Sophia’s stellar strings: Island musician sets sights on New York’s Juilliard School

Sophia Stoyanovich, 18, a 2014 Bainbridge High School graduate, will attend the Juilliard School in New York this fall to study music.   - Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review
Sophia Stoyanovich, 18, a 2014 Bainbridge High School graduate, will attend the Juilliard School in New York this fall to study music.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

Sophia Stoyanovich began studying the violin seriously when she was 6, and to hear her tell it, that was actually a late start.

That may technically be true, but whatever ground she believes that she lost in starting her musical career at the ripe old age of a first-grader, Stoyanovich has apparently more than made it up as the 18 year old recent Bainbridge High School graduate prepares to travel to New York and begin studying music at the Juilliard School this fall.

Stoyanovich — who received a resounding standing ovation at her most recent public performance, at the Bainbridge High graduation ceremony earlier this month — will perform a special free concert event at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 29 at Saint Cecilia Church. At St. Cecilia, she will present a variety of pieces including “Schon Rosmarin” by Fritz Kreisler, “Romance for Violin and Piano” by Patrick Stoyanovich, “Souvenir D’Amerique Variations Burlesques” by Henri Vieuxtemps and “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin, among others.

Doors open at 2:30 p.m. and there is a suggested donation of $5 per person.

Stoyanovich has already been hailed by the Seattle Times as “a spectacular young violinist,” and has appeared as a soloist with a number of orchestras including the Bremerton, Bainbridge, Butte Thalia and Rainier symphonies.

A rising star

She was the winner of the 2010 Seattle Symphony Young Artists Auditions and the 2012 Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition.

Last summer,  Stoyanovich served as the assistant concertmaster during the inaugural international tour of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States. This summer, she will again join the orchestra for another national tour including stops at Carnegie Hall, the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts in North Carolina, the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

A skill set of such caliber, of course, does not premiere fully formed and Stoyanovich credits her own success with the support of her parents ­— both of them musically talented as well — and the flexible and personalized schedule provided her by the Bainbridge Island School District.

Though she’s already an accomplished musician and distinguished graduate academically (a Presidential Scholar and National Honors student), don’t ask Stoyanovich for a ride to the airport because, like so many great craftsmen, she said she has chosen to forgo some experiences — including learning to drive — in order to have more time to dedicate to furthering her playing ability. During a typical week while in school, she’ll practice for at least six hours at least five days a week, and usually more than that. During the school year,  Stoyanovich would typically wake up by 6 a.m. at the latest, she said, in order to get in some practice before school, then leave early so as to get home and practice more.

She allotted the extra time in her schedule, she said, by completing classes in the summer and online ahead of schedule.

“I had a special schedule, which was really, really nice of Bainbridge High School,” she said. “I organized my credits so that I could take an arts credit and count it as my practice [and] I took some classes online and then I did some summer stuff, so fortunately I only had to take four classes during the real school year instead of six.”

Practice, practice

It is a routine, she said, most of her friends find difficult to fathom.

“They know I practice a lot, they know it’s kind of a crazy amount,” she laughed. “But I don’t think they can comprehend doing it themselves.”

Having graduated now, Stoyanovich said her schedule is technically more free, though she is practicing more than ever to get ready for Juilliard.

“I’m super excited,” she said about starting classes. “My sister goes to Cooper Union [School of Art] as a photographer, so she’s in the East Village and I’ll be up in the west side of town, so that’ll be good.”

Stoyanovich is the student of renowned music instructor Li Lin. She has commuted to San Francisco, California twice a month for the past several years to take lessons from Lin, who will also make his debut at the Juilliard School this fall as an instructor.

“I was really dedicated to him,” Stoyanovich said of her teacher. “Then I found out that he was hired at the Juilliard School to start in the fall of 2014, which so conveniently would happen to be my freshman year if I would happen to go there.”

With the encouragement of her instructor, Stoyanovich applied to the prestigious college, but even knowing a member of the faculty got her no breaks in the rigorous admission process, she said.

“I also had to apply to some other schools; there are some fantastic violin teachers at other schools,” she said. “I wanted to go to other schools to meet these great pedagogues, and also applying to one school  would be really weird.

“So, although [Juilliard] was like the end goal, it was [so] only because the teacher Li Lin happened to be hired there. Before that I had no idea where I wanted to go to school,” she said.

More than a place

Stoyanovich said that in the world of professional violinists, contrary to what most may think, the teacher one studies under is far more important than the actual institution where they study.

“I’m very proud to say that I’m going to the Juilliard School, but it’s more [that] I’m proud to say that I’m going to be in Li Lin’s studio at the Juilliard School,” she explained. “The name is very famous, but it’s more the teacher which I’m proud of. The Juilliard School, in the violin world, is a very incredibly great school, but being in the studio — as a violinist — that’s what matters. People are like, ‘Oh, you’re in that studio’ or ‘You’re in that studio,’ It doesn’t really matter what school you’re at.”

Though her schedule has been frantic at times, with demands that many teenagers would find overwhelming, Stoyanovich said that she has no regrets — except maybe not doing more.

“Most of my [personal] interactions happened at school,” she said recently. “Sunday, I’m usually so tired I just sit around. I do practice on Sundays, too, but usually less, only four or three hours. My friends are sort of fit in when I can.”

“In the past, getting ready for college has been such an intense time and I was so busy that I didn’t have a lot of sleepovers or hanging around and not doing much because it’s such a critical amount of time,” she added. “I couldn’t morally allow myself to waste time.”

An individual thing

Discussing the types of music her peers enjoy, Stoyanovich said she doesn’t mind pop music and disagrees with the oft-repeated generality that younger people don’t appreciate classical music.

“I’m sort of a firm believer that for something to be appreciated it doesn’t have to be appreciated by an entire country,” she said. “So, although classical music, some say it’s dying and we need to make sure it’s brought out to the younger generation, it’s like, ‘Why do we need to force liking something onto people?’ The fact that not everyone likes it, shows that it’s like an individual thing and it’s a different kind of mind that’s attracted to classical music.

“We don’t need to force everyone to like classical music because then it shows the people who do like it are purely liking it because they’re interested in it.

“I don’t believe that classical music is going to die any time soon,” she added.

In concert

What: Sophia Stoyanovich violin concert performance.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, June 29.

Where: Saint Cecilia Church (1310 Madison Ave. North).

Admission: Free ($5 suggested donation).

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