Violinist Anna Lee has been performing before the public since she was a little girl, been on the cover of Wall Street Journal Magazine, and last year at 16 made her New York Philharmonic debut, but don’t call her a prodigy.
“It feels weird,” Lee said from New York City where she lives with her parents. “I can’t gauge myself that way.”
She will debut on Sunday at the Massry Center for the Arts at The College of Saint Rose as part of the Renaissance Musical Arts series in a program of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sarasate.
Even when she was a little girl, she never perceived herself as other than the age she was at the time, although what came out of her violin sounded so much more mature.
“I don’t switch personalities on or off the stage,” she said. “I know instinctively what to do onstage — it’s almost a bigger personality.”
Violinist Anna Lee
WHERE: Massry Center for the Arts, The College of Saint Rose, 1002 Madison Ave., Albany
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 337-487, www.strose.edu/concerts
That knowledge has been there since she debuted at age five and a half in the Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Her career has been going gangbusters ever since.
“I’m blessed to perform so much,” she said. “Many don’t have those opportunities.”
She credits Alexander Souptel, the concertmaster of the Singapore orchestra, with getting it all started. Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, but her parents moved to Singapore when she was four. That’s when she began violin lessons with Souptel. After a few years during which she had won a competition, soloed with the orchestra and appeared on various interview shows, Souptel told her parents she needed more than what was available in Singapore.
“There was no Singapore conservatory,” Lee said. “He said I needed not just to play the notes but to understand the music. And for that I needed to go to a school. He applied to Juilliard.”
At age 6, Lee was accepted into the preschool division and the next year the family moved to New York City, where her father found a job.
“Without my gifts, our family would have stayed in Singapore,” she said. “It’s been pretty crazy.”
Lee said it was too long ago for her to remember the adjustments she and the family had to make, or how hard things might have been for her parents in a new country. But the teacher she was given to work with at Juilliard, Masao Kawasaki, still teaches her.
“It’s fantastic to be with the same teacher all these years. He’s played a big role,” Lee said. “As I’ve matured musically, he’s introduced me to other musical opportunities and musicians.”
Some of those opportunities include performing recitals on many of the New York City stages, competing and winning various competitions, being featured on the National Public Radio classical music show that features young musicians “From the Top” (2007) with Christopher O’Reilly, doing master classes with some of the world’s great violinists, such as Ida Kavafian, Robert McDuffie and Elmar Oliveira, and appearing as soloist with several local orchestras.
Most memorable was last summer’s Chamber Music Connects the World festival in Germany where she worked with such stars as violinist Christian Tetzlaff and cellist Steven Isserlis.
“It was 10 packed days with mentors who were amazing,” Lee said. “It was very exciting, especially since we had most meals with them and got to know them as human beings or watched football on television together and to see how music was integral in their lives.”
Lee, now 17, has several goals she’d like to meet in the next few years. The main one is to win a big international competition, which she hopes will eventually lead to signing with a management company.
“A competition is a good idea. It forces me to learn new repertoire and learn how to juggle programs and schedules. I’d meet people, peers and form relationships,” she said. “There’s no one good way to having a career. Some do better with competitions than others.”
But Lee knows she needs balance in her life. High school takes up at least eight hours of her day, and besides practicing, she likes to dance, draw, cook and sing.
“If I had the personality to be a singer, that’s what I’d do,” she said laughing. “I love singers. I can listen to Renée Fleming all day, and I love the men — Placido [Domingo] and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.”
For the past five years, Lee has been studying conducting and made her debut with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra in 2010, when she acted as violinist/conductor in Mozart’s G Major Violin Concerto. That came about because Peoria’s music director, George Stelluto, is a resident conductor at Juilliard.
“I hesitated and wondered if I had the gumption, but he said to go ahead,” she said.
Lee said she loved the experience but violin is still the focus, especially now that she’s traveling to Europe to concertize a lot. It helps that she speaks French and is learning German, she said.
As for the program on Sunday, Lee said Brahms’ Sonata in D minor is beautiful and she wanted to contrast that with the third movement from his D Major concerto; Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade Melancolique” is a piece she’s played often and is great to have in her arsenal; and Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy” is a showpiece and a request from Dr. Richard Balsam, founder of the series. This will be Lee’s third or fourth appearance in the series.
Robert Koenig of Santa Barbara will be her pianist.
“We played together at a Cornell Hospital benefit for animals and he’s really fantastic and fun,” Lee said.