Interview with Violinist Njioma Grevious, Winner of the 2023 Sphinx Competition

June 29, 2023, 4:05 PM · The 2023 Sphinx Competition was particularly meaningful to violinist Njioma Grevious for many reasons - not only because she won first prize. In addition to being Grevious’ first time participating, her violin story came full circle during that weekend as Mariana Green-Hill, one of her first childhood teachers in Boston, was playing in the violin section of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra.

"My overarching goal was to make it to the finals because that would give me the opportunity to play with orchestra," Grevious said. "The opportunity was even more special because Ms. Green-Hill has been a member of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra from the beginning, and another mentor, Jason Amos (violist and Project STEP teaching artist), was in the audience during competition. There were also other mentors and musicians there that I’ve looked up to over the years!"

At this point, Grevious is definitely reaching incredible heights. Winner of first prizes for performance and interpretation in the 2018 Prix Ravel in Fontainebleau, France and the Music Academy of the West’s Keston-Max Fellowship to study and perform with the London Symphony Orchestra in November 2022, Grevious’ 2022-2023 season has included winning both the Robert Frederick Smith Prize and the Audience Choice Awards in the Senior Division of the 2023 Sphinx Competition and, most recently, being chosen as one of the Grand Prize winners of the 2023 Concert Artists Guild (CAG) Elmaleh Competition.

"For me, being a soloist is very similar to playing chamber music. Through really knowing the score, it is much easier to experience a feeling of oneness with the conductor and orchestra," Grevious said shortly after the Sphinx Competition, for which she performed Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto in G minor. "The Coleridge-Taylor Concerto is filled with many moments of interplay between soloist and orchestra, including some incredible moments between the solo violin and the timpani. Conductor Kalena Bovell was the perfect collaborative partner. I truly loved working with her and playing with everyone in the orchestra."

Kalena Bovell shared that "working with Njioma was an absolute pleasure. She is a true musician and artist whose love for the violin was evident from our first meeting. What I loved about our time together was the amount of thought that went into every note and phrase of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto in G minor. Because she knew what she wanted, she was able to produce various sounds and colors to match the sonic world she envisioned for the piece."

Grevious studied with Green-Hill through Project STEP (String Training Education Program), the Boston-based program that provides comprehensive high-quality long-term training, support services, and scholarships intended specifically for children from backgrounds underrepresented in classical music for up to twelve years.

"Ms. Green-Hill is such an amazing pedagogue and so caring, and I knew that I wanted to emulate those qualities as a musician," Grevious said. She did follow in Ms. Green-Hill’s footsteps in many ways, first attending Juilliard and later becoming a Sphinx laureate. The duo recently performed together during Project STEP's 40th Anniversary Concert and Celebration, which took place at Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Parallels between Green-Hill and Grevious include their deep involvement in chamber music performance. As Green-Hill was one of the founding members of the Young Eight Octet, Njioma is a founding member of the award-winning Abeo Quartet. Formed in 2018 at The Juilliard School, Abeo was the inaugural fellowship string quartet at the University of Delaware, studying with the Calidore String Quartet. Abeo's accomplishments include third prize at the Bad Tölz International String Quartet Competition, First Prize and Audience Favorite Prize in the 2022 Yellow Springs Chamber Music Competition for Emerging Professional Ensembles and, most recently, being named one of the winners of the 2023 Concert Artists Guild Competition.

Grevious, who later studied at Project STEP with the late James Buswell, then Ronald Copes at Juilliard and most recently with Ryan Meehan of the Calidore, possesses a deep understanding of the level of preparation and communication necessary to create a spectacular performance. Score study, concert attendance, and listening to great artists’ recordings are vital to a musician’s education.

Those things became a priority in Grevious’ life at an early age. "My mother instilled in me the value of all of this," Grevious said. "She played viola for a short time in middle school and loves everything from Bach Cantatas and solo sonatas to The Modern Jazz Quartet and P-Funk."

Grevious’ artistic excellence is balanced by a spirit of gratitude for opportunities. Over the next few years, quartet and solo appearances will include national and international concert stages. This summer, Abeo was a Sphinx Shouse Institute Fellow at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival before heading to Australia for the Melbourne String Quartet Competition. Grevious returns to the UK in July, this time with the Sphinx Virtuosi for their joint debut at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall during Britten Pears Arts.

Through and with all of this, Grevious’ early training and mentoring has resulted in her being fully equipped with the understanding and acceptance of the tremendous level of organization required to perform on the international stage. "Balancing all of my activities — academics, practice, rehearsals, quartet performances, solo opportunities and everything between — is a really fun jigsaw puzzle," she said. "And it’s been that way since I can remember."

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July 3, 2023 at 08:03 PM · Samuel, Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful artist!

July 6, 2023 at 08:00 PM · Diana, I used to live in East Tennessee. Based on your bio data, Tennessee is fortunate to have you. . . In seeing Njioma Grevious play with the Abeo Quartet at Banff last year, we immediately appreciated her remarkable artistic maturity and the easy fluidity of her technique. I am now among her followers and enthusiasts.

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