He stood center stage. His eyes were narrowed in concentration as his little fingers moved swiftly across the strings of the violin. The audience watched in awe as he flawlessly performed Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor. As he heard the audience applaud, his look of concentration relaxed into a beaming smile and he breathed a sigh of relief and satisfaction.
Martin Vaillancourt, 12, was chosen as the winner of the 2009 Stony Brook Pre-College Concerto Competition. As winner, he became the featured violin soloist to perform with the Stony Brook Orchestra at the Staller Center in a Children’s Concert titled “Orchestral Footsteps” on March 9th.
Stony Brook sponsors a Pre-College Music Program for student’s grades six through 12. It offers coaching and performance opportunities for young musicians who are already accomplished in their schools and looking for challenging experiences. Martin is the third member of his family to be enrolled in this program.
Michael Hershkowitz, director of Concerts and Community Education and Executive Director of the Stony Brook Community Music Program, chooses students from this program to compete in the Concerto Competition. “Martin is an extremely talented and mature musician for his age and he is a constant inspiration to me to keep my expectations high in the Community Music Program,” Hershkowitz said.
Susan Deaver, music director and conductor of the University Orchestra, was one of the three judges who chose Martin as the winner of this years competition in November 2009. The judges base their decision on musical abilities, interpretation of music and how well the student performs. They were confident that Martin would be an excellent performer and the best choice for the winner of the competition.
This is the tenth year the Stony Brook Orchestra has performed a Children’s Concert. Deaver came up with the theme for this year’s children’s concert, and previous concerts. “Each year I figure out a theme for the Children’s Concert to add a bit of energy and fun. One year I even had a magician join us,” Deaver said.
This year’s theme was all about shoes. Flyers stating, “Wear your favorite pair of shoes!” were scattered around the school and community. It was a one-hour interactive toe-tapping adventure that insisted the audience wear their favorite pair of tapping shoes.
Deaver interacted with the audience and before the concert began she asked, “Did you all bring your shoes?” The audience, filled with children, immediately began tapping their feet on the floor. The energy in the room was unreal.
Deaver introduced the orchestra and conducted them in four pieces before introducing Martin Vaillancourt.
“He seemed to thoroughly enjoy his interaction with me as a conductor and with the chamber orchestra that performed the Vivaldi Concerto with him,” said Deaver of her experience with Martin.
The chamber orchestra, dressed all in black, was sitting around Martin who stood center stage in his tuxedo and shiny patent-leather shoes. He looked a little nervous, but as he began to play his violin, his facial expression changed from nervous to focused.
He performed the concerto flawlessly from memory.
After his solo, he left the stage along with the rest of the chamber orchestra. Minutes later, they all came back wearing crazy shoes. Students wearing neon yellow soccer cleats and diamond-studded stilettos clomped onto the stage and took their places for the next performance. Even Deaver changed into a pair of bright red flats.
Martin came out wearing fluffy slippers and performed “Fiddle Faddle,” with Erin Slaver, concertmistress, and Julian Touafek. All three fiddlers enjoyed performing this fast paced, toe-tapping song.
While watching Martin perform, his mom, Susan Vaillancourt said, “It was glorious, though very, very stressful.” According to Vaillancourt, the previous rehearsals had not gone as well as planned. It was almost as if he knew the piece too well.
She saw Martin backstage before the concert and was aware of how nervous he was. It was hard for her to relax and enjoy until he passed the last hard part of the piece.
While extremely talented, Martin is still like any other sixth grade boy. He lives with his parents and three older sisters in East Setauket, Long Island, where he studies violin with Song-A Cho. He plays in the Setauket Elementary School Orchestra and has been playing violin and fiddle since he was five years old.
Martin’s three older sisters are all talented musicians as well. Eva (cello), Veronica (piano and guitar) and Madeleine (violin) are the reason Martin is so inspired. His oldest sister Eva is a previous winner of the 2007-2008 Pre-College Concerto Competition.
He loves to compose music as well as performing. His composition for violin and piano titled “Major Minor” was performed at the Long Island Composers Alliance Student Concert this past spring.
When speaking with his mom, she said Martin has natural music ability and perfect pitch from growing up listening to music echo throughout the house. Yet, he still puts in a lot of time and effort. “He is playing at a level where he must work hard, as anyone would regardless of how much natural talent they have,” Vaillancourt said
While preparing for the concert, Martin practiced seven hours a week, sometimes unwillingly. “Sometimes certain songs can get really annoying,” said Martin.
After an excellent performance at the Staller Center, his parents have decided to let him take a break and work his way back up to practicing 45 minutes a day.
If he is not making music, or busy with schoolwork, Martin likes to build things and hang out with his friends. When he is not practicing violin, he plays guitar and is learning how to play piano. He listens to all types of music, from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles. He loves basketball and soccer but sometimes he likes to just relax and watch TV.
“I don’t think I’m going to have a career in music because it’s a big commitment and I’m not all that good.” Martin said modestly. He aspires to be a biomedical engineer, but is going to keep the tradition of music in his family.
At the end of his performance, Martin took a bow in his fuzzy slippers and the audience rowdily applauded. His sister Eva ran to the stage and handed Martin a bouquet of roses. His smile was wide and his cheeks tinted pink as he walked proudly off the stage.
According to Deaver, this concert is a highlight for the orchestra each year. When Hershkowitz and Deaver were asked if they thought the concert was a success, both responded, “Absolutely.”
“It was an exhilarating experience that any kid would dream of having,” said Martin.