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SAVVY Chamber Competition

A chamber music competition for ensembles that reimagine the concert experience
$14,500 in prizes, including a $10,000 grand prize / residency at the University of South Carolina

The SAVVY Chamber Competition at the University of South Carolina, established in 2013, is the nation’s first chamber music contest to evaluate both artistic excellence and creative, innovative, event design. Our 2020 competition features three finalist ensembles each performing 20-minute sets in a public concert on the nationally recognized Southern Exposure New Music Series


$10,000 Grand Prize / Residency
$1,500 prizes guaranteed all three finalist ensembles
Audience Choice Award

Competition Performance Date and Venue

Saturday, February 22, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
School of Music Recital Hall
University of South Carolina
813 Assembly St., Columbia SC

Ensemble and Repertoire Criteria

  • Groups of two or more artists may apply; interdisciplinary groups are welcome
  • Any instrumentation and genre of music within the wide umbrella of classical / indie classical / world music / jazz / roots / experimental music is acceptable, provided the program includes at least one work written since 1980.
  • Minimum age of all performers is 18; no maximum age
  • Previous winners are not eligible to apply
  • Ensembles must be tour-ready, with an ensemble website and the commitment to play regularly with the same members that perform during the competition finals

Adjudication Criteria

Artistic Excellence: Artistic performance at the highest level; compelling and engaging programming
Creative Event Design: Programs that stretch, expand or reimagine the traditional concert format in meaningful ways. Aspects of creative event design may include, but are not limited to:

  • Substantive thematic programming
  • Meaningful interdisciplinary elements and connections
  • Use of multi-media, choreography, costuming, narrative and/or theatrical elements to enhance the music and concert experience
  • Outstanding audience engagement
  • Substantive and compelling new works written for or by the ensemble
  • Imaginative arrangements or adaptations of existing repertoire developed by the ensemble

To Apply

Applications are due by midnight on October 1, 2019. Apply online here. You will be asked to include:

  • Contact information
  • A description of your group and its mission
  • A link to your ensemble’s website if applicable
  • Video links to two contrasting works (YouTube or Vimeo preferred)
  • Description (300 words maximum) of your proposed 20-minute concert/event
  • Titles and durations of all works in the event you hope to present


For the first round, a panel of judges selected from the faculty of the UofSC School of Music weigh:

  • Quality of performance demonstrated in video samples
  • Compelling proposed program
  • Creativity and innovations to the concert experience described in essay

Semi-finalists will be notified no later than October 21, 2019, and at that time are invited to conduct an interview with competition directors via video conferencing. Interviews should be completed and finalists notified by November 1, 2019.

Three finalists are invited to compete in Columbia, SC. Groups are required to pay for their own travel and lodging, though home stays in Columbia may be provided to help defray costs. The adjudicated concert (judges TBD) is held on February 22 (Saturday), 2020. All finalist ensembles must arrive in Columbia in time for a welcome event led by David Cutler that begins at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 20 (local ground transportation may be included). Groups set sound and lighting and rehearse in the performance space on February 21; sound check, dress rehearse and perform on February 22; and depart on February 23.

Note: The winning ensemble will be announced at a reception following the February 22 concert. The $10,000 prize / residency pays the group $10,000, all-inclusive, for a five-day residency at the University of South Carolina during the 2020-2021 school year, dates TBD. With the exception of local ground transportation provided by UofSC, ensembles are responsible to pay for their own travel and lodging during the residency. Groups may, however, elect free home stays to defray lodging costs.

Recital Hall Performance Space

  • The UofSC School of Music Recital Hall is an intimate, resonant space with room for approximately 200 patrons
  • Equipped with extensive audio and video systems (professional sound and lighting engineers are provided, though groups are welcome to bring their own)
  • Includes two Steinway grand pianos and a two-manual Lynn Dobson pipe organ
  • The hall includes basic lighting capability; groups should keep in mind that this is a recital hall rather than a theater. Selected colors and some spatial lighting effects are possible; advanced lighting design (follow spots etc.) may be difficult or impossible to achieve. There is no backstage area inside the hall.


Contact Michael Harley, artistic director, Southern Exposure New Music Series

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.