Phoenix Avalon Vi­o­lin­ist

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS -

Phoenix Avalon did not an­nounce his pas­sion for the vi­o­lin un­til he was a year and a half old. His fam­ily went to a Haydn in the Park event that al­lowed in­cip­i­ent mu­sic lovers to try out minia­ture in­stru­ments, and he let his pref­er­ence be known. It seemed too early to em­bark on mu­sic lessons, but his par­ents al­lowed that if he still wanted to study vi­o­lin when he turned three, he could do so.

His sen­ti­ments did not change, and Phoenix em­barked on his path as a vi­o­lin­ist shortly af­ter turn­ing three. He started out with a 1/16 sized in­stru­ment and took in­struc­tion through Santa Fe Tal­ent Ed­u­ca­tion. Now on the verge of his fif­teenth birth­day, he re­counts the suc­ces­sion of in­stru­ments that have kept up with his growth in stature and tech­nique since then: “Af­ter the 1/16, I had a 1/8, a 1/4, a 1/2, and

then for a long time a 7/8 size was right. But now I’m up to a full-size vi­o­lin.” It’s not just any full-size vi­o­lin: It’s a cer­ti­fi­able “Old Cre­mona” built by the Amati Broth­ers around 1617.

For sev­eral years, while re­ceiv­ing coach­ing through Santa Fe’s EPIK Artist Pro­gram, Phoenix trav­eled to Dal­las to work with Jan Slo­man, now the prin­ci­pal as­so­ciate con­cert­mas­ter emer­i­tus of the Dal­las Symphony. Slo­man ar­ranged for the in­stru­ment to be lent to him by Ken­neth War­ren & Son, a Chicago firm that spe­cial­izes in fine vi­o­lins.

As of Septem­ber, Phoenix is liv­ing most of the time in Ohio, ac­com­pa­nied by one of his moth­ers. He has en­rolled as a fresh­man in the Ju­nior Young Artist Pro­gram of the Cleve­land In­sti­tute of Mu­sic, a mul­ti­year pre-col­lege course of study. Slo­man now teaches there, and Phoenix is study­ing vi­o­lin with him and the em­i­nent Jaime Laredo, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween their stu­dios from week to week. He is one of four young vi­o­lin­ists in the pro­gram; two of the oth­ers are se­niors who will soon be mov­ing on. It’s a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for Phoenix, a col­le­gial form of ed­u­ca­tion that he has not had up un­til now, be­cause he was home-schooled. “Home-school­ing just worked eas­ier,” he said. “It frees you up to have more time to prac­tice. But the Young Artist Pro­gram is amaz­ing. Be­cause of the com­mu­nity, the other kids there, it in­spires you to work a lot harder. There is no such thing as good enough.”

Pri­vate vi­o­lin lessons are the fo­cus of his curriculum, but his in­struc­tion is sup­ported by classes in mu­sic the­ory, anal­y­sis, and eu­rhyth­mics. He plays in the Cleve­land Orchestra Youth Orchestra, col­lab­o­rates with other stu­dents in cham­ber mu­sic, and takes a per­for­mance class with the mem­bers of the Ca­vani String Quar­tet, which pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to get com­fort­able per­form­ing be­fore other young mu­si­cians in the pro­gram. He also con­tin­ues his aca­demic work and is es­pe­cially drawn to study­ing phi­los­o­phy, cit­ing Mon­taigne, Kant, Descartes, and Locke as fig­ures he finds es­pe­cially stim­u­lat­ing.

Septem­ber was a big month for Phoenix. In ad­di­tion to start­ing his stud­ies in Cleve­land, he was fea­tured as a soloist on the na­tion­ally syn­di­cated ra­dio pro­gram From the Top. The show has served as a launch­ing pad for many young per­form­ers, and it seems to have in­vested high hopes in Phoenix; in ad­di­tion to grant­ing him a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award for 2016, the show gave him two spots in the broad­cast — play­ing Sarasate’s Zige­uner­weisen in the main part of the show and then a tran­scrip­tion of Brahms’ Hun­gar­ian Dance No. 5 to bring the broad­cast to a close, in both cases ac­com­pa­nied by host Christopher O’Ri­ley. Th­ese are some­what old-fash­ioned pieces that in­vite in­ter­pre­ta­tion with a lot of heart, which is ex­actly what rings Phoenix’s bells. “There are a lot of mod­ern vi­o­lin­ists I really ap­pre­ci­ate,” he said, “like Hilary Hahn, Anne-So­phie Mut­ter, and Itzhak Perl­man, of course. But I mostly tend to lis­ten to vi­o­lin­ists of the past: Heifetz, Ois­trakh, Mil­stein, El­man, Sz­eryng, Gru­mi­aux. I like the old style. It’s more emo­tional. They play with a lot of slides, which peo­ple do less nowa­days.”

He nor­mally spends five hours a day prac­tic­ing vi­o­lin. “I try to start with tech­ni­cal work for about two hours — scales, tri­ads, dou­ble-stops — and then the rest work­ing on reper­toire.” Cur­rently on his mu­sic stand are the vi­o­lin con­cer­tos of Men­delssohn (which he’ll play in Fe­bru­ary with the New Mex­ico Phil­har­monic) and Tchaikovsky (in which he’ll solo in March with the Boul­der Symphony), caprices by Pa­ganini and Wieni­awski, and Bach’s Un­ac­com­pa­nied Par­tita No. 1. Be­fore then, he will ap­pear in his home­town with Ser­e­nata of Santa Fe, in that ensem­ble’s per­for­mance of Bach’s Mu­si­cal Offering on Jan. 10. Back in Cleve­land next se­mes­ter, he’ll be play­ing in Men­delssohn’s Octet for Strings. “And af­ter the Men­delssohn and Tchaikovsky con­certo per­for­mances,” he added ea­gerly, “I’m go­ing to start the Shostakovich Con­certo, which I am very ex­cited about.” No­body knows what the fu­ture holds, but for con­cert­go­ers who love the vi­o­lin, the name of Phoenix Avalon may well be part of it. — James M. Keller


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