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Concert showcases young talent - new and old

March 31, 2005|by KATE COLEMAN

Tulips and daffodils have sprouted. Lawns and fields are greening.

It's spring in the Tri-State, and it will be "Springtime in Europe" at The Maryland Theatre this weekend. The Maryland Symphony Orchestra will present the fourth MasterWorks concerts of its 23rd season.

The music of Italy's Gioacchino Rossini, Austria's Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Germany's Ludwig van Beethoven will celebrate the season, and a young Maryland violinist has been invited to the party.

"It's all absolutely delightful music," said MSO Music Director and Conductor Elizabeth Schulze.

Eighteen-year-old Sandra Wolf-Meei Cameron will be the soloist for Mozart's Concerto No. 5 in A Major for Violin.

"Oh, I love it," Cameron said of the music she will perform in Hagerstown this weekend. Playing the "incredibly beautiful" piece a few weeks before her 19th birthday has special meaning for her. She noted that Mozart wrote it, the last of his five violin concertos, when he was 19.

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Perhaps the quintessential prodigy, Mozart learned to play the harpsichord at age 4, was composing music at 5 and performed for the Austrian empress at age 6.

"Sandy" Cameron was older - a 7-year-old when her mother presented her with a "special toy" - her first violin.

"I got so excited," she said in a phone interview from her Poolesville, Md., home last week.

Cameron's family is not musical, and she's not sure why the violin was chosen for her. Maybe it was a connection to her Korean grandfather, a poet who listens to violin music while he writes. She said she had been listening to music playing at her bedside every night since she was born.

The family - Cameron is an only child - was living in Germany, where her father, then in the military, was stationed. It took a while to find a teacher who spoke English, Cameron said. She was 8 when she began her violin studies.

Cameron finished fourth grade in Germany, and the family returned to the United States, living for nine months with a relative on Long Island, N.Y. "I didn't have a violin when I came back," Cameron said. A $65 instrument was found, and the girl played.

Apparently, her talent was apparent. Cameron's aunt realized her niece was interested in music and suggested that she audition for a precollege program at The Juilliard School, a leading school for the performing arts in New York.

"At the time, I had no idea what it was," Cameron said, but two months before her tryout, a teacher was found to help her prepare.

Cameron was accepted, and, at age 10, she had a "big decision" to make.

Her family had moved to Maryland, and studying at Juilliard meant traveling to New York every weekend. That's a huge commitment for a child and her parents.

Cameron said yes to Juilliard and to a future in music.

Schulze called Cameron an extremely gifted young performer and has called her talents "prodigious." Such young players have an extraordinary ability to focus, to discipline early, to understand the music, to be still enough to find their own voice, Schulze said.

Cameron is humble and matter-of-fact about her talent and choices.

The prodigy label "grows old and doesn't really fit" as a young musician matures, she said. So much discipline and effort are required.

Physically, Cameron practices three to four hours every day, but she devotes more time to music. She listens to recordings and researches music and composers. She's also taken courses in composition and conducting.

"When I started, it was a hobby," Cameron said. It was during her European debut, playing a Mendelssohn concerto with the State Orchestra in the Netherlands, that she decided - at age 12 - to pursue a professional career.

"I realized how much fun it was to be doing that. I just fell in love with it all over again."

Cameron made her American orchestral debut in 1999, and the next year, at 14, she was chosen as the youngest winner of the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra's outstanding student prize. While in Salzburg, Austria - Mozart's birthplace - she played for Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who invited her to play with him the following year in St. Petersburg, Russia, and again at the Salzburg Festival.

Cameron's focus on her violin hasn't permitted much time for involvement in typical extracurricular activities at Poolesville High School, but she said she likes to share her music with people at her school.

She recently did that at a benefit for her graduating class, composing music based on a mood from Isabel Allende's novel "The House of the Spirits." She performed on solo violin, and an actress spoke passages from the book. She enjoys writing and said she's finding a lot of connections in composition.

Cameron's focus has been her instrument and classical music, but she said she has a growing interest in other music.

A 2005 winner in the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts' Arts Recognition and Talent Search, Cameron recently participated in a weeklong program of master classes, performances and exhibitions in Miami.

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