Violinist Rachel Lee Priday prepares Brahms for GJ performance
Some children fall asleep to soft lullabies or the soothing whirrr of a fan. Rachel Lee Priday fell asleep to Johannes Brahms’ “Violin Concerto.”
“It was one of my favorite pieces when I was 8 years old. I would go to sleep listening to this piece,” Priday said in a phone interview in advance of traveling from New York to Grand Junction.
The concerto became so familiar, it was rather like memorization by sound osmosis when she actually began playing the piece on her violin.
Her ears had it down, but her fingers need more repetition, she said.
It became more natural by middle and high school. “I just feel like I know it inside and out,” said Priday, 28.
“This is some of my favorite repertoire. It’s a beloved piece,” Priday said. “It’s one of the reasons I sort of envisioned myself as a violinist. I feel I love it even more and am really glad to have the chance to play it.”
Priday will join the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra for “Lee Plays Brahms” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 4, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 5, at Avalon Theatre.
She also will perform recitals titled “Appalachian Spring” with pianist Susan Ellinger on March 11 at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts in Paonia and March 12 at the Write Opera House in Ouray.
While Priday is in western Colorado, she plans to give a masters class at Colorado Mesa University and play an outreach concert for students at Paonia schools.
Priday is “extremely clean and precise. She’s pretty much a flawless player,” said Kelly Anderson, executive director for the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra.
She’s at the top of her profession, but at the same time, very modest, Anderson said. “We’re very lucky to get her.”
Priday has played in concert halls and with symphonies around the globe. Her orchestral debut was at age 9 at the Aspen Music Festival in 1997 while studying with the late pedagogue Dorothy DeLay.
“All her students went out there to Aspen,” said Priday, recalling Colorado in the summertime as a child.
Priday also studied at the Julliard School Pre-College division with Itzhak Perlman, and earned degrees from Harvard University and the New England Conservatory.
But she started with the Suzuki Method at age 4, practicing about 30 minutes a day. That became an hour, and then three hours when she was about 8, she said.
“You just kind of build it up,” she said of making practice a habit.
“My strength and my weakness is I’m really stubborn,” Priday said. “I don’t think any young kid loves to practice for hours, but I feel there was some reverse psychology” going on.
She didn’t want to practice, but if she thought her practice time was in danger she would only practice more, Priday said.
“It was clear that I loved the violin and was very serious from the start,” she said.
Along the way she began naming her violins. Her quarter-size violin was Sofia.
The violin she played the longest, nine years, was made by Pietro Guarneri of Mantua, and she named it Herbert. “That was my first real love.”
She now performs on Alejandro, a Nicolo Gagliano violin made in Naples in 1760. Alejandro is double-purfled with fleure-de-lis and “quite ornate,” she said.
And if you’re sitting close enough during Priday’s performances with the symphony, you may just be able to spot those decorations as Priday awaits the solo entrance to Brahms’ “Violin Concerto.”
The orchestra is in the spotlight for at least a couple minutes at the beginning of the piece, and Priday said she will be listening as the orchestra plays the themes for the first time — “it’s not like you can sit there and tune it out.”
“It’s such as massive work. It’s almost symphonic in scale. The orchestra plays a really big role,” Priday said. “It’s really an orchestral collaborative effort,” and as the soloist “it’s almost like I’m emerging from the orchestra.”
Learn about Priday at rachelleepriday.com, and the Grand Junction Symphony at gjso.org.