Celebration of the Arts Judges 2023

COTA Competition Judges

Piano & Concerto Judges

Faina Lushtak was raised in the Soviet Union. She began her piano and composition studies at the age of six, and studied at the Stoliarsky School for Musically Gifted Children in Odessa, then the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where she earned degrees in piano performance and composition. 

Ms. Lushtak is the Downman Professor of Music at Tulane University, where she heads the piano division. She is a Steinway Artist. She also serves on the faculty of the Orfeo International Music Festival in Italy, and served as the Artistic Director of the Brandywine International Piano Institute. Ms. Lushtak’s performance of works by Rachmaninoff and Scriabin was recorded on the Centaur label, as was her performance of all Chopin Mazurkas. She has since recorded a number of new albums of her own works and that of other composers. Her compositions for piano have been published by Willis Music, and by the British music publisher Boosey and Hawkes. Her piece “Old and New” has been commissioned for the New Orleans International Piano Competition. Faina Lushtak’s latest recordings La poesie de la vie and her original Piano Compositions for Children and Adults is available on iTunes. Her original compositions are available on www.sheetmusicplus.com.

Ms. Lushtak has also been a guest artist and judge at some of the top international competitions and festivals around the world, including the Chicago International Competition, the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, Bosendorfer Yamaha, the Canadian National Music Competition, the Eastman Young Artists International Piano Competition, the Cleveland International Piano Competition, the New Orleans International Piano Competition, and many others. You can hear some of her playing at our recent COTA Documentary on our website, which she judged last year, and will be judging this January 14, 2023. Ms. Faina Lushtak is Nelly Berman’s niece and Elena Berman’s first cousin! Music runs in the family!


Timothy Blair, Steinway Artist, is a senior partner & distinguished professor with Alexander & Buono International of New York. He is also an educational partner & professor for Steinway Asia Pacific, headquartered in Shanghai, & recently served as the American judge for Steinway Asia Pacific’s Southeast Asia International Youth Piano Competition with contestants from Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, & the Philippines. Steinway, New York, has inducted him into the Steinway Teacher Hall of Fame.

Dr. Blair, Dean & Professor Emeritus, previously served for 30 years in higher education, including 20 years of service as dean at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. First, as dean of the School of Music, then as founding dean of the College of Visual & Performing Arts and subsequently as founding dean of the College of Arts & Humanities.

The many notable accomplishments under his watch as dean include the School of Music becoming a prestigious All-Steinway School, an Apple Authorized Training Center for Education, the Samuel Barber Summer Institute for Music Educators, the Brandywine International Piano Institute, numerous Kennedy Center national awards for WCU Theatre & Dance, stellar international initiatives by the WCU Art Program, an educational partnership with The Philadelphia Orchestra, WCU artist faculty recitals at Steinway Hall & Carnegie Hall in New York, & concerts by School of Music student ensembles & faculty at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Dean Blair also provided extensive donor cultivation leadership & international initiatives that include artistic & educational partnerships with the Xi’an Conservatory & the Foshan Liu Shi-Kun Music and Art School, China; and the University of Ulsan in South Korea.

Pianist Timothy Blair performs internationally & serves as a visiting clinician & adjudicator. He is a member of numerous professional organizations & boards in addition to being an NASM accreditation evaluator. Dr. Blair is National Chair of the MTNA Development Committee & has served on the Board of Visitors of the New England Conservatory of Music. He also provided WCU accreditation leadership that resulted in national accreditation being granted to all programs within the College of Visual and Performing Arts, an historic first for WCU.

Dr. Blair has been recognized with citations for his outstanding leadership in the arts & education from West Chester Mayor Comitta, the House & Senate of Pennsylvania, U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, & the Chinese Government.

Strings, Winds & Brass Judge

Elina Kalendarova, a native of Tashkent (USSR), joined The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2002. She began her violin training with Nathan Mendelson. Later she earned a master’s degree from the Moscow Conservatory where she was a pupil of Igor Bezrodnyi. While doing her post-graduate work, Ms. Kalendarova served as a concertmistress of the Ars Viva Chamber Orchestra. She recorded a CD of chamber music by Taneyev and Glinka for the Le Chant du Monde label.

Since moving to America in 1994, Ms. Kalendarova has performed as a soloist with the Liederkrantz Symphony Orchestra in New York and appeared as a recitalist for the Ascending Artists series. In 1996 she was a recipient of the MetLife Music and Visual Arts Award presented through the New York Association for New Americans.

Before joining The Philadelphia Orchestra, Ms. Kalendarova played with the American Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, and the Pittsburgh Symphony. She is a founding member of the Society Hill String Quintet, comprised of members of The Philadelphia Orchestra.


Voice Judge

Dr. Nathaniel McEwen

Dr. Nathaniel McEwen: Hailed for his “voice of exquisite facility and flexibility” (Observer Today, Dunkirk, NY), tenor Nathaniel McEwen feels at home in both the concert hall and the opera house. Dr. McEwen is a member of the Philadelphia Opera Company.  He has performed with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, the Maui Chamber Orchestra, the International Baroque Soloists of the Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival, the Cornell Chamber Orchestra, and the Eastman Philharmonia, as well as with the Rochester-based choirs First Inversion and Voices.

Nathaniel completed his Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree in Vocal Performance and Literature with a minor in Pedagogy at the Eastman School of Music under the tutelage of Jan Opalach and Ruth Hennessy. Since beginning his formal vocal training with the late soprano Judith Kellock at Cornell University, Nathaniel has participated in the SongFest program in Los Angeles and has sung in masterclasses led by renowned soprano Renée Fleming, American composer Jake Heggie, noted tenors Ian Bostridge and Anthony Dean Griffey, Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård, the late Israeli contralto Mira Zakai, and esteemed collaborative pianists Graham Johnson and Martin Katz.