Harlem Quartet Violinist Melissa White Sends Greetings from Paris, Plugs Brad Mehldau

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We’ve long urged members of the greater arts community to consider this CVNC blog their own platform for news and commentary. In the wake of the Harlem Quartet‘s recent concert in Raleigh, violinist Melissa White took us up on our offer and sent the following notes as she flew to Paris for a month of recitals and concerto performances in Europe (detailed below).

By way of background, the following stemmed from an interview for the Sphinx Organization, our leading support agency for minority artists in classical music. Its work and the efforts of community music schools (of which there are many – Raleigh’s is here) and El Systema-based groups (ditto – the Triangle’s version is Kidznotes) around the country are vital threads in the fabric that is our cultural life in America.

The material was prepared by White in question-and-answer format:

How did your journey as a violinist begin? At what point did you know you would make music your career?

It was love at first sight. I first laid eyes on a violin when I was four-years-old while watching Sesame Street. Itzhak Perlman was the guest on this particular show and he was playing his violin for Grover. I simply liked the way his chin fit perfectly in the chin rest and felt like it looked like the perfect instrument for a person to play. When the show went off, I immediately asked my mom if I could play the violin. I remember she talked to me about the instrument and what I’d learned for a while. But she did not answer a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’ so I begged for two years. I asked Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even left a note with my tooth for the Tooth Fairy. Finally when I was six-years-old, I walked home from school, and on the chair was a little violin!! That’s when I started playing.

I knew I wanted to make music my career after my sophomore year of high school. Until then, my mom was driving me five hours one-way from Lansing, MI, to Winnetka, IL, for my violin lessons with Dr. Roland & Almita Vamos. I absolutely adored them and learned a lot. However, administrative changes at my mom’s workplace that year made it no longer possible for us to be able to do the drive. As a result, I had a very slow year in terms of my musical education and ended up taking the entire second semester off from playing the violin all together.

When summer time came, my mom asked me if I wanted to play the violin anymore. Her question was jarring and it made me realize that I hadn’t felt complete the whole year without having music as an integral part of my life. So we talked about it and as a family we discussed possibilities for me to continue having lessons. I auditioned for Interlochen Arts Academy and received enough scholarship to be able to attend their boarding high school for my last two years. My time at Interlochen was magnificent and it was during that transition that I knew that music would be my career.

You’ve performed around the world, in a number of exceptional locations. Is there a particular performance that stands out as especially meaningful or memorable for you?

I have been blessed to be able to perform many concerts with sensational artists around the world and truly my entire experience as a violinist has been most memorable! But one absolute highlight would be when the Harlem Quartet was invited to perform at the White House in 2009 for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. For the first time, we were most nervous after we’d finished playing and were told we were going to have an official picture with the First Couple. I remember being announced upon entering the room where the President and First Lady were waiting and my knees were shaking. When the President shook my hand and said, “It’s nice to meet you,” I froze and said “Yes.” I can still see myself in that moment and writing this memory makes me smile and laugh all over again.

What projects are you working on now?

I just completed a two-week southern U.S. tour with my full-time group, Harlem Quartet. We performed Bartók 2, Mendelssohn Op. 80, Haydn Op. 76, No. 1, Chick Corea’s The Adventures of Hippocrates, Michael Abels’ Delights and Dances (for string quartet and string orchestra), as well as other jazz tunes.

Today, I am flying to Europe for several solo engagements and I’ll be overseas until Christmas. I have recitals in Paris, London, and Wrocław, Poland; and I will also be performing Bernstein’s Serenade with Piotr Gajewski at the Lower-Silesian Philharmonic (Filharmonia Dolnoslaska) in Jelenia Gora and with the Silesian Philharmonic in Katawice, Poland.

What kind of music have you been listening to lately?

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of jazz and particularly the music of pianist Brad Mehldau. His creativity seems endless and I love the simplicity with which he creates such beautiful melodies. But, a little known fact about me is that I love Christmas carols!! This time of year, I wake up and prepare for the day while listening to carols because it warms my heart and puts a huge smile on my face! (See and hear Mehldau at Duke on Dec. 11 and online, in a 2010 concert in Vienna available here.)

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There’s lots of material involving Melissa White online, beyond the link provided in CVNC‘s recent review; a good starting point is here.

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