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A Veteran Performer At 16: Maria Ioudenitch

A teenager takes the stage tonight at Helzberg Hall with the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. And she’ll be right out front. 

The winner of this year's Young Artist Competition, Maria Ioudenitch is a musician who was literally born to play classical music.

A Family-Like Conservatory at Park

It’s early evening at the Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel, a 1930's gray stone church on a slope of the Park University campus. In the basement, two students speak quickly in Russian, walking past a row of practice studios.  Stanislav Ioudentich’s office door is open; there are two pianos side by side. A native of Uzbekistan, dark-haired and animated, Ioudenitch is the artistic director of Park’s International Center for Music

"We are able to create a very personal, sort of family-like Conservatory, boutique Conservatory as we say," says Ioudenitch. "With not many students, but ones who are getting our full attention."

In 2001, Ioudenitch was a gold medal winner at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas; it’s considered the world’s most prestigious competition for classical piano.

After a worldwide tour and recording, since 2003, he’s been building a growing music program at Park.

Next door, it's the office of Ben Sayevich – he’s on the faculty and Maria Ioudenitch’s violin teacher. That’s right – Stanislav’s daughter.

Partnership between Student and Teacher

"What is she (Maria) like as a student?" says Ben Sayevich. "Well, very challenging. She’s a very independent and wonderfully creative person."

With a shaved head, a salt and pepper goatee, and glasses, Sayevich has just stepped into his office studio for one of his twice weekly evening lessons with Maria. He teaches and keeps an active schedule as a chamber musician with the London-based Rosamunde Trio.

For Sayevich, who’s studied with teachers in Lithuania, Israel, and the United States, the student-teacher relationship is a partnership.

"You discuss things, you make decisions together about phrasings, about technical little elements of playing," says Sayevich. "That comes with the territory of such a complicated instrument as the violin."

Preparing Mentally for a Competition

Maria Ioudenitch was born in Russia. She started playing the violin at the age of 3 after her family moved to the United States. During her practice, she doesn’t look at the score on the music stand for Khachaturian’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

Maria Ioudenitch Plays During a Lesson by LauraSpencer

"I have to keep working on it, especially the tuning," says Maria. "How to say? How clean I have to play it, and there's also a lot of emotional input to that piece."

At 16, this year marked Maria’s first year of competitions. In February, she won the Kansas City Symphony’s Young Artist Competition – and a chance to perform the Concerto on stage with the orchestra. In March, she placed second in the 2012 Johansen International Competition for Young String Players in Washington, D.C.

Her teacher, Ben Sayevich, says competing can be tough psychologically. But it can help a musician create a thick skin.

"It’s like you cannot become a great person until your heart has not been broken once," says Savevich with a laugh.

A House Full of Music

On a quiet leafy street in south Overland Park, Kansas, Maria’s mother, Tatiana Ioudenitch, with large brown eyes, and flowing brown hair, is finishing up a piano lesson with a young student. A teacher and a concert pianist, Tatiana started taking music lessons at the age of 6 in the Soviet Union. She met her husband, Stanislav, at the Tashkent Conservatory in Uzbekistan.

"We listen to all kinds of music," says Tatiana. "Of course, classical is our work. This is the most profound and limitless in all aspects, in depth, in ideas, in feelings, in emotions."

Dressed in jeans, and a t-shirt, with her long brown hair tight in a braid, Maria settles into a couch in their performance room in the basement. She’s in 10th grade at The Barstow School in Kansas City, Missouri.

"After I get back from school, I have to practice probably 3, 3 – 4 hours," says Maria. "But if I’m preparing for a competition or a big concert, it’s a little more than that."

With the Kansas City Symphony performance coming up, on this night, Maria's poised to head back to Park University for another practice.

"Sometimes you have to make sacrifices, but it’s a busy life, and I really love it," she says.

A Tradition of Music in the Family

Maria’s father, Stanislav, grew up with a father, Vladimir, who was a violinist; his mother, Marina, and his grandmother were pianists. All were teachers. Both of Maria's parents say the instrument choice for their daughter came naturally.

"We just thought, 'Why not violin?' Just out of the blue," says Tatiana. Stanislav says that they decided to "just give her this little violin, and just make it natural. Without any drama. And it did work well and it was fun for her, she was just growing with the violin."

Stanislav says the recent competitions have changed Maria. They've given her a sense of achievement and "she discovered that she can" succeed.  He says she's matured and become more determined.

"I know how many sacrifices one needs to give for the career," he says. "But I think, if you ask me where I see her in the future, I see her on stage."

On Stage at Helzberg Hall

The day before one of the performances at Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Maria Ioudenitch stands on the stage near Kansas City Symphony Music Director Michael Stern's podium. The musicians welcome her to her first rehearsal with tapping bows and stomping feet.

Maria’s mother, Tatiana, is in the audience, a few rows from the stage. Just a few rows back, Maria's teacher, Ben Sayevich stands; he holds the music score, ready to take notes. In the next section, there's Maria's father, Stanislav. Maria’s first violin teacher, Gregory Sandomirsky, the Symphony’s Associate Concertmaster Emeritus, is on stage. And Maria begins to play.

Stanislav Ioudenitch says a friend once told him that to hear Ioudenitch play feeds his soul. He says that’s what musicians do, they give. And he says, even if Maria decides not to pursue music as a career – it will always be a part of her.

Maria Ioudenitch performs Khachaturian’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Mvt. 1) with the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall on May 23 and 25, 2012. The two Contributors' Concerts are open to volunteers and donors.

Check the Park University calendar for Maria's upcoming performances with the Youth Conservatory for Music or other concerts.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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