THE BILINGUAL WEEKLY INTERVIEW
Elena Urioste, a teen violinist of Mexican-Basque heritage, has spent most of her short musical career harvesting awards and praise from the Classical Music world, crowning her achievements by being featured on the cover of the respected magazine Symphony as the most promising artist. On September 23 and 25 she will perform at San Joaquin Delta College along with the Stockton Symphony. In advance of her presentation, Bilingual Weekly asked her a few questions…
BW: Were you born in the United States, we presume, to Mexican and Basque parents. Why did you go for classical music rather than to, say, Shakira or other popular Latin music?
EU: I have known since I was two years old that I wanted to play the violin — I saw Itzhak Perlman performing on the television show Sesame Street and was instantly captivated. It wasn’t so much a question of what area of music I wanted to enter; I just knew that I wanted to play the instrument that I was seeing on the screen in front of me!
BW: You have accomplished an impressive amount of prestigious awards and recognition in a very short time span. Did you prepare for this or did it just come to you? Did you, for example, listen to a Paganini piece and said “I will play like that?”
EU: It has always been my dream to be a violin soloist, but I was never determined to win competitions (or even apply for very many of them, in fact). I have always loved listening to music, and was extremely inspired by various recordings and performances over the years, but it was always the music itself that was the loveliest to me, as opposed to the idea of winning some contest.
BW: You became a sudden star to an elite public, composed mainly by an older, sophisticated audience. As a teen, how do you feel in this ambiance? Would you rather have bee a teen star?
EU: I have never aspired to be a “star” at all; I would like to be known and respected for my musicianship and the messages I (hopefully!) convey through my violin playing. I think it’s extremely important to reach out to younger audiences, so that the art of classical music can be perpetuated for years to come. I wish for audience members of all ages to appreciate this genre of music, so if I can contribute in some way to the process of extending it to children and young adults, I will be grateful for the opportunity!
BW: Most of the music you play was composed hundreds of years ago. Do you have an ear for today’s popular music? Do you like rap, for example?
EU: I love so many of today’s bands — indie rock and alternative, mostly. I am equally as inspired by bands such as Radiohead, Wilco, Bjork, and The National as I am by many string quartets on the concert stage today.
BW: With all the rehearsals and international competitions your life must be much different than for most kids your age. What kind of social life you lead? Do you mingle only with young classic music virtuosos? Do you talk scores or ice cream?
EU: I have personal relationships with people from many walks of life, though I do admit that many of my closest friends are musicians. It is so natural to be around people with whom you’ve made music — so many things require no discussion, because we all feel and experience things on a similar wavelength. This doesn’t mean that our conversations are limited to classical music; on the contrary, an infinite number of topics are possible due to the high levels of creativity and intelligence that are inherent in great musicians.
BW: Your Stockton concert is entitled “Heroism with Heart” (?) and includes three pieces; one of them, Fidelio, is about freedom from political persecution. Another, Prokofiev’s Nº5, is a cry for freedom of Man during the rage of Second World War. The third is a romantic, “crowd-pleaser” Do you choose what to play? Do you have a feeling for what you play?
EU: I am at a stage in my career in which I am not really in a position to turn down any opportunity — and I wouldn’t want to, anyway! Typically an orchestra will choose a piece from a list that I supply, but if they really want something that I’ve never played before, I am usually happy to learn it and add something new to my repertoire. If I feel really uncomfortable with a suggestion, perhaps I’ll voice my opinion, but usually, I think it is the responsibility of a musician to capture the mood and nuances of whatever piece you happen to be playing. Not to mention the fact that it’s fun to step outside your comfort zone and enter a composer’s world! I happen to adore the Bruch Concerto, so I am very much looking forward to performing it again.
BW: Some of the young people that will see your performance in Stockton are regular, Central Valley kids who have never been exposed to this experience. Do you feel part of the music or some kind of an example for kids your age?
EU: I sincerely hope to be a role model for young people of many persuasions, whether or not they are familiar with classical music. For those who are considering a life in music, I hope to further inspire them; for those who are attending a concert for the first time, I can only wish that they enjoy the experience! Mostly, I would love to convey the message that WHATEVER your passion in life may be, if it’s something that you really, truly desire, enough hard work and devotion to your craft will lead to the ultimate in personal satisfaction.
BW: To many teens you are a nerd. To some you are somewhat of a dream they would never attain. To most parents you are enviable. To classical music lovers you are hope. To local Latinos who heard of you, you are an example of Hispanic success. How do you define yourself?
EU: I’m just a girl who loves music! I adore studying a piece and eventually performing it, and being able to communicate with people without having to say a word. Beyond that… perhaps the performances in Stockton will define me better than I can in this interview!