Each year, judges for the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship sort through hundreds of applications trying to determine the two most deserving music students in the nation. This year, both recipients are Oberlin students.
Ross Karre '05, a percussion performance major, and Michael Bukhman '05, a piano performance major, will each receive more than $41,000 a year for four years to cover tuition and living expenses as they work toward doctorates in musical arts.
When they heard that they won, both students were pleasantly shocked, but their teachers were less than surprised. Says Professor of Percussion Michael Rosen, "Ross Karre is one of the most talented students I ever had, but beyond that, he's a hard worker. When he sets his mind to something, he does it."
Professor of Piano Robert Shannon says, "Michael Bukhman is an outstanding student. He's a big talent with an individual style and a lot to say. He's also a go-getter who will be the first graduate of our new honors program in performance. The Javits people made a good choice."
Bukhman credits Oberlin with paving the way toward his fellowship. "I think Oberlin is the best facility in the country. It has the most practice rooms and the most Steinways, and the teachers give you so much attention. Robert Shannon is very inspiring, and he understands the big picture of a performance career."
According to Karre, positive pressure at Oberlin pushed him into unfamiliar situations. "This allowed me to discover aspects of my artistic ability that I since learned are my most valuable," he says. "Michael Rosen helped me find what I want in percussion and provided me with an immeasurable array of knowledge."
From Baku to Israel to Oberlin
Fluent in Russian, Hebrew, and English, Bukhman's playing has a pathos and flair that knows no international boundaries. A winner of Oberlin's 2004 Concerto Competition, he received both the Arthur Dann Competition and Rudolf Serkin Sophomore Prize in 2003.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Bukhman started piano lessons at age 5. A year later, he and his parents moved to Israel, where he studied with Dora Dokshitsky and Dr. Mark Shaviner. In 1998, Bukhman moved to Houston, where he attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which awarded him the Outstanding Pianist Award.
"Michael was admitted to every graduate school to which he applied," says Shannon. "For the Oberlin honors program, he learned and recorded all of Shostakovich's preludes and fugues. He'll be evaluated by Oberlin faculty, as well as an outside person from Juilliard, and I'm sure he'll succeed."
The admiration goes both ways. "Robert Shannon always believed in me and has been there for me," says Bukhman. "He realizes that the professional music world can be harsh, unfair and even hostile, and he's prepared me for this. He doesn't let his students stagnate in the safe environment of a small campus.
"Since my first year here, my accompanying professor, James Howsmon, has been extremely supportive," he adds. "He's a really great guy who puts his entire energy into his students. Marci Alegant, our associate dean, is another person who is always available and is totally dedicated to the advancement of students.
"I'm thrilled about the opportunity offered by the Javits Fellowship," Bukhman says. "It's an amazing thing, and I'm so lucky to have it. It's a real advantage that I'm going to put to good use; I'll work toward my DMA without stopping. And I know I want to perform."
On May 13, Bukhman will be the featured soloist with the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra, performing Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40.
From Oberlin to Switzerland to San Diego
Driven by a passion for experimental and avant garde music, Karre continually challenges himself to progress as a musician. It was this drive that helped him capture an all-expense-paid spot with the 2004 Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra under the direction of Pierre Boulez.
"Ross knows what he wants and pursues it," Rosen remarks. "After a big recital, he'll come in raring to go with the next project. He starts practicing at 7 or 8 a.m. every day. He's reliable, cooperative, gets along well with others, has a good sense of humor and is fantastic in the section. He'll do great and become a professional."
Karre says, "When I applied for the Javits, I felt like it was a shot in the dark. I'm very grateful to have been chosen, and am relieved to not have to worry about financing my graduate degrees. In fact, with the fellowship, I'll even have the funds to purchase instruments, such as a marimba and a vibraphone.
"My love of contemporary music, which I developed at Oberlin, motivated me to apply to the University of California in San Diego, where I'll study with the contemporary percussionist Steve Schick as I pursue my DMA," says Karre, who is from Battle Creek, Michigan.
"Besides Michael Rosen, a couple other people have been important influences on me at Oberlin," he adds. "They're Tim Weiss, our contemporary music ensemble director, who inspires students with his focused rehearsal technique and care for details, and Lewis Nielson, who has a creative composition style that's very intellectual and passionate.
"All three of these faculty members are also kind, caring, and compassionate both as teachers and as friends," Karre adds.
Associate Professor of Music Theory Lynne Rogers served as the campus representative for the Javits Fellowship program.