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10 Questions for Becky Anderson

by: COURTESY OF BECKY ANDERSON, 
Lincoln High grad Becky Anderson, a violin virtuoso who's attending the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, says she practices at least 3 1/2 hours a day during the school year.

Portland native Becky Anderson has reached the point in her career, at 19, where she can play anything on the violin, any music put in front of her.

'Pretty much,' says Anderson, a 2008 Lincoln High graduate who now attends the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, working with Ida Kavafian. 'It might take me a bit longer than some very famous soloist …

'But I'm at a point in my technique it would be hard to find something that I couldn't hack my way through,' she adds, humorously.

Indeed, it's all fine-tuning from here on out as Anderson pursues a career as a concert violinist.

Anderson returned to Portland for the holidays and performed at the the city's Community Music Center, where she started playing the violin soon after mastering how to walk and talk.

The violin virtuoso, daughter of Greg and Nan Anderson, shared some of her story with the Tribune:

Tribune: The Community Music Center is proud to call you one of its own; how did you get your start?

Anderson: Mom is a pianist, so music was always part of our household. My brother (Aaron) and I went to camp during the summer, and my brother really liked to play the violin. At the time, I wanted to do everything he wanted to do; he was 5, I was 3 1/2. I decided I wanted to play the violin, but my parents made me wait until age 5, when the average violinist starts playing. My parents were supportive of what I did, but good about not pushing me.

Tribune: When was your breakthrough moment?

Anderson: When I started out, I had no idea I'd go into music. I thought it would be an aside. It was not until I was 10 that I made the decision that it was more than a hobby for me. I started practicing a couple hours a day, started doing some competitions. Things got progressively more busy.

I won the MetroArts Young Artists Competition, run by Niel DePonte, at 13. It picks between seven and 10 winners to play a piece with the orchestra. Auditions were in January, and from January to April you work with him to really understand not only your part but the orchestral part. I don't think I'd ever worked on a piece as in depth. It was Sarasate's 'Ziguenerweisen,' and I think that was a major concert for me. It opened my eyes to what you can do with music and really explore the options.

Tribune: You spent two summers learning from Itzhak Perlman?

Anderson: The summer after my junior and senior years in Portland I was accepted to the Perlman Music Program - a six-week summer program for string musicians 18 and under. It was an incredible experience. Mr. Perlman spent the entire summer on campus at Shelter Island, at the tip of Long Island with us. He's a world-class violinist, and he could have been doing a million things, but he and wife see the need for education and working with young people. I had weekly lessons with him, and he conducted the string orchestra every evening. He's so inspiring to be around.

Tribune: You've already played with some prestigious symphonies?

Anderson: I soloed with the Oregon Symphony and the Portland Chamber Orchestra. Last year I came back from school and soloed with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. It was a privilege to play.

Tribune: When did you commit to going to a music conservatory?

Anderson: The second half of my senior year in high school, I still wasn't sure I would go into music. I definitely loved science, chemistry and neurology. Going to a music conservatory is very rewarding, but very limiting. It's straight music, and English and history classes. One thing about Curtis is they have a reciprocity (arrangement) with the University of Pennsylvania, and you can actually take classes at Penn for free. But, I've not been able to take classes at Penn, yet.

I also applied to the New England Conservatory, the Cleveland Institute of Music, Juilliard, Colburn School in Los Angeles, Case Western, Harvard and Stony Brook.

Tribune: What is your style? Were you a sound learner?

Anderson: I began with the Suzuki method. It's very common, a lot of people use it, it's based on listening to music. I guess I was kind of a sound learner. I loved listening to music.

Tribune: When playing, what are you thinking about?

Anderson: Often times musicians talk about music in terms of technical and musical parts. Technical is the execution of playing the instrument - you don't want audiences to notice. Musical is the colors and characters, ideas and emotions. I try to take care of as much of the technical part in practice, so I don't need to focus on it while performing - my body knows how to play, I can get lost in the artistic part. Reality is, when you're at a really hard part in the piece, you do have to focus on what fingering you're doing or making sure you're relaxed. Ideally, I try to focus on the sound that I'm creating.

Tribune: You played Ysaye, Chausson and Tchaikovsky at the CMC event; what are you working on these days?

Anderson: I'll ask (Kavafian) for recommendations on what pieces she wants me to work on - (recently) Sibelius violin concerto, Beethoven piano and violin concertos, Paganini 24 caprices.

Tribune: You want to be a concert violinist?

Anderson: That's the plan. For most students at a conservatory, there are different pathways you can take. You can audition for a job in an orchestra, one of the only occupations you can take to get a steady paycheck and benefits. That's definitely an option. There are few people good enough to become soloists and tour; that's another option. There are also people who focus on chamber music, quartets and trios, and that's my passion. I love chamber music, playing quartets. My dream career would be to find a professional quartet, but it's very difficult to find three other people who are at the place you are, interested in the same thing and who you get along with.

Tribune: How often do you practice?

Anderson: Every day - I practice whenever I can. I took a few days off over the (holiday) break. I practice three to four hours a day at school, on top of rehearsals with the orchestra and chamber music. In my off time, it's more like two hours (a day). Going to Curtis, things get so busy, you appreciate a break. … I feel lucky to have something that I love doing so much that I can do it for a career, for the rest of my life.