Acclaimed violinist to perform with University Symphony Orchestra

Violinist Elena Urioste will join the University Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, March 5 to perform an ambitious concert program that includes Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor. Urioste will play the Russian composer’s lesser–known piece, a welcome challenge for the 25–year–old virtuoso who made her debut at age 13.

“The [concerto] has its own set of difficulties, but I’m excited about it. I’ve always dreamed of playing it,” said Urioste. Before she takes the Mandel Hall stage, it wouldn’t be surprising to find the young violinist eating a banana, an old practice she learned from her childhood violin teacher.

Because of the natural beta–blockers found in the fruit, many musicians eat bananas to calm pre–performance jitters. “[My teacher] would do this silly ritual. She would ‘bless’ the banana,” remembered Urioste. “I used to eat them before every performance.”

Over the years, that adds up to a lot of bananas. Since making her debut at 13 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Urioste has performed with many of the nation’s most renowned ensembles, including the Boston Pops, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the Cleveland Orchestra. In 2008, she was featured on the cover of Symphony magazine as a young artist to watch.

The Chicago Tribune praised her 2010 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for its “lyric sensitivity.” Chicago Sun–Times music critic Andrew Patner wrote, “If anyone has played solo pianissimos at Orchestra Hall with the hypnotic delicacy that Urioste offered, I must have been away. Let’s hear her again soon.”

In addition to the Shostakovich violin concerto, the USO will perform Symphony No. 22 in B Minor by Nicolai Myaskovsky, a prolific Soviet–era composer whose symphonies often explored nationalistic themes.

The concert is presented in collaboration with the Soviet Arts Experience, a 16–month effort at cultural institutions throughout the city to highlight art that was created in response to the political conditions of the Soviet Union.

Barbara Schubert, conductor of the University Symphony Orchestra, said she deliberately chose to showcase Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor alongside the work of a composer like Myaskovsky, who is largely unfamiliar to American audiences. “It should not just be all the war horses,” she said. “I wanted to move beyond the one piece everybody knows.”

“We are all looking forward to the challenge,” Schubert added.

Urioste is “the perfect soloist for our situation,” said Schubert. During her visit this week, Urioste has been meeting students here on campus and in the community. She presented a lunchtime talk and performance in Fulton Recital Hall, co–sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, a master class at the Merit School of Music and a master class for UChicago students.

Urioste, who is of Mexican–Basque heritage, has been active in the Sphinx Organization, which aims to build diversity in classical music. “I didn’t really think about the fact that I was a minority classical musician until I became affiliated with the Sphinx Organization. But I realized there was a whole network of black and Latino classical musicians, and I got excited about being a part of that,” she said. “I do feel a responsibility to play for kids in schools who might not otherwise get the chance to hear a violin. It’s fun being an ambassador.”

Elena Urioste performs with the University Symphony Orchestra at 8:00pm in Mandel Hall. Donations ($10 for adults, $5 for students and children under 12) are accepted at the door.