DECATUR — When Jared Rixtine’s parents took him to see an orchestral show as a 2 year old, they were afraid he might fuss or cry throughout. But instead, the young child seemed oddly transfixed. And by the time he was 5, the Millikin University freshman was old enough to vocalize his interest in music.

“I was mesmerized by it from as early as I can remember,” said Rixtine, one of three students performing in the university’s annual “Young Artists” concert Saturday at Kirkland Fine Arts Center. “I play other instruments as well, but piano is definitely my focus and passion.”

As a freshman, Rixtine is an unusual participant in the “Young Artists” concert, which features winners of the school’s concerto/aria competition, most of whom are typically upperclassmen. Rixtine has spent only one semester at Millikin, and now he’s representing it.

“It feels to me like I’m responsible for sharing what the Millikin program is all about in terms of quality of music, and I’m very fortunate to get to do that,” he said.

Along with Rixtine’s performance of Grieg’s “Piano Concerto,” the concert also will feature sophomore Christopher Raymond in Weber’s “Bassoon Concerto” and senior Megan Dirr’s vocal performance in Rodrigo’s “Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios.” Michael Luxner, the conductor of the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra, said he looks forward to the event as a night that offers something unexpected.

“By its very nature, it’s an unpredictable, eclectic and invigorating show,” he said. “Not a year has gone by without us getting a soloist with repertoire that I never would have considered before. It injects a new sense of spontaneity into a season that is mostly planned out far in advance.”

By keeping the entry standards high, Luxner and the orchestra can rely on the best student performers winning the competitions each year. This makes it all the more unusual for a freshman to be among the winners.

“Every entry is endorsed by a private teacher to ensure they are all well-developed talents,” Luxner said. “It’s very rare for a freshman to be this advanced at this age. In Rixtine’s case, it’s even more rare because he’s performing piano with repertoire that is very familiar to the judges.”

The judges who choose the winners of the aria/concerto competition have no idea of a student’s background, however, so as to not color their perception. Judges are selected from outside the school.

The night will additionally conclude with a final piece, a 2011 award-winner entitled “Dance Rhapsody” that continues the symphony orchestra’s season theme of very contemporary pieces.

“I have been going out of my way this year to do very new music,” Luxner said. “This one is a single-movement, continuous fantasy that is all based on dance. It has a waltz, two tangos and ends with a really brilliant fandango.”

The student performers are more focused on making sure their own performances are in order. Rixtine is confident that he’s ready to make the most of the spotlight.

“I love my music and use it as a way to communicate the ideas and feelings of the composers,” he said. “I hope the audience gets something out of it that affects them in a meaningful way.”

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