NEC String Players Win Four Prestigious International and National Competitions

New England Conservatory, world-renowned for training extraordinary musicians, celebrated wins by seven NEC students and alumni in four prestigious international and national competitions over the last two weeks. The awards reflect the depth and scope of collaboration across faculty, staff, and students distinctive to NEC’s educational model.

NEC students and alumni won First Prize at the China International Music Competition, First Prize at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Competition, First Prize at Mirecourt International Violin Competition, and the Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America.

The prizes awarded underscore the exceptional talent of the students and faculty in NEC’s String Department. The winners are violinist Joshua Brown ’22, ’24 MM, cellist Leland Ko ’24 AD, violinist Jaewon Wee ’23 GD, and the Balourdet Quartet ’23 Professional Quartet Program (comprised of Angela Bae, Justin DeFilippis, Benjamin Zannoni, and Russell Houston).

In addition, NEC student SooBeen Lee ’21, ’23 MM, ’25 GD and alumna Angela Chan ’22 MM, ’24 GD were among the six violinists to make it to the finals of the China International Music Competition. 

NEC faculty members who instructed the winners include Miriam Fried, Yeesun Kim, Paul Katz, Nick Kitchen, Laurence Lesser, and Donald Weilerstein. NEC String Department co-chairs are Lluís Claret and Kris Tong. 

“The successes of these NEC students are a testament not only to their extraordinary talent, but also to the exceptional mentorship of our faculty. NEC takes pride in the uniquely collaborative instruction our students receive, which is the core of our innovative and integrated educational model. Congratulations to one and all,” said Andrea Kalyn, president of NEC.

The award winners and contests are presented below:


Violinist Joshua Brown '22, '24 MM Wins $100,000 First Prize at China International Music Competition

Violinist Joshua Brown ’22, ’24 MM won First Prize at the China International Music Competition in Beijing on November 13 at the National Center for the Performing Arts. He receives $100,000, a Gold Medal, and three years of concert tours for his win. Brown, age 23, has studied with faculty member Donald Weilerstein at NEC for nearly six years and is the recipient of an NEC Dean’s Scholarship, a full tuition scholarship.

Joshua Brown

Conductor and NEC alumnus Tristan Rais-Sherman ’21 AD led each competitor, together with the Philadelphia Orchestra, through their performance of a major violin concerto, including Brown's masterful rendition of Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major Op.77. The jury for the competition included Bin Huang (Chairman), Friedemann Eichhorn, Lorenz Nasturica-Herschcowici, Mariusz Patyra, Lucie Robert, Joel Smirnoff, Weidong Tong, and Pavel Vernikov.

"It was quite surreal to be announced the winner," said Brown. "NEC and Mr. Weilerstein have done everything for me in contributing to my success. I still feel like I am growing and learning so much from every single lesson. I leave my lessons just as amazed and inspired as my first week studying at NEC! I think this kind of constant learning is responsible for any kind of success that I have, and I will always be grateful for everything that the school has done for me."

Brown debuted with the Cleveland Orchestra at just fifteen years old in 2015. Since then, he has performed with dozens of orchestras in the United States and abroad in concert halls worldwide, continually garnering praise from critics. He has won numerous prestigious awards, including being the top prize winner at the Tenth International Violin Competition of Leopold Mozart and a prize winner of the 11th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.


Cellist Leland Ko ‘24 AD Wins First Prize at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Competition

Cellist Leland Ko ’24 AD won first prize at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Competition on November 11. Ko receives CAD20,000, a residency at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Belgium for the 2024-25 season, a recording and broadcast by Radio-Canada, and several performance opportunities. 

Leland Ko

“His exceptional performance of Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante in E minor on the cello bewitched the Maison symphonique last Saturday,” wrote the OSM on social media.

Ko has studied at NEC with Donald Weilerstein, Yeesun Kim, and  Laurence Lesser, and is the recipient of the Edward P. and Margaret Richardson Presidential Scholarship.

“It was an honor to have shared the hall with this batch of competitors and their beautiful music, the wonderful musicians of the OSM, the warm and welcoming Montreal audiences, and a jury I would’ve only ever dreamed of playing for,” said Ko.  

A cellist of Chinese Canadian descent born and raised in the Boston area, Ko has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in venues across America’s east coast, such as Merkin Concert Hall and Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in New York, Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, and Sanders Theatre in Boston, as well as internationally in Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Israel, and Spain, including Auditorio Manuel de Falla in Granada. Ko was named a recipient of the Presidential Scholar Award at NEC for 2022-2024 and the Spark Fund from The Joy of Music Inc. and was a Young Artist in Residence for American Public Media’s radio program Performance Today in 2023. 

Ko received second prize at the inaugural 2020 Bader and Overton Canadian Cello Competition, a finalist appearance in the 2020 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, first prize at the 2021 Hudson Valley Philharmonic String Competition, and most recently won first prizes at the 2023 inaugural Boston Concert Artist Society auditions and the 2023 National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Competition. He was also named a winner of the 2023 Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank auditions.

Watch Leland Ko '24 AD perform Leoš Janáček's "Pohádka" in NEC's Jordan Hall:


Violinist Jaewon Wee ‘23 GD Wins First at Mirecourt International Violin Competition

NEC alumna and violinist Jaewon Wee ’23 GD won first prize and 5,000 euros at the Mirecourt International Violin Competition in France on November 12. She was also awarded three Special Prizes: Opéra national de Lorraine’s Orchestra Prizes, Special Prize of Contemporary String Instrument Manufacturing, and Special Prize of Bow Makers. 

Jaewon Wee

At NEC, Wee was a recipient of the Dean’s Scholarship and studied under Donald Weilerstein

Wee won the First Prize & the Audience Choice Award at the Dallas International Violin Competition 2023, performing Sibelius' Violin Concerto with the Dallas Chamber Symphony. She also won the First and Audience Prizes at the 2022 Washington International Competition and the Second and Best Performance of the Commissioned Work Prizes at the 37th Klein International Competition. Last year, she was also awarded the Second & the Special iPalpiti Prizes at the George Enescu International Competition and, in 2019, as a winner of the Juilliard Violin Concerto Competition, she made her New York debut at Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall.


Balourdet Quartet Receives Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America 

The Balourdet Quartet, who graduated from NEC's Professional String Quartet training program in the spring of 2023, received the Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America. This biennial award, named for one of history's most illustrious string quartets, honors and promotes a rising string quartet whose artistry demonstrates significant promise. 

Balourdet Quartet

While at NEC, the Balourdet Quartet worked with faculty members Paul Katz (Director of NEC’s Professional String Program), Donald Weilerstein, Miriam Fried, Nicholas Kitchen, and Martha Strongin Katz. As NEC's Professional Quartet-In-Residence, Balourdet received full-tuition scholarships, living stipends, and intensive training and coaching. They recently won the Grand Prize at New York’s Concert Artists Guild Competition. They have also been prize winners at the Banff International String Quartet Competition and Gold Medal winners at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.

Watch the Balourdet Quartet perform Debussy's "String Quartet in G minor" in NEC's Jordan Hall: