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Joy in the music

October 12, 2006|by KATE COLEMAN

This weekend Elizabeth Schulze and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra will present the first MasterWorks concert of their 25th season, which the MSO has dubbed "a season to celebrate."

Appropriately, the program will open with Dmitri Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" - a work Schulze called a virtuosic piece for orchestra and a total delight.

"It's just a great way to say this is an important occasion," said Schulze, MSO conductor and music director.

Returning to The Maryland Theatre stage is 28-year-old violinist Nicolas Kendall, who entertained MSO audiences in 2004.

Schulze, who also worked with a teenage Kendall when he performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, said he is one of her favorite artists to work with.

That's because of his spirit.

"He is having so much fun," she said. "There's something about him that makes us all want to play the best we can possibly play - to play with joy."

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Kendall's spirit was evident in a recent phone interview from Reading, Pa., where he was preparing to perform the Sibelius concerto with the Reading Symphony Orchestra last weekend. He was articulate and playful and passionate about music - all kinds of music.

The Silver Spring, Md., native grew up in a musical family. His father is a violinist, and his father's father, John Kendall, who pioneered the Suzuki Method in the U.S., gave his grandson Nick a violin when he was 3.

A self-described "handful," the 3-year-old was asked by his teacher to come back to violin lessons when he had sufficiently settled down. He restarted his training at the ripe old age of 3 1/2.

Kendall learned to play violin in the Suzuki Method. He said he values the approach because of founder Shinichi Suzuki's philosophy: Children learn by listening to the music - just as they learn to speak by hearing their "mother tongue." Musical symbols come later. Parents learn the instrument along with their children.

Kendall's mother, who is Japanese, plays the koto (a Japanese harp) but learned to play violin as her son learned. In the Suzuki Method, lessons are reinforced by parent-child practice, and a bond is created in the music.

It was not family pressure that drew Kendall to his choice of career.

"I was always influenced by music," he said. He recalled being intrigued by traditional taiko drumming on his first trip to Japan at age 2. He later had drum bands and played on the streets of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

Success as a violinist came early to Kendall. He was 15 when he debuted as a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington. At 17 he won that orchestra's Young Artist Competition. In 2000, he was a winner of Astral Artistic Services' National Auditions. He won first prize in 2002 during the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, which led to his appearance as part of Young Concert Artists' Carnegie Hall concert series.

Kendall graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 2001. He maintains connections with his alma mater through the Dryden String Quartet, which is comprised of his sister and current Curtis student Yumi Kendall, and fellow alumni - cousin Daniel Foster and longtime family friend Nurit Bar-Josef, both of whom hold leadership positions with the National Symphony Orchestra. They play in honor of his grandfather, Kendall said.

There also is a Curtis connection in Time for Three, the trio that began for fun when Kendall and his schoolmates - violinist Zachary DePue and bassist Ranaan Meyer - combined their love of country-western fiddling, jazz and improvisation.

The result - known as TF3 - is an innovative ensemble that will occupy much of Kendall's time and energy for the next several months. Kendall's performances with the MSO will be his last in the "classical" mode until November 2008.

The trio has two recordings; they reflect the eclectic nature of the players' interests and talents. Tracks include a heartbreaking rendition of "Shenandoah," Johannes Brahms and Johann Sebastian Bach cuts, a lively gypsy melody and bluegrass's "Orange Blossom Special" - downloads of which can be heard at www.tf3music.com.

Kendall acknowledged that breaking out of the classical genre is a challenge, but sees no difference in playing in other musical categories.

"It's about making good music," he said.

Schulze is impressed.

"I think very highly of his ability to cross all the boundaries that we've set up about music - they're false boundaries, but are boundaries nonetheless. And he's really managed to cross them, break them down, speak in many, many musical languages - which is great," Schulze said. She added she hopes the MSO can invite Time for Three to perform with the orchestra sometime.

Kendall remembers the enthusiastic response of The Maryland Theatre audience when he performed with the MSO in March 2004.

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