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Virtuosic Adventures: Young String Players Take France By Storm

The Violin Viruotosi will be embarking on a two-week tour of France. For these nine young musicians, it will be memorable, both musically and culturally.

The Indiana University String Academy has a reputation… It’s open to children as young as 5-years-old, some famous names started their studies in this program, and hey… the String Academy even has its own PBS documentary! Well, specifically the Violin Virtuosi.

This group of musicians is made up of the nine top players and the oldest kids in the String Academy. And this summer, they get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… to spend two weeks in France playing music.

I met up with the director of the String Academy, Mimi Zweig. She’s done this before, taking groups to Japan, Sweden, Spain, and Italy.

Violin Virtuosi members have come and gone over the years, and she said that this is the pay off for THESE kids, this incarnation of the VV. “We can’t forget to give all these wonderful kids the experience of traveling,” Zweig explained.

While in France, the musicians will be experiencing home stays and developing a close relationship with a family. The tour then is about both the musical and the cultural experiences, as Zweig described. “It’s a two-way street. They have to play beautifully, and they get themselves ready to play at the highest artistic level. And then they affect the lives of these people who are listening to them.”

This tour is different from tours of previous years, as two cellists have joined the ranks for the first time. This has affected their repertoire, which includes Tchaikovsky’s sextet Souvenir de Florence and the Concerto for Four Violins by Vivaldi.

But what does it take to prep for a tour like this? I guess lots and lots of performing, something that the kids in the VV are just used to at this point. In fact, last month, the group was in Utah for a small concert tour. This is in addition to regular concerts in Indiana, as well as performances in Chicago and Milwaukee. “So,” Zweig said, “performing is the reward for all the hard work they put in.”

I had the opportunity to meet up with these musicians, where else, but backstage at a concert in Bloomington one Saturday afternoon. They were standing in a circle, rehearsing a bit, fine-tuning some details, laughing and having fun. None of them use music – they all play from memory. And it’s obvious that they love this. They love playing music and they love being in this group!

Preparing for this tour was nothing out of the ordinary for them. For Sang-Woo Kim, he’s just used to it, “We just do what we always do!”

What was most striking, talking to these young musicians, is how they combine music-making with fun and friendship. Jake Woolen mentioned how he values being able to make music with peers, who are “equal and in most cases better than myself. And I think that we make some great music together.”

Stephanie Zyzack expressed what all of the kids were feeling… excitement for this tour and camaraderie with her fellow musicians. “I’ve never been to France, number one. And number two, it’s with the VV which is always a blast.”

But what did most of them say they were most excited about? The food.

The Violin Virtuosi will be presenting nine concerts as part of their two-week tour of France in late May and early June. The tour is being sponsored by the Starling Foundation.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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