Dianne Seo – Orange County Registry

The notes hung in the air, high, smooth and unfettered. As delicate as butterflies.

While many high school and professional musicians can hit these notes, few can usher them in with such subtlety and precision. Few are confident enough to let them drift so precisely, not overwhelming or heaving, but just right.

It’s a sense that few artists possess, especially at such a young age. But it was the quality of flautist Dianne Seo’s music that stunned the judges and won top honors in instrumental music for the Orange County Register’s Artist of the Year program. Seo was nominated in the specialty of winds and percussion.

A total of 15 semi-finalists were named across four specialties, with the other finalists being violinist Megan Martono for piano and strings, guitarist Maxximus Gomes for jazz; and pianist and music technologist for commercial music. Students could also be nominated in World/Cultural Music, however, no full nominations were received for this major this year.

See all semi-finalists in instrumental music

  • Dianne Seo of Irvine, a senior at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a semi-finalist in instrumental music in the specialty of winds and percussion. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Dianne Seo of Irvine, a senior at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a semi-finalist in instrumental music in the specialty of winds and percussion. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Dianne Seo of Irvine, a senior at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a semi-finalist in instrumental music in the specialty of winds and percussion. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Dianne Seo of Irvine, a senior at the Orange County School of the Arts, is a semi-finalist in instrumental music in the specialty of winds and percussion. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Megan Martono of Laguna Niguel, a junior at Aliso Niguel High School, is a semi-finalist in instrumental music in the piano and strings specialty. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Yorba Linda’s Maxximus Gomes, a junior at El Dorado High School, is an instrumental music semifinalist in the jazz major. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Nicholas Mao of Irvine, a senior at Irvine High School, is an instrumental music semifinalist in the commercial music major. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Seo performed just before a break between the presenters and his performance lingered with some judges.

No sooner had she left the room than Daniel Wachs, conductor, professor and director of orchestral activities at Chapman University, remarked that Seo had “a unique, breathtaking sound”.

It was obvious that, for him, the bar was very high. Although a succession of award-winning pianists and string players followed, including one who traveled between stops on an international tour of Europe to perform, none matched Seo.

“I still hear it in my head. You just don’t hear that sound,” Wachs said after hearing from the 15 semi-finalists.

Jeff Held, director of instrumental activities at Concordia University, agrees, saying there aren’t many professionals who can play like Seo.

“I was mesmerized,” said Troy Trimble, music teacher at Fullerton Union High.

In a letter of recommendation for Seo, Mathieu Girardet, a music teacher at the Orange County School for the Arts, shamelessly wrote, “Dianne is the greatest flautist I have ever met.”

Wachs said that while many flute players are able to hit quick notes, what Seo did was his finesse, “smoothness and flexibility” that set the senior Orange County School of the Arts apart.

Held was impressed that there was “no air” in her final notes.

Already accepted into the New England Conservatory, Seo hopes to play with the Boston Symphony one day. Seo volunteered at the Segerstrom Center, teaching underprivileged youth how to play. She has also participated in fundraising concerts for children with cleft lip and palate.

Martono, 16, a finalist in the piano and strings category, is an Aliso Niguel High School junior who left the Orange County School of the Arts to have more time to practice. She has performed internationally, notably in Russia in 2018, and is co-concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Gomes, 17, a junior, has the rare distinction of being a guitarist in a high school marching band at El Dorado High. For his presentation, he plugged his guitar into an old-fashioned portable amp.

Mao describes himself as a pianist and played a lively medley of “Body and Soul” and “When You Wish Upon a Star”. However, Mao, who also listed as a talent a strategy to get extra food when ordering a burrito at Chipotle, admitted about his game that he didn’t think he was the best, or that he would be. He hopes to make an impact as a music producer, mixing and creating non-mainstream music.

Meanwhile, Seo, in a style as traditional as any musical style, may be on the verge of setting his own standard on the flute.

INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC FINALISTS

PIANO AND STRINGS: Megan Martono, Aliso Niguel High School

A talented violinist who travels the world to perform, she transferred from Orange County School of the Arts to her local high school, Aliso Niguel High, so she could have more time to practice and perform.

WINDS AND PERCUSSION: Dianne Seo, Orange County School of the Arts

She performs with a mature sound that lingered with the judges long after she left the room.

JAZZ: Maxximus Gomes, El Dorado High School

Old soul, he plays with dexterity and is about to join the old masters of jazz.

COMMERCIAL MUSIC: Nicholas Mao, Irvine High School

More a producer than a musician, he works with a variety of sounds and songs, blending them into unique new compositions.

WORLD/CULTURAL MUSIC: No full application submitted this year

JUDGES

PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS: Jeff Held, Concordia University; Heide Janssen, Artist of the Year producer; Bongshin Ko, State of California Fullerton; Daniel Alfred Wachs, Chapman University; ARTS EDUCATORS: Bob Avzaradel, Irvine; Matt Bausman, Beckman; Bincins Garcia, Yorba Linda; Sandy Gilboe, Costa Mesa; Gregg Gilboe, APA of Huntington Beach; Hope Harrison, Rosary Academy; Jim Kollias, Beckman; Andrew Julian, Trabuco Hills; Andy Magana, Tesoro; Joshua Parsons, Kennedy; Jonathan Pratt, Crean Lutheran; Troy Trimble, Union Fullerton; Debora Wondercheck, Conservatory of Arts and Learning

OTHER ARTISTS OF THE YEAR 2019

2D VISUAL ARTS: Z. Perkins, Orange County School of the Arts

3D VISUAL ARTS: Josh Henslick, Trabuco Hills High School

DANCE: Irene Kim, Crean Lutheran High School

THEATER: Hannah Hart Franklin, Orange County School of the Arts

CINEMA/ENTERTAINMENT: Caitlyn Phu, Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts

VOCAL MUSIC: Eilyssa Maclean, nominated by private instructor Kathleen Martin

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