Alumni Spotlight: Immanuel Abraham, ‘09

Immanuel Abraham headshot
Violinist and composer Immanuel Abraham is a 2009 graduate of CYSO

As part of our 75th Anniversary celebrations this season, we are catching up with CYSO alumni who are making an impact both on and off the stage. Today’s alumni spotlight is violinist, composer, and educator Immanuel Abraham, ’09.

Immanuel was a member of CYSO for four seasons, graduating in 2009. He went on to attend the University of Michigan where he received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Violin Performance and earned his Doctorate at the University of Arizona. Since then, Immanuel has become an in-demand performer, giving recitals and presentations around the world. He writes about music and has composed works for solo violin and chamber ensembles. Immanuel is also the founder and director of The Violin Guild online community of string players which hosts over 41,000 members.

We sat down with Immanuel to discuss his fascinating career and the role that CYSO played in his early musical career.

How did you learn about CYSO?

I was concertmaster of an advanced youth symphony down the street. Many of their most-experienced students, including my girlfriend, were simultaneous CYSO members. I first heard about CYSO from them.

Young Immanuel Abraham playing violin
Immanuel Abraham as a high schooler in CYSO

How did it feel being told that you had started learning the violin “too late” for a performance career?

Being admitted into CYSO was a pivotal event for me. Physical and psychological abuse in my school and neighborhood left me feeling insignificant, unheard, and afraid to speak. When I started music studies at age 14, the violin became my voice. The more I practiced, the less afraid I was to speak through it. Becoming a CYSO first violin told me it was not “too late”. After joining, I pushed myself more. When college auditions came two years later (Oberlin, University of Michigan, Northwestern, etc.) I had no rejections. Large credit is due to the encouragement I received from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras community.

Your doctorate in Violin Performance focused on a “compositional approach.” Can you tell us more about that?

The compositional approach is a method for interpreting Western Classical solo repertoire. Despite being in use for over two centuries, it remained objectively unrecognized. I formally identified this approach, presented it for peer review, and gave it the name, “Compositional Approach.”

These are its seven fundamental tenets:

  1. The composition unconditionally remains on the original, modern, or modified version of the original instrument.
  2. The performer should add notation and extra-notational directives to the score, following the compositional character, form, and prominent devices of the original work.
  3. Omission of any original notation, except by way of transposition or ornamentation under the above parameters, is avoided.
  4. Changes should always further expose or intensify musical devices of the original composer.
  5. Changes may also subjectively translate hypothesized experiences of the original era to aesthetic standards of its arrangers’ era.
  6. Extensive repurposing of original material added from elsewhere within the work is encouraged.
  7. The compositional approach aims to complement, never to supplement, the preexisting music.
Immanuel Abraham holds his book, 24 Caprices

What about it is unique?

The above tenants define the Compositional Approach, and differentiate it from many other types of arranging. All interpretations using the compositional approach are arrangements, but all arrangements are not the compositional approach.

As we celebrate our 75th Anniversary, what do you want current and aspiring CYSO members to know?

I would like to encourage everyone, especially those considering music in college, to follow their passion. Despite being told repeatedly that I couldn’t begin as a teenager, today I have completed a doctorate in violin performance, written books on interpretation, had my chamber music and solo violin caprices performed all over the country, and have performed all over the world myself.

Music gave me a voice as a child, dissolved my fears of interaction growing up, and opened the world to me as an adult. CYSO played a significant role as a vehicle for my growth and discoveries, far beyond the music. It can do the same, and more, for any current or aspiring CYSO member.

For you, was music a way of being in touch with your inner self or connecting with others?

If others will never hear who we really are, we must listen to ourselves. Music gave me a voice to hear myself for the first time, so I learned to speak music, and used that language to connect with others.

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