Rehearsing with Rostropovich and the NSO in 1990. Photo by William Haroutounian
NSO European Tour 2016
NSO Circles Interview - January, 2016:
What made you choose the violin?
My father played violin and he was my first teacher when I was about eleven years old. He was an oral surgeon and an excellent musician as well. I started in February and three months later I won second prize in Brazil's National Young Soloist Competition. After that I started getting invitations to perform in many concerts, so I had to learn the repertoire very quickly. By the time I was fourteen, I was sent to Rome, Italy, to study at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory.
When I returned to Brazil, I wasn’t too keen on pursuing a music career, so I went to engineering school, which is what my mother had wanted me to do all along. Eight months into engineering school, I heard about an opening for the Concertmaster of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, Brazil's main orchestra. I auditioned and won the job. I was eighteen at the time and started performing with them when I was nineteen. I played with them for four seasons and then came to the United States to compete at the Indianapolis International Violin Competition. I did well enough to be invited to come to the States to study at Indiana University. In 1985 I won the audition with the Detroit Symphony. Two and a half years later there was an opening for Assistant Concertmaster of the NSO, and I was fortunate to win this job.
Who has been most influential in your music career?
My father was the most influential because he loved music so much. He did not have any other students, so he always liked to say that he had a 100% success rate as a teacher. He only taught me for maybe three or four months before I moved on to a professional teacher, but I wouldn’t be here today without his guidance.
What makes the NSO unique or standout among the other orchestras and groups you have played with?
We are in the nation’s capital, and we do things that few other orchestras are able to do. A few years back we played at the White House for an official visit of the Chancellor of Germany and, while we were rehearsing in the Rose Garden, someone came up to us and said, “The President is coming to see you.” It was a very surreal and exciting moment. Meeting the President was a tremendous honor. Before our performance that evening, we were waiting to go on stage right next to the Situation Room, where they had announced the raid on Osama Bin Laden just a few weeks before.
Since joining the NSO we have performed in so many places that I never thought I would be able to visit. From the old Soviet Union, to Oman, to places in South America and Asia to Trinidad and Tobago. Another initiative I particularly enjoyed was our American Residency program. The NSO plays regularly with many wonderful conductors and soloists, and my colleagues are such a wonderful group of people, very friendly and supportive. The orchestra takes a lot of pride in being very much like a family. We really are.
What do you look forward to most this season? Can you describe some challenges you face as a musician?
I am looking forward to the European Tour next month where we will perform in great halls in Berlin and Vienna as well as in the birthplace of our Music Director in Wroclaw, Poland. The tour will finish in Warsaw, which is where my mother was born, so I am very excited for that.
As much as I am looking forward to it, touring is very demanding. It is difficult to find time to practice while traveling. For example, on one European tour with Leonard Slatkin, we took fifteen flights in eighteen days, not counting going there and coming home. Every day we were in a different country. In many cities, I got to know the hall and the hotel, but not much else.
Do you teach private lessons in the DC metro area? How big is your studio?
I have a studio that is totally full right now. I have a lot of students, and they're all very good, which is why it is so difficult to turn them down. They really are terrific. Actually, one of my former students, Jennifer Kim, just won a job with the NSO.
I'm a member of a trio called The Ensemble da Camera of Washington, and we are in charge of the chamber music program for the American Youth Philharmonic. This year, we have nineteen students at that program, who are split into five different groups. Every spare minute I have, I spend practicing and teaching. It’s very meaningful, especially when I get to teach the children of former students. That part is a little shocking actually.
I also advocate for a project with Georgetown University which is attempting to use an empty school building in DC as a school for the arts for underprivileged kids. The building was originally designed by the same architect who designed the castle for the Smithsonian. If that project succeeds, I hope to begin volunteering there as well.
Will you be participating in any of the NSO’s community engagement activities this year?
I was a part of Sound Health from the very beginning. For me, it's one of the most special programs we do. My family has been on the receiving end of Sound Health and I can assure you that music has very important healing effects. It is such a terrific initiative, no question about it. I’ve participated in several performances at Walter Reed and the NIH and I could not be more proud to be part of those events.
Can you tell us a little bit about your instrument?
It was made by Jean-Baptist Vuillaume in Paris in 1873, and I'm very fortunate to have it. I went through a long process before I could find something I could afford that was this good. During my first ten years with the NSO, I switched violins eight times. I always felt I needed a better instrument. Finally, I was able to buy my current violin. For my bows, I use bows made by the great American maker, Paul Martin Siefried, from Port Townsend, Washington.