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Rising to Challenges: Violinist Evelyn Estava

Samuel Thompson

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Published: May 16, 2014 at 3:58 AM [UTC]

“A ship is safe in harbor,
but that's not what ships are for.”
-William Shedd

Evelyn Estava photo Evelyn_1791_zps0b6841cb.jpg

Through a life characterized by always venturing into “uncharted territory”, my friend and colleague Evelyn Estava has earned recognition as one of the top performing artists in her native Venezuela. She has made many guest soloist appearances with orchestras in North and South America, including the Mexico State Symphony, the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Falcón. Since coming to the United States in 1998, she has continued making great strides, including her 2005 Carnegie Hall debut under the auspices of the Artists International Foundation and performing throughout the United States with the Madison String Quartet.

In November of last year, I had the opportunity to sit down with Evelyn shortly after her first performance of Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto, and during that time she shared stories about the richness of musical life during her childhood in Venezuela and her seemingly uncanny way of encountering – and conquering – life-changing challenges.

“I truly believe in taking opportunities when you think you’re not ready,” she said. “When you take a challenge that is beyond you, you work harder, ” Evelyn said. This statement comes from having had tremendous musical and education experiences during her formative years.

“When I was a student in Venezuela, Margaret Pardee came to Venezuela to give master classes. We hit it off immediately and she did challenge me in her own particular way: after I played the Mozart A Major Concerto for her, she gave me the assignment of learning the Chausson Poème and performing it from memory within three weeks -and I did.”

Evelyn’s first encounter with Ms. Pardee resulted in a very long and fruitful relationship that included travel to the United States for continued study with Ms. Pardee at both Meadowmount and the Killington Music Festival. Ms. Estava’s business acumen also came to the fore after that initial encounter, and she started organizing things so that Ms. Pardee could return to Caracas on a periodic basis. “Ms. Pardee left a left a great legacy in Venezuela, and many people who now reside in the United States came from Venezuela to study with her.”

Indeed, musical life in Venezuela has been enriched by the great influx of artists and teachers who have visited the nation: one of the world’s cultural capitals in its heyday, many Americans now working in the United States did secure positions in Venezuelan orchestras. Furthermore, musical life for a student was incredibly fertile: During our conversation Evelyn recalled hearing Alicia de Larrocha, Shlomo Mintz, Vladimir Spivakov, and Henryk Szyerng, the latter who also presented Evelyn with a challenge.

“I first met Szeryng in 1988 – some months before he passed,” Evelyn said. “WHAT a character! He spoke seven languages - this was a man who would speak to us in perfect Mexican Spanish then talk to his manager in French. Again, during a master class and again featuring the Mozart A Major concerto, Szeryng pointed to me and asked me about a phrase – actually made me go to the score. He then made me sit in the audience and continued asking me questions about music!”

The wealth of musical experiences of her early life have undoubtedly fueled Ms. Estava’s wonderfully insatiable curiosity, a trait which has fueled both her philosophy of learning as well as many of her decisions, including the decision to come to the United States. Unlike many, however, Ms. Estava did not come to the United States with the intention of getting a university degree. “At one point I had a position as one of two assistant concertmasters of Orquesta Filharmónica Nacional de Venezuela. It was a very comfortable existence, but shortly after playing the Brahms concerto with that orchestra and encountering some very personal challenges, I decided that I had to measure myself against the best.”

That “measuring herself against the best” resulted in her move to the United States, which she referred to as easy – “I had been challenged to grow by so many people early on. While it did indeed take some time to get established here, I am so grateful to many people – especially to Ms. Pardee, who let me live with her until I was able to find my own apartment.”

This is not to say that the transition to life in another country was without its challenges: shortly after coming to the United States, Evelyn showed a great deal of humility and sought advice regarding her playing. “Because I was never in the academic confines, I was always very mindful of the traditions of performing. However, there was a time during which I felt that I was not improving, and I am so grateful to Joey Corpus for saving me – he got me out of that funk. He made me believe in myself by and telling me to be logical about things. He liberated my arm. Joey is such a wonderful teacher, person, and friend, and I STILL go to him. I remember being terrified of the Brahms Double, and he was so positive and encouraging!”

Hearing Evelyn play, one is immediately impressed both by her total command of the violin and her refreshing knowledge of and attention to musical structure. The many years of playing in the Simon Bolivar Orchestra as a student (“A complete orchestral program every WEEK! By the time I was 18 I knew so much repertoire!") and being a member of the Madison String Quartet have definitely shaped her musicmaking abilities. “Chamber music helps you be a better soloist, as you have to understand structure. It definitely makes you more aware of what’s going on around you – whatever it is that you want to do as a musician, you have to play chamber music.”

As Evelyn is a very busy woman – in addition to her work in the United States she often returns to Caracas to give master classes – I asked her how she managed her time. “Somebody once told me that the secret to doing many things is to have many things to do. I like to give myself deadlines, and as far as practicing, while I do not take my work casually, I practice when I have available time. While it is never always easy, we simply have to do what we can when we can.”

Reflecting on her own life, Evelyn shared a very valuable and, echoing Mr. Corpus, logical bit of advice. “For me – if I have any advice for anybody who’s trying to make their playing better: Just go play for people and hear what they have to say. I know that there are people who have gone on strict routes and done tremendous things, but my experience has been that I had to go through a process – and it’s that you have to want to learn more and get better.”

* * *

Evelyn Estava will appear as soloist in a performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the New Sussex Symphony on Saturday, May 17. This concert takes place at 4:00pm at Sparta High School, 70 West Mountain Road in Sparta, New Jersey. For more information on Evelyn Estava, please visit her Facebook Page and the Madison String Quartet website.

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