Elli Choi plays with the Sejong Soloists at Seoul Arts Center last Tuesday. / Courtesy of Sejong Soloists
Elli Choi, a violin prodigy
By Do Je-hae
Kang Hyo, a renowned violin professor at the Juilliard School, has taught numerous violin prodigies during his lengthy career at the prestigious U.S. school.
One of his prized pupils of late is Elli Choi, 11, who came to Seoul last week to perform at a benefit concert of the Sejong Soloists, a chamber music group founded by Kang. She wowed the audience with Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" last Tuesday at Seoul Arts Center.
Choi is the youngest recipient of an instrument from the Stradivari Society in Chicago; she is playing a three-quarter-sized violin made by Giuseppe Rocca of Turin in 1852.
A native of San Diego, Choi moved to New York to attend the pre-college division of the Juilliard School five years ago. She currently studies with Kang, who has taught star violinists including Gil Shaham and Sarah Chang.
During an interview with The Korea Times, Tuesday, the playful child violinist had some thoughtful answers when asked about her violin studies.
"I like how after hard work and after I've practice a lot, it really pays off and people like it," Choi said.
When she's on tour, the young violinist travels with her mother Choi Young-eun who previously studied piano in Germany.
She practices three hours every day while going to regular school during the week. Saturdays are spent at the Juilliard School taking lessons with Prof. Kang. She has also started to take composing seriously, having been selected for a program run by New York City to nurture young composers in cooperation with the New York Philharmonic.
When asked about violinists she looks up to, she said. "I don't have any, except for Midori."
Midori, also a former Juilliard student, is one of the most lauded violinists on the stage today. She currently divides her time between concerts and teaching at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California (USC).
"I like Midori because she's not only technical, but also musical. Her playing is well-balanced," Choi said. "I enjoy listening to her recordings, particularly Paganini's 24 Caprices and Bruch's Scottish Fantasy."
"I'm currently working on some short pieces by Sarasate and Wieniawski as well as Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto in D Major."
Although still a child, she is already a seasoned performer.
A soloist by age five, she performed with the Korean Symphony Orchestra in Seoul. When she was seven, Choi performed Mendelsshon's "Violin Concerto in E Minor" with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Premier Music College in Prague at the 5th Dubai International Peace Music Festival. She was eight when she performed Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" and Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy" with the Prague Youth Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ladislav Cigler at the Dvorak Hall in Rudolfinum, the Czech Republic, and toured with them again last spring, performing Paganini's "Violin Concerto No. 1."
Choi has performed at the Mann Music Center, the Verizon Hall of the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia (with members of The Philadelphia Orchestra), the Mozarteum Salzburg in Austria, the San Diego Civic Theater, and the Stradivari Society in Chicago.