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The future of classical music: CSO concert aims to appeal to young people

The future of classical music: CSO concert aims to appeal to young people

Adam Parker
Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014 5:00 p.m.

Reese Moore    Charleston Symphony Orcehstra concertmaster Yuriy Bekker (from left), cellist Amy Goto and violinist Seth Gilliard will perform in the Boeing-sponsored “Classical Fusion” concert at the Sottile Theatre.

Classical music is boring. Classical music is elitist. It’s for old fogies. It’s hard to understand. It’s expensive. It’s not relevant to most people preoccupied with other matters. It belongs in a museum.

Young people in particular are more interested in Maroon 5, Lorde, One Direction, Beyonce. Millions tune in to watch “The Voice” or “American Idol.” Few watch “Live From Lincoln Center.”

Amy Goto is a 9-year-old cellist from Columbia. She studies with College of Charleston professor Natalia Khoma. Amy Goto is a 9-year-old cellist from Columbia. She studies with College of Charleston professor Natalia Khoma.
Dancer Satya Tranfield is 10. Dancer Satya Tranfield is 10.
Satya Tranfield performed at the 2013 Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York City. Satya Tranfield performed at the 2013 Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York City.
Seth Gilliard has specialized lately in violin arrangements of popular tunes. Seth Gilliard has specialized lately in violin arrangements of popular tunes.

Who’s kidding who? Classical music is dying, right?

Driving home from work recently, I listened to a terrific jazz tune, a live recording that aired on the local public radio station. After the performance, the band leader explained the tune’s origins and paid tribute to his musician-uncle who had showed the classically trained younger man that “playing the piano could be fun.”

The implication, of course, was that playing classical music was not fun.

At about the same time, someone posted to Facebook a video of 3-year-old Jonathan in his living room “conducting” Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. The kid was no stranger to the piece; he was accurately cueing entrances, dynamics and phrasing. He was definitely having fun.

Watching the video provoked deja vu: I, too, used to conduct big orchestral pieces in my living room as a tot, using a makeshift baton: an extendable car antenna, provided by my father. I was no prodigy, that’s for sure. Unlike young Jonathan, I was merely reacting to what I heard. But it excited me nonetheless: those big brass blasts, flurrying strings and sweeping melodies found in the Romantic orchestral repertoire.

Classical music was a great early discovery. It was surely not boring, not to me.

And it’s clearly not boring to Seth Gilliard, the 23-year-old violinist soon to play a concert with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

Nor is it boring to 10-year-old ballet dancer Satya Tranfield, part of the Jan. 25 “Classical Fusion” concert.

Nor is it boring to 9-year-old cellist Amy Goto, also to be featured.

These three young artists grew up listening to classical music, and regular exposure instilled in them a profound attachment. And now the Charleston Symphony will employ them as willing bait. Thanks to a grant from Boeing, the symphony is presenting a daytime program designed to appeal to families.

CSO Concertmaster and Acting Artistic Director Yuriy Bekker said the concert is a showcase of innovation and achievement he hopes will inspire young people, regardless of their interests.

The “Classical Fusion” concert will combine musical styles. Gilliard will play Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with Bekker, as well as a classical-pop mash-up.

“It’s a very interesting approach to a young audience that’s never been exposed to classical music,” Bekker said. “It’s a friendly way to lure them in.”

Seth Gilliard

Gilliard attended Furman University, where he was concertmaster of the school’s orchestra and earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance in 2012. His music education began years earlier, in the strings program at Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School. His mother played viola, and the 5-year-old Gilliard liked to experiment on the instrument, much too large for his diminutive stature.

“I chose violin because it was smaller,” Gilliard said.

His sister studied piano. His parents loved music, played recordings at home and encouraged their children to excel.

“They started us down that road; they always were involved,” he said.

In recent years, Gilliard has taken an interest in improvisation and hybridization, he said. “I’ve always listened to everything. I love pop music. I’m a big hip-hop fan. I listen to the radio. I keep up with the Billboard charts. I also play jazz; I was a member of two jazz combos in college. … What I do now is arrange contemporary pop tunes for violin.”

Now he’s making a name for himself as a crossover artist.

“Undoubtedly, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I want to do … if it wasn’t for classical music,” he said.

But he’s not giving up on the classics. At the last MOJA Festival, he presented a recital of music by William Grant Still, Bach and others. He’s been flirting with Prokofiev’s very difficult violin concerto.

“I’m just having fun,” he said.

Amy Goto

Amy lives in Columbia, attends a Montessori school and travels to Charleston for lessons with her teacher, Natalia Khoma. She will play the first movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major at the “Classical Fusion” concert.

Amy’s parents, Shingo and Chinami Goto, are Yo-Yo Ma enthusiasts. “When Amy was born, we played Yo-Yo Ma all the time at home,” Shingo Goto said. “Therefore it was very natural for her. We asked her if she wants to play like Yo-Yo Ma.”

That was when she was 2½ years old. She started with the Suzuki method, soon graduating to private lessons. Discipline has helped a lot, her parents said. Amy practices four to five hours a day. She’s working on Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 (the six suites are difficult, unaccompanied and obligatory for all serious cellists).

She’s familiar with the name “Justin Bieber,” but not his music, she said. She prefers to listen to classical music. Sometimes The Beatles. She also likes to watch ballet.

Amy’s musical education has rubbed off on her parents. It’s given them reason to pay closer attention to classical music, they said.

“Before, we couldn’t tell the difference between conductors and players,” Shingo Goto said.

Now, they have fun comparing interpretations, discerning styles and approaches, forming opinions.

Satya Tranfield

Satya is an emerging young star of ballet who recently performed the lead role in CBT Center for Dance Education’s ” ‘Twas the Night Before Nutcracker” and won the Hope Award at the regional Youth American Grand Prix in Atlanta.

For the “Classical Fusion” concert, she will dance to selections from Bizet’s Carmen Suite, choreographed by Jill Eathorne-Bahr.

Her mother, Lilly Wilkins, a trained flutist, has exposed Satya and her brother, Michael, to classical music since Day One. She knew that proximity would almost certainly lead to appreciation, she said.

“I was exposed (as a very young child),” Wilkins said, “and I’ll tell you, that was the key.” Classical music “was next to me; it was just like eating breakfast.”

It never occurred to Wilkins that classical music wasn’t “fun,” she said. And it hasn’t occurred to her kids either. In fact, it’s helped them emotionally. Wilkins, who homeschooled Satya and Michael until last year, encourages them to associate images and stories with the music they hear. Satya will draw pictures; Michael will make up tales. In so doing, they forge a connection to the music.

When Satya dances, then, the imagery she created informs her movement, which is an expression of her emotions, Wilkins explained.

Although they listen to all kinds of music, they get bored with commercial pop, preferring classical music. “The kids gravitate toward something naturally good,” Wilkins said.

But isn’t she encouraging a form of elitism? Yes and no, she said.

Undoubtedly, classical music, like many cultural endeavors, is supported by wealthy donors and appreciated best by educated patrons, she said. On the other hand, how much money do people who prefer Hollywood blockbusters spend? Lots.

If elitism is a way to maintain high standards, then isn’t it necessary? Or is it pretentious to assume that some forms of art are not meant for the masses?

In the end, Wilkins dismisses this debate in favor of a more fundamental claim: Classical music is an intrinsic part of her family’s life. It informs the way they experience and interact with the world.

“For us – for my kids and me – music has played this big role. It’s vitamins.”

The future

For my part, I latched onto classical music early, and my love for it increased in direct proportion to my exposure to it. The more I listened, or performed, the more I appreciated what it was all about.

My interests only grew over time. As a college student, I got a job at a terrific old record store whose proprietor and his right-hand man were up to speed on the latest great classical music recordings. With their help, I established a respectable collection of LPs that served (and still serve) as my frame of reference.

It is great fun to compare different recordings, to force oneself to articulate why a particular performance is better than another. It’s one way a budding musician or music-lover comes of age.

Now, when I watch on YouTube little Jonathan conducting Brahms, I know that he will almost certainly grow up with a lasting passion for classical music. When I hear people such as Bela Fleck or Chris Thile play Bach, I know that it’s because those musicians think classical music is totally cool.

And when I learn about someone like Amy Goto, who is more interested in Yo-Yo Ma than Justin Bieber, I know that the future of classical music is secure.

Classical music cannot be dying if Amy and others like her continue to appear, armed with interest, talent and determination. She’s no old fogey. She’s no elitist. She just loves good music.

Renowned conductor Aram Gharabekian passed away aged 58

Renowned conductor Aram Gharabekian passed away aged 58

aram gharabekian
aram gharabekian


Renowned conductor Aram Gharabekian passed away in the US today at the age of 58,  the Armenian Ministry of Culture informs.

Aram Gharabekian was born in 1955 in Boston. He graduated from the New England Conservatory with a Master’s degree in Composition, and continued his postgraduate studies in Musical Phenomenology at Mainz University in Germany.  He studied conducting with Franco Ferrara in Italy, and was one of a few pupils of the legendary conductor Sergiu Celibidache.  He was also granted a fellowship to study composition and conducting under Jacob Druckman and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood Music Center.

From 1997 until 2010 Mr. Gharabekian served as Music Director of the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, leading this acclaimed ensemble on tours to Greece, the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus, Switzerland, England, Russia, Lebanon, Georgia, Germany, France, Canada and the U.S

Mr. Aram Gharabekian was formerly the Principal Guest Conductor of the Ukrainian Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra in Kiev. Following a critically acclaimed guest appearance with the Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra in 1991, Mr. Gharabekian was invited by the Ukrainian Minister of Culture to assume the position of Artistic Advisor and Conductor.

During his tenure with that orchestra he conducted performances in Kiev and on tour throughout Ukraine, and successfully regenerated its artistic and organizational capacity. During his eight years as Music Director of Boston’s SinfoNova Orchestra, Mr. Gharabekian won national recognition for his innovative and enterprising programming, as well as his critically acclaimed performances in major American venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Boston’s Symphony Hall and Jordan Hall.

As a guest conductor, Mr. Gharabekian has been the Principal Guest Conductor of the Zagreb Philharmonic, and appeared with the Sinfonietta München in Germany and Italy.  He has also led the Ukrainian National Symphony, the Ukrainian State Opera and Ballet of Kiev, the West Ukrainian Philharmonic in Lvov, the Armenian Philharmonic, and returned to America to conduct the Shreveport Symphony and the Fresno Philharmonic.

Mr. Gharabekian’s concert recordings have been broadcast on National Public Radio, and he has made numerous recordings for Ukrainian, Croatian and Armenian Radio and Television, Boston’s WBZ-Television, WBUR, WGBH and WCRB FM radio stations in Boston, WNYC FM in New York, the Voice of America in Washington, and Bayerischer Rundfunk in Munich. The recipient of the 1989 Lucien Wulsin Performance Award for the best concert performance aired on America’s National Public Radio, Mr. Gharabekian was also awarded the 1988 American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award for Adventuresome Programming.  He was twice honored by the Harvard Musical Association’s “Best Performance Award” and his performances have been singled out as “Best of 1985, 1989, 1990 and 1991″ by the Boston Globe.  He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal for his contributions to the arts in Armenia.

My struggle in cut-throat world of classical music, by violin prodigy Nicola Benedetti

My struggle in cut-throat world of classical music, by violin prodigy Nicola Benedetti

  • Nicola Benedetti won BBC Young Musician of the Year aged 16
  • Faced relentless demands – including 110 concerts in a year
  • Now 26, she says senior figures in the industry failed to help her

By Chris Hastings

PUBLISHED: 17:38 EST, 11 January 2014 | UPDATED: 17:38 EST, 11 January 2014

Shot to fame: Violinist Nicola Benedetti
Shot to fame: Violinist Nicola Benedetti

The violinist who became an overnight sensation when named BBC Young Musician of the Year today reveals how she struggled when plunged into an ‘extremely cut-throat’ world, writes Chris Hastings.

Speaking on today’s Desert Island Discs, Nicola Benedetti tells of the relentless demands placed on her at 16 – including 110 concerts in a year. She adds: ‘By the age of 17 or 18 I was going through a very tough time.’

Nicola, now 26, won the contest in 2004 and tells interviewer Kirsty Young that senior figures in the industry failed to help her even as it was clear she was riddled with anxiety and self-doubt.

She says: ‘I look back on it and I am slightly disappointed with a couple of experiences where  I felt someone could have been more advisory.

‘I think I did feel that some of that support wasn’t necessarily there within the profession. It is extremely cut-throat.’

Nicola signed a £1 million deal after winning the BBC prize and immediately embarked on a punishing performance schedule.

She says: ‘The Young Musician of the Year final happened and I think the next day my photo was on the front page of The Times and a practically full concert diary materialised within a very very short space of time.’

She was made an MBE in 2013, but says the workload hampered her progress as a musician.
‘It was actually far too much for that age and for the stage that I was at in my violinistic development… I actually wasn’t ready for that.

‘I knew I wasn’t fulfilling my potential at all. I knew I was going on stage underprepared, extremely nervous. I was trying to make sense of, “Why I am here? Why do I have all this opportunity? Do I deserve it?”.’

Despite her glamorous image, she says she and her boyfriend, German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, have no interest in being the Brad and Angelina of the classical music world.

She says: ‘Glamorous is definitely not a word that I would associate with my life.’

Nicola had a 'tough time' after winning the BBC Young Musician Of The Year aged 16Nicola had a ‘tough time’ after winning the BBC Young Musician Of The Year aged 16

Gifted violinist Laura Mozena and accomplished pianist Luanne Dwyer to honor Mrs. Helen Berlin in Palm City

Laura Mozena
Laura Mozena
Photo by Mariza Brussolo
By Mariza Brusolo


Gifted violinist Laura Mozena and accomplished pianist Luanne Dwyer have been working next door to each other for 5 years and always had the intention of putting a concert together. Both had been busy teaching at the Stuart School of Music and, even though playing together was something they really wanted to do, there was never enough time to plan it.

“We recently suffered a terrible loss, Mrs. Helen Berlin passed away on October 12th, 2013. She was a giving lady who together with her husband, Mr. Ernie Berlin, brought musicians from all over the world to Stuart, Florida. We were very sad when we learned Mrs. Berlin had passed and so Luanne and I wanted to honor her in some way,” said Ms. Mozena.

“We decided to really take the time to prepare something special, something that will honor Mrs. Berlin and bring some joy to the community, a gift to the children and the adults,” said Mrs. Dwyer.

“Mrs. Helen Berlin touched many lives, she was passionate about the arts and made many cultural events in Martin County possible. She and her husband, Ernie, helped host the Ovation Concert Series at The Lyric Theatre in Stuart for many years,” said Ms. Mozena.

Laura Mozena expressed how excited she was to finally be able to offer a high quality concert in collaboration with talented pianist Luanne Dwyer.

Luanne Dwyer
Luanne Dwyer Courtesy Photo

Luanne Dwyer is an accomplished pianist who graduated from Wellesley College.  In 1975 she was awarded a Ford Foundation Grant to study music in Berlin, Germany. She worked on Wall Street for two years and then moved to Florida in 1998.  Luanne also performed as an accompanist in classical vocal concerts in New York with Michael Douglas Jones.  Luanne is an active member of Treasure Coast Music Teachers Association.

Laura Mozena earned a Bachelor’s degree in Violin Performance from Northern Arizona University where she studied violin with Louise Scott and Karin Hallberg. She participated in the long-term Suzuki Teacher Training Program at NAU with Louise Scott, Karen Hallberg, and Susan Baer. Laura completed additional Suzuki Teacher Training with Linda Steig, Roger Steig, John Kendall and Kimberly Meyer-Sims.

Laura Mozena is a registered Suzuki Teacher and has performed with such orchestras as The Flagstaff Symphony, The Palm Beach Pops, Treasure Coast Opera Orchestra and The Wheeling Symphony.  She is the Vice President of Your Music Supply and enjoys playing fiddle music as well as classical.  Currently, Laura teaches Suzuki violin with Cynthia Hinkelman of Lighthouse Suzuki Strings.  She teaches at Jupiter Academy of Music and the Stuart School of Music.

For this tribute concert Luanne Dwyer and Laura Mozena will captivate the audience with their outstanding music, performing pieces like Sonata No. 25 for Piano and Violin by Mozart, Embraceable You by Gershwin, Hoe-Down from Rodeo by Copland, Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part, Sonata in D Major for Violin and Piano by Schubert, and many more!

Please join them to honor Mrs. Helen Berlin and to enjoy the gift of music on Saturday, January 18th at 4:00pm at the Episcopal Church of the Advent 4484 SW Citrus Blvd. Palm City, FL 34990.

This concert is absolutely FREE and children and adults are invited.

Laura Mozena is available for questions or directions by calling (928) 699-4707.

One Violinist. Two Singers. One Beast Of A World of Warcraft Medley.

Violinist Taylor Davis

One Violinist. Two Singers. One Beast Of A World of Warcraft Medley.

What’s better than one violinist and two singers performing epic World of Warcraft music? A whole fleet of digitally cloned singers and violinists performing epic World of Warcraft music, of course.

In this case, those musicians include violinist (and YouTube stalwart) Taylor Davis along with singer Peter Hollens and his wife Evynne. With the help of some creative multitracking, the trio performs a medley of iconic WoW anthems. If you dig it, you can download it here.

The Hollenses have also released their own vocals-only version of the medley, which you can check out below and download here.

Intimate, thrilling concert from violinist Pekka Kuusisto and composer-pianist Nico Muhly

Pekka Kuusisto

Kaapo Kamu/Handout – Pekka Kuusisto

Nico Muhly

(Matthew Murphy/Handout) – Nico Muhly

Intimate, thrilling concert from violinist Pekka Kuusisto and composer-pianist Nico Muhly

By , Monday, January 6, 6:57 PM E-mail the writer

The Phillips Collection was once a private home. On Sunday afternoon, the violinist Pekka Kuusisto and the composer-pianist Nico Muhly used it to offer a world-class house concert.

Technically speaking, it wasn’t a house concert. It was the usual Phillips Collection Sunday afternoon performance. But the two musicians brought a sense of such intimacy and spontaneity that a listener felt more a participant than a passive recipient. Each movement of Bach’s second partita, for instance, began as if it were a completely fresh idea that happened to have struck Kuusisto as he stood by the piano. Each progressed as if he were thinking his way through it, musing on what might come next. This music felt every bit as new as the two works by Muhly, one a four-movement essay (“Drones & Violin”), one a shorter sally (“Drones & Piano”).

And it’s a rare performer who can polish off the Chaconne, the final movement of the second partita and one of the towering monuments of the violin repertory, and then flip his Guadagnini around and start strumming it like a banjo as he sings Finnish folk songs. Indeed, it’s a rare performer who can make you want to listen to a Finnish folk song after you’ve heard the Bach — something of which Kuusisto was perfectly aware. “It’s worth staying for,” he told the audience, drawing a laugh.

It was an exquisitely balanced program. Each Bach movement was answered with a work by a living composer, all presented as flip sides of the same coin — so that the end of the Bach Gigue, an exhalation, was immediately followed by the inhalation of the start of Muhly’s second “Drones” piece, in a seamless continuum.

Kuusisto got the attention of Washington audiences with his performances of the Lindberg violin concerto last year with the National Symphony Orchestra. But he didn’t play like a soloist here — more like a poet. The initial movements of the Bach were free of preconceptions about beauty or evenness of sound; they were, instead, an expressive sequence of meditations. They were thus perfectly calibrated to Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” — one of many versions of this quiet, intricate work, which drifts and tangles a sequence of variations around a six-bar theme. And it yielded naturally to Philip Glass’s “The Orchard,” in which Muhly’s buoyant, elastic playing lent an extra urgency to the repeated three-note skipping figure in the piano.

Muhly is well known as a composer, having most recently made waves when the Metropolitan Opera opened his “Two Boys” last fall. Both of his pieces here were excellent — and they brought his arresting pianism, a less-known arrow in his quiver, to the fore. In a program that had been characterized by repeating patterns, drifting notes and a sense of restraint, the piano suddenly thundered out in a fortissimo, tearing open the mood of the afternoon, revealing a Romantic heart within the afternoon’s patterned, shifting, gentle musical idiom. After the outbursts, Muhly scaled back down, promptly — nothing to see here, folks — but his playing was still all bright colors and high contrasts, albeit hidden in the shades of the dappled musical landscape of the performance as a whole.

Kuusisto, too, couldn’t help showing his hand as a brilliant player, even if the afternoon — by his admission to the audience — was not designed to showcase virtuosity. In the Bach Gigue, between the two Muhly pieces, the quick fingerwork unsheathed a clean, firm sound, like a swordblade, gleaming with light. And the Chaconne partook of both the brilliance and the subtlety.

Often, the final pieces on a program, particularly if they’re in a performer’s own language, convey a sense of relaxation, a look behind the curtain. But the two improvisations on Finnish folk songs that ended this performance seemed rather a seamless extension of an eclectic yet perfectly organic collection of music. The curtain had been down all along. So if Kuusisto chose to strum on his violin and burst into song while Muhly wandered along the edge of a precipice on the keyboard beside him, it was the most reasonable thing in the world. More concerts should end this way — and start this way, and continue this way. If only more musicians were able to pull it off.

Stradivarius cello broken in accident in Spain

Stradivarius cello broken in accident in Spain

Associated Press

MADRID –  A Stradivarius cello housed at the Spanish Royal Palace was broken in an accident, an official said Monday. The instrument could be worth more than $20 million.

A National Heritage official declined to specify what went wrong. She refused to comment on an El Mundo newspaper report that the instrument fell off a table during a photo session. She confirmed it happened about three weeks ago. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

The damage sustained: a piece that joins the neck of the 17th-century instrument to the body of it broke and fell off the rest of the cello. That piece was not original but rather a replacement installed in the 19th century.

The official said the cello can and will be repaired.

The heritage official declined to say how much the cello was worth. She said it was part of a set of instruments — two violins and a viola were the others — that were known as “the Quartet.” They got this name because they were commissioned at the same time.

However, Tim Ingles, head of the musical instrument department at Sotheby’s auction house in London, said he believed the Spanish cello was worth $20 million (€15.4 million) or more

Music review: National Philharmonic captures the spirit of a sunny Mozart at Strathmore

National Philharmonic

Steve Wilson – Nurit Bar-Josef.

Music review: National Philharmonic captures the spirit of a sunny Mozart at Strathmore

By Joan Reinthaler, Published: January 5 E-mail the writer

There is intricate Mozart, dramatic Mozart and even bombastic Mozart (think Don Giovanni’s descent into hell), but the Mozart that Piotr Gajewski and his National Philharmonic — or a chamber-size subset thereof — brought to Strathmore on Saturday was Mozart at his sunniest, full of grace and youthful spirits. That the orchestra captured these spirits so happily was testimony to both Gajewski’s light touch and sense of line and to a string section that, for the most part, seemed to delight in scurrying around busily. Only the horns had a rather off-night.

The Symphony No. 29 in A went quite well, the Minuetto’s da capo repeat significantly cleaner, rhythmically, than the first time through, and the fiery ascendinjg scale (known in the day as a “Manheim Rocket”) closer and closer to unison as its several iterations played out. The understated ending of the second-movement Andante was pulled off with masterful subtlety.

Violinist Nurit Bar-Josef, the National Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster and the evening’s soloist, offered a gorgeous reading of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5. Everything about her performance was carefully thought out, from the quickening velocity of each trill and the weighting of each ornament to the carefully scaffolded dynamics in the cadenzas, but what gave the performance its magic is that none of this sounded premeditated. Her quietly singing legato lines, unhurried florid passages and interplay with the orchestra were all spun out with warmth, grace and a sense of pleasurable discovery. Gajewski and his forces were fine collaborators here and managed comfortable balances.

The Dvorak Serenade for String Orchestra, a gently lush and romantic companion to the Mozart, closed out the evening with suitable gentility.


Reinthaler is a freelance writer

Violin sensation Bella Hristova to play at Pequot Library

Violin sensation Bella Hristova

Bella Hristova (Contributed photo)

Violin sensation Bella Hristova to play at Pequot Library

By Douglas P. Clement
Connecticut Magazine

On Christmas Eve, violinist Bella Hristova, known for her passion, technical agility and beautiful sound, performed as a soloist with the New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, bringing her own magnetic style to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E, Op. 64.

For the native of Bulgaria, who lives in Philadelphia and draws raves from classical music’s most exacting arbiters—“stunning” “exuberance, dignity and finesse,” “amazing,” “brilliant passages” “there is a ‘rightness’ to all her choices”—the Carnegie Hall concert was a highlight of her young career.

“It was a huge concert (with Jaime Laredo conducting) and I’m really pleased with how it went,” Hristova (pronounced h’REE-stoh-va) says in a phone conversation about an upcoming concert in Connecticut.

The 28-year-old musician—who makes magic on a 1655 Nicolò Amati violin—is so passionate and devoted to the future of classical music that she is happily transitioning from her third appearance at a major classical music mecca like Carnegie Hall to a concert Jan. 11 at a more diminutive venue, the Pequot Library in Southport.

The date is part of a series of free Young Persons’ Concerts sponsored by the group Music for Youth. Geared toward a 5-to-18 audience, the 50-minute program will begin at 2 p.m. and feature works by Beethoven, Gershwin, Bulgarian composer Peter Hristoskov and others. While the concert is free for families with children, adults without children who want to attend are asked to make a goodwill donation. No tickets or registration are required.

“We’re excited to come up, my pianist and I,” Hristova says with genuine sincerity, elaborating that she loves to play for, and work with, children. “When I play with orchestras and (have) solo concerts, I always do some sort of outreach.”

At the Pequot Library, Hristova will offer the audience “a very varied program” that also includes some Bach—Beethoven and Bach are her favorite composers—along with a short Bulgarian piece, “just to give them an idea of where I’m from and the music there.”

In a nod to the youthfulness of some audience members, she will perform short snippets. “Nothing’s going to be longer than five minutes,” she says, and Hristova will put the works in context by speaking before each piece.

“Sometimes they’re really engaged,” the violinist says of her youngest audiences. She likes to play a guessing game about how old her violin is—its 359 years old as of 2014—and she also sometimes asks children to guess how old she is.

“Once someone said 150,” Hristova says with a laugh.

When time allows, which may not happen at the Pequot, the violinist likes to have children come up in groups of two or three, so she can “teach them a beat pattern and have them conduct me.”

As she heads into the Connecticut appearance at the opening of a new year, Hristova—already armed with critical acclaim, prizes, competition wins and international demand—is clearly ascendant.

The Carnegie Hall performance of Mendelssohn will be a catalyst for higher notes, and her special connection to New Zealand will continue later in the year.

The bond began when she won First Prize in the 2007 Michael Hill International Violin Competition there, and then made a critically acclaimed concert tour of New Zealand, and it has only deepened. Hristova will go back for a fifth time this spring/summer for performances.

The violinist-on-the-rise calls herself “very lucky” in the arc of her life and career. Also lucky are Connecticut residents savvy enough to see how special—how bella—is the opportunity to see a world-class talent in a lovely, intimate venue like the Pequot Library.

Those who attend the concert have an opportunity to register for free post-concert master classes for advanced students on violin by calling (203) 938-3843 or emailing For more information in general, see the website

And for more on why Hristova is so entrancing—why The New York Times praises her “fire” and The Strad calls her playing a “showstopper”—her bio fills in the picture nicely:

World-renowned violinist Joshua Bell plays ‘Silent Night


World-renowned violinist Joshua Bell plays ‘Silent Night

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