The Benenson Award funds diverse arts opportunities that can be “uniquely your own.”

Each year, Duke University grants Benenson Awards in the Arts, which provide funding for fees, travel, and other educational expenses for arts-centered projects proposed by undergraduates (including graduating seniors). Benenson Award applications are now being accepted for Summer 2023 projects. To celebrate this exciting opportunity, we spoke with 2022 awardee Jacob Egol, a biology major and music minor (expected May 2023) about his experience building his skills as a cellist during the 7-week summer orchestra program at Brevard Music Center Summer Institute & Festival.

learn more & apply

Benson awardee Jacob with a violin

What made your summer at Brevard Music Center impactful?

The opportunity to dedicate every day to learning more in a real-life setting from renowned music professionals about something that I love to do, being surrounded by such outstanding musicianship while tackling diverse, exceptionally challenging repertoire, and then reflecting on that in my own solo practice made my experience extremely impactful and rewarding.

An important reason why I had such an amazing experience at Brevard is that I was constantly surrounded by and learning from peers who are equally as passionate and motivated about music!  Brevard says it perfectly: Be inspired, be here!

How did your orchestra rehearsals compare to your string quartet rehearsals? Were they opportunities you don’t experience often?

My orchestra rehearsals at Brevard were definitely something that I don’t get to experience often. Each week, we experienced firsthand what it’s like to learn a wealth of repertoire in a very condensed rehearsal schedule (four 2.5-hour rehearsals, instead of eight 2-hour rehearsals like we have at Duke), and we were fortunate to work with some of the most renowned conductors of professional orchestras. Because the standards were highest, orchestra rehearsals were always highly insightful and productive, and I always felt encouraged to the fullest extent to bring out my best!

Do you have a favorite rehearsal or concert experience this summer?

My favorite would be when I was assistant principal cellist of the BMCO and we performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Copland’s Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, Dvořák’s American Suite, and a new commission of Billy Strayhorn standards that Chris Walden arranged in a suite for piano and orchestra.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention performing the entire score of Star Wars: A New Hope with the Brevard Sinfonia, live to the film.  It had always been a dream of mine to play an actual film score, let alone a John Williams score, and especially one from a Galaxy Far, Far Away!  It’s a challenge that you definitely don’t get to do on any ordinary day. The audience was electric and completely in awe, and that night was extremely surreal!

Jacob and his team rehearsing score of Star Wars      Jacob and his team with their musical instruments

Were there connections that affected the way you approach your studies at Duke?

Absolutely! I’m currently the principal cellist (and the Vice President) of the Duke Symphony Orchestra, and my experiences in the BMCO and as principal cellist of the Brevard Sinfonia provided me with great insight and leadership preparation for this role. I not only try to integrate what I learned at Brevard into my orchestral playing, but I also strive to share with my sectionmates what I can from my experience so that we can play most cohesively and they can benefit, too.  My chamber music experience likewise continues to make me a better collaborator in the rehearsal room and beyond, since it is a great exercise in building teamwork and group dynamic.

Are there any words of encouragement you’d like to share for students interested in applying for the Benenson Award?

The Benenson Award really shows that Duke cares about its emerging artists; it’s an amazing opportunity to spend a summer doing something that you love. You don’t need to be majoring in an arts discipline to apply for the Benenson Award; I am a Biology major as well as a Music minor. My interests at Duke are twofold, so my summer at Brevard was a really fun change of pace from the hectic nature of my STEM education and labwork by allowing me to focus more on another thing that I am passionate about.

The opportunities that the Benenson Award can support are also numerous; it can fund a variety of diverse arts disciplines, and there is so much freedom to make your Benenson Award uniquely your own, whether you’re a musician, a visual artist, an author, etc. If you are passionate about the arts, the Benenson Award is hands-down one of the best opportunities that Duke offers.

Read More about the Experience