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Two Winning Teen Violinists Go for Baroque

State of the Arts


Published June 18, 2008 at 5:08 a.m.

From top: Sally Bruce, Anna Landell
  • From top: Sally Bruce, Anna Landell

Here’s something two average Chittenden County teens are not usually doing on a Saturday night: performing a Baroque violin concerto with a professional ensemble for a paying audience. Sally Bruce, 16, of Williston and Anna Landell, 15, of Richmond won the Burlington Chamber Orchestra’s Young Artist Solo Competition. And so this weekend, the sophomore girls — who have been friends since they were “5-ish,” they recall — are headlining the final concert of the BCO’s first season with Antonio Vivaldi’s Double Concerto in A Minor.

Landell loves the Vivaldi piece because it “has a lot of personality” and is “a lot of fun to listen to.” The same can be said for both of the young violinists. At a rehearsal with their teacher, BCO Concertmaster Ira Morris of Hinesburg, the teens exude confidence and excitement about the music. They seem only a bit nervous about performing with pros.

At February’s tryout, “We were blown away by their level of expression and maturity,” says BCO Music Director Michael Hopkins. The performance audition was held at the University of Vermont’s Recital Hall, which is also the concert venue. It required a full run-through of the piece, with piano accompaniment instead of orchestral backing. The format is “nerve-wracking,” Hopkins admits.

He found the young musicians to be such dynamic players that, in consultation with Morris, Hopkins invited them to sit in with the orchestra for the concert’s second half. “We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t feel they were up to it,” Morris says. They will play with the first violins for Felix Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia No. 5 and P.I. Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.

The teens are experiencing more jitters over joining the BCO violin section than for their big star turn. “There’s a huge divide between winning soloist competitions for young students and then playing in a professional orchestra,” Bruce explains. Landell believes Hopkins and Morris viewed the invitation to play with the ensemble as a friendly musical throwdown. “I think they knew we’d both be intimidated a little bit.” She speculates with a laugh about her teacher’s thought process: “She’s scared! That’s so good! That means she’s gonna work her butt off.”

Both violinists are seasoned youth performers. Bruce took up the instrument at age 3; Landell began at 6. They have played in the Vermont Youth Orchestra and currently perform with the Montréal Youth Symphony Orchestra. Both have been studying with Morris for the past four years.

At rehearsal, a relaxed vibe prevails. The students call their teacher by his first name, and are unfazed to have a reporter sitting directly behind them in Morris’ Hinesburg studio as they hone passages of the Vivaldi. “Interpretation, indeed,” Morris jokes when Bruce makes, and immediately recognizes, a slight mistake in rhythm. “But not actually what Vivaldi wrote.” The three share a quick laugh, and work through the measures again. In one section, they concentrate on precisely lining up the timing of sixteenth notes, which will race by at concert tempo.

Hopkins thinks that the performance by Bruce and Landell on Saturday can motivate others. “I think it’s inspirational for the young people to see one of their own,” he says. “I think it gives them a belief in the future. There’s so much press and media about how our young people are failing . . . It’s a great way to show people that indeed, there are really hardworking, disciplined, very talented young people in our midst.”