Violinist Tai Murray has come a long, long way from "Mississippi Hot Dog." In her Toledo Symphony debut on Saturday, Murray will perform Ravel's demanding "Tzigane" in the season's first Mozart and More concert.
Murray, 24, is a Juilliard School graduate who first discovered her love for the violin at age 2. She began lessons at age 5, first in the Shinichi Suzuki training program where every young fiddler learns first a renamed version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."
By age 8, Murray was soloing with the Chicago Youth Orchestra. One year later, she made her formal debut with the Chicago Symphony playing Mozart.
How appropriate, then, that the engaging young musician will first appear on a Mozart series here - even if not performing anything by the famed 18th-century composer.
Resident conductor Chelsea Tipton II says of the series he directs: "We try to pair Mozart's music with other composers' works and take a look at it from different perspectives."
Saturday's program begins with two Maurice Ravel works, including the piece Murray is to perform.
The other, "Le Tombeau de Couperin (The Tomb of Couperin)," is a 20th-century take on Baroque and Classical music inspired by French composer Francois Couperin (1668-1733). "It's neoclassical," Tipton continues. "A modern-day look at music from Baroque and Classical periods."
Murray is especially thrilled to perform the Ravel as it is part of her recital repertoire.
"It's the quintessential Gypsy piece," she said this week from her Manhattan apartment. "I'm looking forward to playing it with orchestra. I love Ravel; he started adventuring into not just the idea of music as sound but of sound itself."
A graduate of the renowned Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, Murray studied with the late Franco Gulli. He embodied the essence of dedicated teaching, she notes, adding that she hopes in the future to find time to teach her own students. Murray studied with Joel Smirnoff at Juilliard.
Today she maintains a breathless performing schedule, appearing with major orchestras in Dallas, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and St. Louis. She is a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and tours with Musicians from Marlboro, a chamber ensemble.
Murray, who is fluent in French and Japanese, knows she is one of a kind in the African-American music world: a classical violinist. And a female. Sometimes, she says, people don't believe her when she tells them about her career. "It's an unfortunate thing. It bothers me.
"It's nice to be one of something," she says. "On the other hand, when I'm practicing I'm not thinking I'm the only black violinist. I'm concentrating on learning a Beethoven concerto."
Tipton is looking forward to Murray's appearance here. "I worked with her in the Brooklyn Philharmonic and was blown away," he says.
And Murray's playing so impressed a former Toledo Symphony board member, Judy Sloan and her husband, Bill, that they loaned her a violin for her concert work. "It's a 2003 copy of an 18th-century Del Gesu instrument made by Mario Miralles," she said. "I just picked up the instrument 10 days ago in Washington."
The Sloans, who now live in California, won't be at the concert.
Violinist Tai Murray performs with the Toledo Symphony in the orchestra's season-opening Mozart and More concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Franciscan Theatre & Conference Center of Lourdes College, 6832 Convent Blvd., Sylvania. Tickets range from $29 to $33. Student tickets will be available for $5 at the door. Information: 419-246-8000.
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