Portrait of an Artist: Ethan Kasparian Weisman ’24 Nominated for Presidential Scholar in the Arts

If you’ve been to a performance of one of The Rivers School’s jazz ensembles in the last few years, it’s likely you’ve seen Ethan Kasparian Weisman ’24. A multi-instrumentalist from a young age, he has participated in the National YoungArts Competition twice—once for saxophone and most recently for clarinet, for which he was invited to National YoungArts Week in January with peers throughout the country. As a senior, his performance qualified him to be nominated as a 2024 US Presidential Scholar in the Arts, one of 60 nominees to earn this prestigious distinction, and one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students who exemplify artistic and academic excellence. We recently sat down with Kasparian Weisman to talk about his musical journey and recent successes.

Considered one of the most prestigious programs in the country for aspiring artists of many genres, the YoungArts competition has 10 broad categories spanning from classical music and jazz to photography, theater, and visual arts. The idea of applying first crossed Kasparian Weisman’s radar in 2022, when he applied for classical saxophone, earning an honorable mention (equivalent to the top 5% of applicants) in 2023. Finding out about the recognition was motivating and emotional: “I almost started crying in my French class when I got the email—it was a really big yes for me,” he said. 

From there, he resolved to stop at nothing to become a finalist, or “Winner With Distinction” the following year, but being a multi-instrumentalist, he chose to switch instruments to represent the depth of his passions, auditioning on clarinet for this year. He searched far and wide to find pieces for classical clarinet that authentically represented him as an artist, and worked tirelessly to record the program over the summer and fall of 2023. 

In recording and selecting the pieces, Kasparian Weisman shared, “I ask myself, ‘What kind of artist do I want to be with these pieces? What can I choose that will share my most profound artistry?’ ” He landed on a program that takes the listener through the eras—a baroque piece by J.S. Bach, a romantic-era piece that highlights the virtuosic and soloistic qualities of the clarinet by Carl Maria von Weber, and a contemporary, dance-influenced piece by a living composer, Amanda Harberg. 

At the same time, he also put together another audition for the jazz category on clarinet.

This, Kasparian Weisman elaborated, is a key component of his musical personality. He’s never wanted to just pick one instrument or one genre. 

“Nothing has helped me more as a classical musician than knowing jazz and being able to improvise. And nothing has helped me more with jazz than classical technique.”

It works the same way with sound, he continued. “Sax often has a bigger sound than clarinet, so playing clarinet has helped me channel a compact and centered sound for more lyrical saxophone compositions. Both instruments and both genres support each other.”

Kasparian Weisman was named a 2024 Winner in jazz clarinet, and a 2024 Winner With Distinction for classical clarinet, putting him in the top 1-2% of applicants and landing him an invitation to National YoungArts Week in Miami, FL, where he spent a week with the other Winners With Distinction from other arts categories.

“That was the first time for many that we were told ‘you’re an artist,’” Kasparian Weisman said on the experience of National YoungArts Week, which brings together practitioners in disciplines from music performance to dance to visual arts. Getting to know other young artists across different disciplines was a powerful and impactful experience. “It’s amazing I now have this network of people who are so driven to create art,” he said. 

Kasparian Weisman is grateful for the support from his family, his community, his instructors over the years, and The Rivers School Conservatory community.  

“I’m so lucky to be surrounded by a community, at home, in my town, and at Rivers, that is so fully ready to embrace me for the different sides of my musical identity,” said Kasparian Weisman. 
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