Music Composition Grad Wins Two National Awards

Olga Amelkina-Vera places first and third in The American Prize competition

Olga Amelkina-Vera, who earned a Master of Music in composition at SMU Meadows School of the Arts in 2017, has won two awards in The American Prize in Composition competition for 2017-18. She won first place in the student instrumental chamber music division for her work Submerged Worlds, and third place in the student opera/theater/film/dance division for her work All That Glitters.

The American Prize was founded in 2009 and is awarded annually in many areas of the performing arts. The American Prize in Composition recognizes and rewards the best composers in America of works for orchestra, chorus, concert band, chamber ensemble, pops, or theater music (opera-musical theater, theater, film, dance) that have been read or publicly performed. Winners receive cash prizes, certificates, written evaluations and regional, national and international recognition based on recorded performances. Winners are also profiled on The American Prize website.

Submerged Worlds was Amelkina-Vera’s master’s thesis at SMU, written under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Composition and Theory Robert Frank. Composed for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion, it was premiered in 2016 by the Meadows new music ensemble SYZYGY, under the direction of Dr. Lane Harder, lecturer in music theory and composition.

“The composition faculty agreed that Submerged Worlds was one of the finest thesis projects to ever come out of the program,” said Dr. Frank. “It evokes sounds both traditional and electronic via colorful orchestration and idiomatic extended techniques. It is powerful, musical and carries a poignant message about global warming and the dangers of nuclear disasters, based upon Olga’s childhood growing up near the site of the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. Yet the work expresses a hopefulness for the future.”

All That Glitters, Amelkina-Vera’s third place-winning work, is a comic micro-opera that was premiered in 2015 by the Meadows Opera Theatre. It was written as part of SMU’s “New Opera for a New World” project, in which SMU students worked together to create new 15-minute operas. All That Glitters is a musically eclectic opera buffa in one scene, with a libretto by Michelle Alexander (M.M. voice performance ’14). It is a modern take on the Cinderella story, with an underlying moral of self-acceptance and positive body image.

“It gives me great joy to see my work recognized on a national level by The American Prize,” said Amelkina-Vera. “My hope is that such exposure will bring future performance and collaboration opportunities, and open my music to a wider audience. I strongly believe that my success in this competition would not have been possible without the excellent composition training I received at Meadows School of the Arts. I learned so much in the few years that I was there, both as a student and a faculty member! The caring support and encouragement of all my teachers, and especially of my main thesis adviser, Dr. Robert Frank, inspired and pushed me to do my best work, and I am forever grateful to them for that experience.”

Listen to SYZYGY’s performance of Submerged Worlds and opera students performing All That Glitters.

Olga Amelkina-Vera

About Olga Amelkina-Vera

Olga Amelkina-Vera’s works have been called “the discovery of the evening” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune), “brilliant” (The Royal Gazette), “incandescent” and “hypnotic” (Fort Worth Star Telegram) and “exotic” (Soundboard). A native of Belarus who moved to the U.S. in 1997, Amelkina-Vera earned a B.A. from the University of St. Thomas in Houston; M.M. and D.M.A. degrees in guitar performance from the University of North Texas; and, most recently, an M.M. in composition from SMU Meadows School of the Arts. At SMU, she studied with Xi Wang, Lane Harder, Robert Frank and Kevin Hanlon. While at SMU, she was named the Irving Symphony Orchestra 2016-17 Student Composer-in-Residence. She won first prize in the Japan Guitar Ensemble Composition Competition (2013) and Austin Classical Guitar Society Composition Competition (2009 and 2012). Her compositions for guitar are published by Les Productions d’Oz, and have been performed and recorded by Matt Palmer, Adam Holzman, Valerie Hartzell and many other ensembles and soloists. As a performer, she maintains a busy touring and teaching schedule with Kithara Duo, her guitar duo with Fernand Vera. Kithara Duo’s critically acclaimed recordings Beings and Lingua Franca feature some of her original compositions and transcriptions for guitar duo. She is currently a full-time faculty member at Collin College in Plano, where she teaches music history, music theory, composition and guitar. To learn more, please visit

About The American Prize

The American Prize National Nonprofit Competitions in the Performing Arts grew from the belief that a great deal of excellent music being made in the U.S. goes unrecognized and unheralded, not only in major cities, but all across the country: in schools and churches, in colleges and universities, and by community and professional musicians.

The American Prize seeks to fill the gap that leaves excellent artists and ensembles struggling for visibility and viability. It recognizes and rewards the best America produces, without bias against small city versus large, or unknown artist versus well known.

David Katz is the chief judge of The American Prize. Professional conductor, award-winning composer, playwright, actor and arts advocate, he is author of Muse of Fire, the acclaimed one-man play about the art of conducting. Joining Katz in selecting winners of The American Prize is a panel of judges of varied background and experience. Made up of distinguished musicians representing virtually every region of the country, the group includes professional vocalists, conductors, composers and pianists, tenured professors, and orchestra, band and choral musicians.

“Most artists may never win a Grammy award, or a Pulitzer, or a Tony, or perhaps ever even be nominated,” Katz said, “but that does not mean that they are not worthy of recognition and reward. Quality in the arts is not limited to the coasts, or to the familiar names, or only to graduates of a few schools. It is on view all over the United States, if you take the time to look for it. The American Prize exists to encourage and herald that excellence.”

The American Prize is administered by Hat City Music Theater, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit performing arts organization based in Danbury, Connecticut.