Nicolette Marie Sullivan-Cozza & Allyson Bennett Win Kennedy Center VSA Competition

Nicolette Marie Sullivan-Cozza ’25 and Allyson Bennett ’20, ’22 MM, ’23 GD were among the four young musicians named as winners of the 2023 VSA International Young Musicians Competition, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The program focuses on identifying, amplifying, and celebrating the work of young musicians living with disabilities who demonstrate exceptional musical talent.

About Nicolette Marie Sullivan-Cozza

Nicolette Sullivan Cozza Tuesday Night New Music
Nicolette Marie Sullivan-Cozzo performing at a Tuesday Night New Music concert at NEC's Jordan Hall on May 2, 2023.
Allyson Bennett Magic Flute
Allyson Bennett performing in The Magic Flute in NEC's Jordan Hall on February 8, 2023. Allyson performed the role of "First Lady."

Violist Nicolette Marie Sullivan-Cozza ’25 is in her second year of undergraduate study at the New England Conservatory studying under Kim Kashkashian on a Dean’s full tuition scholarship.

Previously, she was a student at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts and was a pupil of Kerri Ryan. She is a laureate in competitions such as the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition, American Viola Society Biannual Solo Competition, among numerous others. She is also a recipient of a Sphinx MPower Grant.

Nicolette has performed in many concerts halls around the country such as Carnegie Hall’s Weill and Stern recital halls, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, among others, and has made appearances on NPR’s From The Top and WRTI 90.1 FM Classical and Jazz Radio Station. 

A dedicated orchestral musician, she has held positions such as the Principal Violist of the NEC Symphony and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra (where she was a recipient of the Helen T. Carp Distinguished Service Award). She is an alumni of PMAY (Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth) and the Primavera Fund. Nicolette and her two sisters co-founded Strings for Change, which provides free violin and viola private lessons, instruments, and supplies to students studying in Delaware public schools.

About Allyson Bennett

Soprano Allyson Bennett ’20, ’22 MM, ’23 GD studied with Jane Eaglen while earning her Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Graduate Diploma at the New England Conservatory. While at NEC, Allyson received the Helen Haxton Stare Presidential Scholarship in Voice and support from the Perkin Opera Scholarship Fund.

She is currently preparing to cover the title role in Puccini’s Tosca with Opera51, and was featured at NEC in the roles of First Lady in The Magic Flute and a Liederabend showcasing Rachmaninoff’s Six Romances Op.8. Additional operatic experience includes Eva (An American Dream), Madame Lidoine (Dialogues of the Carmelites), Mimì (La bohème), and Valletto (L’incoronazione di Poppea).

She premiered Flora Sun’s 難波津に (Naniwa-zu ni); appeared with NEC’s Wind Ensemble singing Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon” and Elena Firsova’s The Birth of a Smile; and hosted a benefit recital with Sparrow Live for the family of Breonna Taylor, whose death at the hands of Louisville police sparked activism and calls for justice in 2020. She won First Place for Rising Talents of the Americas 2020 in the Great Composers Competition and was named Boston District Winner by the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition in both 2021 and 2022. 

About the Competition

Since 1984, the VSA International Young Musicians Competition, founded by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, has annually recognized emerging young artists, ages 14–25, from all over the world who have disabilities and demonstrate exceptional musical talent. Previous winners have gone on to perform with top symphony orchestras around the world, become international recording stars, and achieved success on television programs such as American Idol and Platinum Hit.

VSA, previously named Very Special Arts, is part of the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the Washington D.C.-based John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The goal of VSA – which is carried out both at the Kennedy Center and its network of national and international affiliates – is to involve people with special needs in arts and culture through encouraging participation, as well as inclusion.

The winning recipients, who each receive a $2,000 award, are paired with a professional musician to receive individualized mentorship between May 1 and August 1, participate in a series of skill building workshops, and perform on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage on July 22 at 6 p.m. ET. This performance is free and open to the public and will be streamed online at