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Princeton University Concerts Announces Winner Of the Fifth Annual Creative Reactions Contest

May 2, 2019

The Creative Reactions Contest is one of Princeton University Concerts’ (“PUC”) programs aimed at engaging Princeton University students in classical music. The fifth annual reiteration of this contest was inspired by Artist-in-Residence Gustavo Dudamel and his dedication to revolutionizing music as a platform for individual, societal, and world change. The Maestro has set themes for his residency including “Art and Faith,” “Art and Nature,” and “Art and Social Change,” topics which were explored and enlivened through a series of concerts, panel discussions, art exhibits, and more. This year, students were asked to consider any of these three themes in their written or visual art submissions, using music as one point of reference. As in past years, submissions were anonymous and could use any written form for the Creative Writing category – including free verse, prose, poetry, narrative, and lyrics – and any medium that could be digitally submitted for the Visual Arts category.

From fifty signups, twelve students submitted entries from which one winner emerged: Princeton University Senior Crystal Liu. In addition to receiving a $1000 prize, Liu’s essay will be published online and in Princeton University Concerts’ programs. She will read her winning submission at 7PM on Thursday, May 2, 2019 at Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall in a pre-concert event before the final performance of Princeton University Concerts’ 2018-19 season with the Ebene String Quartet. This reading is open to all Ebene String Quartet ticket-holders. For more information, please visit

Liu’s winning submission, “It’s Just Like the Water: A Lyric Essay on Art and Faith,” was inspired by Liu’s personal background and experience hearing Maestro Dudamel discuss the subject with Princeton University Professors Alexander Nehamas and Elaine Pagels in a public conversation in January.

“Art is the education of the soul,” says Maestro Dudamel – “It unlocks the imagination, encourages creative risk and exploratory self-expression, and embodies the skills and values that will define our future. That is why I care deeply about ensuring that the greatest expressions of our humanity are passed along to our next generations and encouraging young people to discover the potential of their own creative capacities.” This sentiment was at the core of this year’s Creative Reactions Contest.

The entries were read anonymously by Marna Seltzer, Director of Princeton University Concerts, Dasha Koltunyuk, Marketing & Outreach Manager for Princeton University Concerts, and Dorothea von Moltke, owner of Labyrinth Books.


Crystal Liu is a senior in the Department of Philosophy and a Certificate Student in the Program in Creative Writing. In addition to her philosophy thesis, she wrote a collection of poetry under the guidance of Tracy K. Smith, the current United States Poet Laureate and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. Crystal chose to write a lyric essay for her submission on the topic of “Art & Faith” in order to incorporate personal reflections on family and music and the literary sources that informed her thinking about the subject.

Having played piano for over ten years in both classical and jazz settings, music has remained an important part of Crystal’s life—she calls it “a consistent source of comfort and joy.” She has attended Princeton University Concerts events throughout her four years as a student, finding the “Performances Up Close” series in which she sat on stage with the musicians to be especially intimate and sacred. Although she did not know of Gustavo Dudamel before his residency on campus, she attended his public conversation with Princeton University Professors Alexander Nehamas and Elaine Pagels on the intersection of art and faith and was inspired to learn more about Maestro Dudamel’s work in supporting music education.


The Creative Reactions Contest, now in its fifth year, is hosted by the Student Ambassadors of Princeton University Concerts, a small group of classical music-loving students whose mission is to increase student interest and participation in Princeton University Concerts programs.  The contest is funded by Princeton University Concerts.  Each year PUC presents a professional concert series featuring renowned classical musicians from all over the world. The Creative Reactions Contest seeks to further Princeton University Concerts’ mission by connecting students to the arts and celebrating classical music’s unique contributions.  The Creative Reactions Contest is dedicated to the memory of Vera Sharpe Kohn, a loyal member of the Princeton University Concerts Committee whose support and enthusiasm contributed to the health and well-being of Princeton University Concerts.

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Dasha (Darya) Koltunyuk
Phone:  609-258-6024