As we gear up for Symphony Orchestra’s spring concert at Orchestra Hall this Sunday, May 21, Social Media Team member Abigail AuYeung sat down with concert soloist Henry Auxenfans. Henry was the winner of Symphony Orchestra’s 2022 Concerto Competition and will perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Henry and Abigail talk about Henry’s violin upbringing, hobbies outside of music, practice strategies, and more! Read on for the full interview.
How long have you been playing the violin for and what keeps you motivated to continue to work hard?
I’ve been playing the violin since I was four and a half, so for about eleven years. Something that keeps motivating me to play is that there is so much repertoire to learn, both contemporary music, which I love playing, and also classical and more romantic music. I want to learn all of the repertoire because I just love learning new pieces. I strive to play at the highest level and really try to bring out the best in each piece, so that’s what keeps me motivated.
Do you have any favorite pieces that you’ve learned or want to learn?
For favorite pieces that I’ve learned, I would say in addition to the Tchaikovsky concerto, there was a piece that I played about a year ago written by Ysaÿe called Caprice in the Form of a Waltz (Caprice d’après L’Etude en Forme de Valse). That was really fun—it’s like a really fun showpiece! In the future, I would really want to play the Franck Violin Sonata and the Brahms Violin Concerto.
What’s your favorite part about playing the violin, and do you have any fun past experiences you’d like to share on the instrument?
I think my favorite part about playing the violin is that you can express emotions and feelings through music that you can’t express in words, and I think that’s really, really cool. Also, there are a lot of cool bow techniques that are specific to the violin, like spiccato, harmonics, and fingered octaves, and so I think that’s something that makes playing the violin very special because there’s a bunch of techniques you can experiment with.
I think one of my favorite past experiences was last year when I won the US Marine Band Concerto Competition in Washington DC, and I got to play with the US Marine Chamber Orchestra. It was such an honor to get to play with the orchestra, and everyone —all the musicians in the orchestra, and the conductor—were all very supportive and encouraging. They were all very professional. It was such an honor to be able to work with them, and to be able to play with the nation’s oldest orchestra institution. I will cherish that, I think, for the rest of my life.
Have any particular teachers inspired you?
I’ve been influenced by a lot of different teachers throughout my life, but I think the one that influences me a lot is my current teacher, Frank Almond. He lets me express my own individuality and artistic freedom when I play. He also really helps me understand the architecture and the structure of the piece [in regards to things like] phrasing, where to take time, where not to take time. He’s helpful to think about the big picture of the piece.
Outside of music and school, what are some of your hobbies?
I really enjoy soccer and tennis. Recently I got into Formula 1 racing. It’s something that my brother got me into like two years ago and I really enjoy waking up every Sunday morning to watch races with him.
What have been some of your favorite CYSO moments?
I think my favorite part about CYSO is that it’s such a special community. I’ve been a part of CYSO for 8 years and I’ve made so many friends. It feels like my second home. Every weekend I look forward to get to playing music with such an amazing group of musicians.
One of my favorite experiences with CYSO was when I played the Scene de Ballet (by de Bériot) when I was ten, and I won the Concert Orchestra Concerto Competition. It was the first time I’ve ever played with orchestra and it was such an exciting experience. It was conducted by the great Michael Mascari.
How are you preparing for the Spring concert? Is it any different from how you prepared for something like, say, the Marine Bands experience or that CYSO Concert Orchestra performance?
No, I don’t really think so. I really just try to give every performance that I prepare for 100%. I played this piece [Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major] with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago in January, but I think that I’m finding new stuff every time I play this piece. Everyday I play it, I find new ways to interpret certain sections.
What’s your favorite part about playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto?
My favorite part is that there are a lot of different elements of the piece. I think that it’s a great romantic masterpiece, in that what is really important is that you tell the story of Tchaikovsky’s message. So this piece has not only virtuosic and firework-like elements, such as double stops and fast notes, but what I really like about it is that the soloist can also really calm down and breathe and sing out these melodies that Tchaikovsky is so famous for. I really love how this piece is structured like a great story, like a fairytale.
What was your process of making it clean and solidifying your interpretation of the piece?
So I guess in terms of making it sort of clean, I don’t know if it’s perfect—it’s definitely not, nowhere near perfectly clean yet at all—but I try to practice slowly. I don’t run through it everyday, I just try to practice certain sections that I’m having trouble with, and that’s how I try to get it clean with the metronome. I do a lot of experimentation in my practice, so I think that’s kind of what lead me to these organic tempo changes. For example, I thought it would be nice to really get to breathe in certain sections and sing out certain melodies, because a lot of parts are just only virtuosic. I think that it’s really nice to slow down to tell the story as opposed to playing fast the whole time.
How do you balance everything in your life?
I try to create a schedule in my day and prioritize what’s important. I usually split up my practice into sections into smaller chunks. I don’t practice two-and-a-half hours at a time, otherwise I’d be really tired. I think just creating a schedule for myself and just being efficient with my time.
Do you have any other advice for musicians or anything else that you wanted to say that we didn’t cover?
I think that some useful advice is to not just play through your repertoire. Split it up into sections and practice slowly. It’s something that I’m trying to improve on, because I think that it really helps you listen to the small details and nuances in the piece, rather than kind of just like superficially playing. Practicing slowly and practicing sections at a time is really rewarding.
Also, every time I practice I try to play at least one thing that I really enjoy. It’s really fulfilling and something that makes practice more enjoyable. Practice can be something really dry and boring—like you’re sitting in a small room by yourself—but practicing something you enjoy is more fulfilling.
Be sure to catch Henry’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto at our Spring Orchestra Hall concert on May 21. Get your tickets today!
ABOUT ABIGAIL AUYEUNG & SHIRLEY XIONG
Abigail AuYeung is currently a cellist in CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra and a sophomore at Hinsdale Central. In her free time, she enjoys falling down classical music rabbit holes, reading, obsessing over her friend’s cats, and baking.
Shirley Xiong is a cellist in Symphony Orchestra. Although loving cello, she is (a bit) more of a piano enthusiast. She is currently a senior at New Trier High School. Some of her hobbies include collecting stuffed toys, using Photoshop, and baking.