in the fall.  She loves classical music and has studied the piano. She chose Bach as the subject of her Creative Reactions piece because she says she had a “difficult relationship with Bach when she was growing up.” She was struck by the beauty of Igor Levit’s Bach playing and thinks he may have changed her mind. She says that “Bach’s lines are clear and direct and that there is nothing to hide behind.” That is the essence of what she tried to capture in her piece. She has not attended many concerts since coming to Princeton and her musical studies have fallen by the wayside, something she thinks about a lot.  She is grateful to the Creative Reactions Contest for getting her back into the concert hall.


The Creative Reactions Contest is hosted by the Student Ambassadors of PUC, 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 4 of the wining entries can be read online by visiting 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