While most fans of Music Niagara will eagerly anticipate the return of 20-year-old violin virtuoso Emma Meinrenken to its At Home series Sept. 13, a dozen supporters had the chance to welcome her in person.
Meinrenken kicked off the 2020 online concert series, a celebration of 250 years of Beethoven, on July 26 with a concert from her Toronto home. This past Monday she returned to NOTL to record a program at Pondview Estates Winery. Accompanied by Atis Bankas and Jonathan Tortolano of Music Niagara, along with Tanya Charles-Iveniuk, Theresa Rudolph, and Theodore Chan from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, she performed Romance No. 1 and No. 2 by Beethoven and Schubert’s Rondo. Sponsors of the 2020 series were in attendance to enjoy the music on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.
Of the program, Meinrenken said, “they’re very special pieces to me. I learned them quite a few years ago and they always reappear in my life at very different points. Right now it’s really special for me to play something so beautiful at a time when it’s so stressful.”
She was referring, of course, to COVID-19, which has forced her studies as the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation Annual Fellow at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to move to an online format since March 13.
“I came home for March Break and I haven’t been able to get back,” she laments. “I still have all my clothes there, all my music there, I have an apartment there. It’s a little bit sad, but I’d much rather be in Canada.” Her upcoming fall semester will also be conducted remotely.
An alumnus of the Music Niagara Performance Academy, Emma has won top awards at numerous competitions, including first place at the Stradivarius International Violin Competition, the Jury Prize at the Jascha Heifetz International Violin Competition, the silver medal at the Stulberg International String Competition, and grand prizes at both the 2012 Canadian Music Competition and the 2013 FCMS National Competition. She was also a semi-finalist at the last Fritz Kreisler International Violin Competition.
Emma debuted with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the age of 10, and has since performed with many other orchestras, including the Utah Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal.
Meinrenken played the selections, which were all composed in the early 1800s, on a 331-year old violin on loan from the Canada Council. Known as the Buamgartner Stradivarius, the instrument was most recently owned by Robert Masters, the concertmaster of the Bath Festival Orchestra in England during Yehudi Menuhin’s tenure as conductor. Its value is estimated at $6 million.
“It’s a great honour,” says Meinrenken about the Stradivarius. “It’s really exciting to get to know it, so to speak. With older instruments, they always seem to have their own personalities. I always have a lot of fun getting to know them. Sometimes they fight against me for a little while, but it’s like taming a lion, or even a house cat. They usually calm down eventually and let you in.”
Knowing the value of and story behind the Stradivarius doesn’t phase the young musician. “When you start to think of the history, the price, the prestige,” she says “it messes with your mind sometimes. I’ve always played on very good instruments, and I’ve always found it’s almost better to pick it up and not be too worried about it all the time. The more worried you are about dropping it or losing it the more anxiety surrounds it, and you end up actually doing those things. Whereas if you treat it like a friend, you won’t forget your friend.”
Meinrenken played that “friend” beautifully and confidently at Pondview. It’s a delight to experience such a young violinist mastering her craft, while accompanied by accomplished professional musicians in a beautiful setting.
Bankas, Music Niagara founder and artistic director, says, “It’s always a joy having Emma back. We’ve had many, many evenings of pleasure listening to Emma as she was growing up.”
Bankas is impressed with Meinrenken’s maturity and growth as a musician. “Of course, she’s well-equipped already technically, but her musical maturity is definitely coming to fruition and is very noticeable. It’s a pleasure for me as a teacher to have my students perform, and I’m happy to support her as an ensemble member.”
The second half of Monday’s concert featured members of the Toronto Symphony performing the rarely heard Beethoven’s Septet Op. 20. The entire program was recorded by Niagara College’s broadcasting team, and will debut on the Music Niagara website on Sept. 13.
This Sunday at 4 p.m., Music Niagara’s At Home series continues with the Kyiv Trio. Visit musicniagara.org for details on all upcoming shows.