Posts tagged Parnassus-SFCM Competition Winner
Violinist Vivian Ling finds friendship amid music in her adopted home of San Francisco
Vivan Ling, violin

Vivan Ling, violin

Imagine being barely in your teens, and traveling halfway around the world by yourself to live in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language.

Five years ago, that’s what faced Boxianzi “Vivian” Ling, 19, when she left China to come to the U.S., continuing her violin studies at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in San Francisco, and graduating from high school at San Domenico High School in San Anselmo.

“When I first got here, I was alone and lonely,” she said. “I feel much better now. I can talk to people. I have a lot of friends and I play in an orchestra.”

Many of those friends and colleagues are her fellow musicians at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is a freshman studying violin performance with teachers Wei He (who acted as her guardian when she first moved here), and Ian Swensen.

Vivian Ling in rehearsal

Vivian Ling in rehearsal

On March 19, Vivian—winner of the 2016 Parnassus–San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition—will perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major with Symphony Parnassus. 

With its lyrical melodies and dramatic passages, the Beethoven is a beloved concerto that presents plenty of challenges for its soloist. “It looks simple, but it’s very hard to control everything technically or emotionally,” Vivian said. She has played it once before, and estimates that she will probably spend between three and six hours a day practicing for the concert.

Vivian looks forward to the concert; it is just her second time performing with a full orchestra. “I’m really excited to play with Symphony Parnassus,” she said.

Vivian was born in Hunan province in southern China, and began studying violin at age 5. She said that “right away” her teacher knew she had a gift, and told her parents to send her to Shanghai or Beijing to study music.

Her parents stayed behind in Hunan because of their jobs, but she left home at age 7 with her grandmother to live in Shanghai, where she attended a prestigious elementary school affiliated with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. At age 12, she was featured on China National TV playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto; she has also soloed with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra.

Her musical background comes from both sides of the family: Her mother “plays a little piano,” and has taught music; her father likes to sing and is a music lover who played a lot of classical music recordings when she was growing up. Mozart is her favorite composer because “it reminds me of my childhood in China. My dad liked to play recordings and Mozart was his favorite.”

The musical lineage goes further back to her grandmother, who was a dancer, and a grandfather who was a conductor who played a Chinese instrument similar to a small violin.

Winner of the Young Artists Concerto Competition with Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra in 2012, Vivian served as concertmaster of San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2014-2016. She participated in the SFSYO European tour, performing in the Berlin Philharmonie and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.  

Cello 'a good fit' for Elena Ariza
Elena Ariza, soloist

Elena Ariza, soloist

Cupertino teen to perform Dvořák concerto on March 20

The cello—beautiful but unwieldy—seems like an unusual instrument for a child to start playing when she is barely out of diapers.

But when you grow up in a musical family and they need a cellist for the piano trio, why wait?

Elena Ariza

Elena Ariza

Elena Ariza, now 17, began cello lessons when she was just 4 years old.

It turns out her mom, Nagisa, a professional pianist and piano teacher, wanted Elena to join her and Elena’s older brother Yujin, a violinist, in a trio, so Elena began lessons. She seemed to have found her instrument right away.  

“I think it really fits me,” she says. “I like the register of the instrument…I guess the cello is more like human voice. It speaks to me more.”

Elena is due to graduate in June from Menlo School in Atherton, Calif., and has been very busy this winter, flying across the country from one music school to the next for a half-dozen auditions to determine where she will advance her already impressive music career.   

On March 20 (3 p.m. at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco), she will share the stage with Symphony Parnassus to perform what she calls the “king of all cello concertos,”—the Dvořák Cello Concerto.

“I really love how it expresses everything from noble character to depression and mourning,” she said, “and how it has a lot of variation inside the concerto.”

She is thrilled to be performing with Symphony Parnassus. “It’s a really great honor to be given this opportunity,” she said. “It’s not often as a high-schooler that you get to perform solos with an orchestra.”

This is her fourth performance of the Dvořák piece.

Elena—winner of the 2015 Parnassus-San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition—has won many other prizes, including the Music Teachers National Association’s California State Competition, Menuhin-Dowling Competition, and the Diablo Valley Orchestra and South Valley Symphony Concerto Competition. She studies cello with Eric Sung in the SFCM Pre-College Program, and plays with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.  

As a chamber musician, Elena plays in the Cambiata String Quartet, which was featured on the NPR radio program “From the Top,” and won first place in the Sacramento State Chamber Music Competition in 2015.

Elena lives in Cupertino with her parents, who emigrated from Japan in 1993 to the South Bay and have been there ever since. Her dad, Michiharu, is a software engineer, and, like his musical wife, seems to have passed down his gifts to his children: son Yujin, 21, has a computer science degree (from Columbia University) and is now studying for a master’s degree in violin performance at Julliard School of Music; Elena, in addition to her musical interests, lists computer science as her favorite subject at school. “I really enjoy coding,” she says. “It feels like a type of puzzle-solving. I get addicted when trying to figure out a glitch in a program.”

She shows equal excitement for cello playing, especially when it involves performing with an orchestra. “It’s very exhilarating,” she said. “Sitting in front of orchestra, I feel like there is this great powerhouse behind me. It’s always a great experience to collaborate with orchestra and conductor.”

'In the zone' with violinist Alex Zhou
Alex Zhou, violin

Alex Zhou, violin

Teen soloist to play Mendelssohn concerto at Jan. 17 concert

Violinist Alex Zhou can’t wait to be “in the zone” while playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor with Symphony Parnassus at the January 17 concert. 

He likes the Mendelssohn concerto for its “simplicity and beauty,” and is thrilled to perform it again—his third outing with one of the world’s most popular showpieces for violin and orchestra. He has been soloing with orchestras for the past five years, and loves the feeling of being swept away by the music, or “in the zone,” as he says, even if it is occasionally nerve-wracking.

“Every time I play with an orchestra, I get really nervous,” he said, “but after it’s over, I always like what just happened and think ‘when can I do this again?’”

Alex, 14, is from San Jose and has won many first-place prizes, including the Mondavi Center Young Artists Competition, and the Andrea Postacchini International Violin Competition in Italy, both in 2012. His performance with Symphony Parnassus is a result of his winning the 2015 Parnassus-San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition. 

Alex started piano lessons at age 5, and began playing the violin a year later after seeing a home video of his older sister Kathy, now 25, performing in her elementary school orchestra. Intrigued, he found her old violin and tried to play it. “I just really wanted to learn how to play,” he said.

He was instantly hooked and began taking violin lessons, too.

Neither of his parents are musicians; his father, James Zhou (rhymes with vow), is a chemist, and his mom, June Hu, is an accountant. They didn’t, at first, realize their son was a prodigy. “They thought I was just ‘sawing away,’ on the violin,” Alex said, until his teacher told them of his special gift.

Alex is still surprised and humbled by the attention his playing has brought him. “I guess I’m a normal person,” he says, “but I forget that I have this talent. It’s really weird.” When not practicing his violin—three hours a day when his school schedule allows—he likes to read, play badminton and take photographs.

He is involved in the Pre-College program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (where he studies with violin teacher Zhao Wei), and has also studied with acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman for two summers at the Perlman Music Program in New York. Alex said that working with Perlman was a life-changing experience.

“He’s really down to earth and doesn’t look down on you if you’re not as good as him. He tries to encourage you,” Alex said. “When you get treated so well, it changes you, and you want to be that kind of person…to work hard to be a better musician and also a better person.”