Coming soon to Carnegie Hall

Young violinist’s passion for music lands him in national honors orchestra

schandler@newsobserver.comDecember 30, 2012 

COURTESY OF CHIEN-TSUN KUAN

For a musician, the ultimate dream is to play Carnegie Hall.

Elliot Kuan of Cary will be able to cross that off his list come February, when he’ll play violin in the famed New York City venue as part of the 2013 High School Honors Orchestra.

He submitted an audition CD in early summer, after being nominated for the ensemble by a teacher, then sweated it out for several months before getting word that he made the cut in late October.

“It was just a great honor,” said Elliot, a junior at Cary Academy. “Judging from the long period, it says a lot about how many people applied and how many audition tapes they had to listen to. It’s just an amazing feeling getting the chance to play in one of the greatest halls in the world.”

His orchestra director at Cary Academy, Yiying Qiao, wasn’t surprised that Elliot was selected for the honor.

“Elliot plays violin with very nice and singing tones,” he said in an email. “I think his solid skills and rich musicianship impressed people and of course the judges.”

Elliot will arrive in New York just a few days before the concert, packing in rehearsals as well as sightseeing and a TV appearance on “CBS This Morning.” Then comes the big show on Feb. 10, led by nationally recognized conductors and including an honors choir and honors band made up of student musicians from across the country. They’ll play pieces from Verdi, Shostakovich and contemporary composer Steven Bryant.

“The thing I look forward to most is getting to meet other really talented and accomplished young musicians and getting to perform with them and making lots of new friends,” Elliot said.

Elliot is no stranger to playing in ensembles – in addition to Cary Academy’s orchestra, he’s performed with the N.C. Youth Sinfonietta and at a summer camp called Credo at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. And even though he’s just 16, he’s not new to the violin, either.

He started playing before his fourth birthday, after hearing someone play a violin and deciding he wanted to give it try. His parents never pushed him, he said, but they did help keep him on track.

“I’ve got to really thank my parents for pushing me through the hard times,” he said. “When you’re 7 years old, practicing’s not really your favorite thing, but it’s got to happen.”

As he got older, though, he realized “it really comes down to enjoying it and having fun with it,” he said. “As I’ve gotten better I feel like I’ve really taken ownership of playing music, so for me now it’s not really just sitting down and playing the notes on a sheet of paper. It’s a way of life. It really influences a lot of the things I do.”

One of the things he does is serving as vice president of his school’s Share the Music club, which sends musicians to play at hospitals, nursing homes and other community venues. He also plays violin at his church.

“Music is not just something that I enjoy, but something I enjoy giving to others,” he said.

And he enjoys playing with others, too. He formed a band called “Stuck in the Friend Zone” with friends of school that plays a repertoire very different from the symphonies and concertos in orchestra.

On guitars, bass, violins and more (including mandolin, which Elliot sometimes plays, and piano and banjo), he and his friends “try to do anything, songwise.” They’ve played “Hey Ya” and “Come Together,” and they knocked ’em dead in a school talent show with a cover of “Wagon Wheel.”

Whether he’s playing pop songs or symphonies, Elliot tries to get in at least a little time to practice every day. And his parents don’t have to nudge him anymore.

“That’s the real measure of my musical journey,” he said, “like I said, taking ownership of music.”

Despite that dedication, Elliot says music will “probably not” be his career path. But that doesn’t mean his violin is going to get much of a rest.

“(Music is) definitely something that’s going to stick with me my entire life, whether I make it a profession or not,” he said. “I’ll always be a lifetime musician.”

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