Millikin University’s Victor Lawton II Wins 2024 Hollis Prize Competition

The annual competition is the highest award for student musicians enrolled at Millikin.

Victor Lawton

DECATUR, Ill. – The top solo performers in Millikin University’s School of Music gathered at Kaeuper Hall in the Perkinson Music Center on Saturday, April 6, for the annual Hollis Prize Competition, the highest award given to student musicians at Millikin.

Hollis Prize Finalists
Hollis Prize finalists Colton Middleton (left), Victor Lawton II (middle) and David Gartner (right).

Following a semifinal round of competition in March, three finalists – David Gartner, Colton Middleton, and Victor Lawton II – performed 20-minute sets in front of an audience that included two adjudicators who would decide the winner – Professor Emeritus of Music and former Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Millikin Steven Fiole and former Millikin Voice faculty member and current Voice Instructor at Eastern Illinois University Dr. Rebecca von Kamp.

Gartner is a senior Vocal Performance major from Mount Zion, Ill., and has been a member of the Millikin University Choir for four years. Middleton is a junior Music Education major from Lovington, Ill., studying percussion and has performed in several music ensembles, including the Percussion Ensemble I. Lawton is a senior Clarinet Performance Major from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and has performed in the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra (MDSO).

Hollis Prize finalists
Millikin Director of the School of Music Brian Justison (left) announces the results of the 2024 Hollis Prize Competition. 

After the three performances, the judges convened and named Lawton the 2024 Hollis Prize Competition Winner.

“It’s surreal to win. The last time I tried out for this was my sophomore year, so it's interesting taking that gap year and then coming back full force and being ready to win it,” Lawton said. “I was nervous hearing the other competitors right before me; they are amazing. Colton's one of my best friends here, so hearing him practice all week and tearing it up on marimba, it's crazy.”

Victor Lawton
Victor Lawton (right), accompanied by Andy Rauff on piano, performs at the 2024 Hollis Prize Competition. 

Lawton’s performances featured four works from a diverse group of time periods and styles. He began with “Sonata No. 2 in e-flat major, op. 120” by Johannes Brahms and followed with Bela Kovacs’ “Hommage a M. de Falla.” “Arbiter” by Graeme Rosner featured a synth accompaniment, and Michael Markowski’s “Unfamiliar Territory” concluded the set.

“My preparation was pretty solid, and I started a little bit last semester and then continued throughout this semester. For my unaccompanied pieces, one of them was very flamenco inspired (Hommage), so I was listening to a lot of salsas, a lot of tangos, a lot of flamenco music to help me figure out my phrasing for it,” Lawton said. “My other unaccompanied piece was an electronic one (“Arbiter”), and that one's very cool. It's interesting to try to be expressive but also work with a click in your ear. It's very nerve-wracking to have a metronome, so you have to stay on this beat but also be flexible.”

Each year, the Hollis Prize winner performs a winner's recital, and Lawton will perform at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Ill., on Sunday, April 9, at 2 p.m.

Lawton took up the clarinet in the eighth grade and has played in jazz and marching bands ever since. When considering college to attend, being able to work with Millikin School of Music Assistant Professor Dr. David Cook made the choice easy for Lawton.

Victor Lawton
Victor Lawton performs at the 2024 Hollis Prize Competition.

"For music, you scout the professors instead of the school itself. So I was looking at Dr. Cook, and seeing his outreach (to students) has been amazing,” Lawton said. “One of the pitches they told me was that when you get (to Millikin), you can do whatever you want. So, I am in the jazz band playing saxophones, I'm in the clarinet choir, and I'm in the percussion ensemble. I’m also composing, which I want to do in graduate school. Getting all the opportunities I can here without any bumps has made my experience at Millikin great.”

Since 2003, Dr. C. Kimm Hollis, a 1972 Millikin alum and retired department chair, Professor of Music, and Artist-in-Residence Emeritus at Hanover College in Hanover, Ind., has funded the Hollis Prize Competition, a unique recital competition with a rigorous audition process and challenging competition format. As the Millikin Alumnus of the Year Award (2022) and Alumni Loyalty Award (2020) recipient, Hollis has been recognized for his steadfast commitment to the School of Music.

“Dr. Hollis has been the financial backer of this production for the last 22 years, and we are extremely grateful for your loyalty, your talent, and the service that you give to Millikin,” Interim Dean of the College of Fine Arts Jessa Wilcoxen said. “Without all of that, what you are seeing here tonight would not be possible. From the bottom of my heart, I am very grateful to see these students on stage, to see you here, and to be able to acknowledge those here in the audience because of your gifts.”