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Violinist's musical journey to SLSO started with 'Sesame Street'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 25, 2012 - Celeste Golden Boyer may have “Sesame Street” to thank, at least in part, for her musical career. While Golden Boyer grew up in a musical family in Texas, and still has early memories of hearing music in church, her introduction to playing a musical instrument came about through television.

“When I was 3, I remember watching a violinist play on ‘Sesame Street’ and really being fascinated,” recalls Golden Boyer, now 28. “When my mom asked me if I wanted to play the violin, I said sure. And since my grandfather also worked in a music store, he brought one home for me to play.”

Golden Boyer enjoyed playing the violin, but like most children, she was also interested in many other activities. So when a professional musician – and violinist – moved into her neighborhood, it was a  minor event to her at the time but eventually had a profound impact on her.

“When I was 9, a violinist with the Dallas symphony, Arkady Fomin, moved into our neighborhood,” says Boyer. “My parents were excited about introducing me to him, but I was nervous because I really didn’t think I was very good at playing the violin. When we did meet, he listened to me play and was very kind. Evidently, he heard something he thought was worthwhile,and really poured himself into helping me to improve.”

Fomin took on Golden Boyer as a regular student and soon changed the way she approached playing music. He also gave her access to the musical experiences that helped her decide to become a professional musician.

“I remember that Mr. Fomin asked me soon after he started teaching me, how much I was practicing every day,” says Golden Boyer. “When I said about 45 minutes a day, he told me right away I needed to play for three hours!

“Later, I remember he got tickets for me and my family to the Dallas symphony,” she adds. “We kept walking down the aisle closer and closer to the stage and found out we were in the first row! That was so amazing hearing the symphony that close."

Later, Fomin chose her to be the soloist for a youth orchestra performance of a Haydn concerto.

“Mr. Fomin told me I was going to play a Haydn concerto in the youth orchestra that he directed in Dallas,” remembers Golden Boyer. “That was something that was a real challenge for me, but it also turned out to be a major achievement personally. But the real turning point for me came when I heard the symphony play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto live. I was about 11 years old, and I remember thinking, that’s what I really want to do.”

Since her mother home schooled her, she could devote considerable time to practicing the violin, and soon the young musician was performing with various orchestras throughout the Dallas area – and even overseas in Latvia.

“Mr. Fomin was originally from Latvia,” says Golden Boyer. “So he was able to arrange for me to go to Latvia and perform with the Latvian chamber orchestra in Riga.”

At the age of 15, Golden Boyer decided to audition for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She and her mother drove to Houston for the audition. She was quickly accepted into the program and studied with Jaime Laredo and Ida Kavafian.

“I was actually surprised when I got a phone call back after the audition that I was accepted to Curtis,” says Golden Boyer. “I ended up moving to Philadelphia in the fall of 2000 at the age of 16 with my mom and graduated in 2005.”

While she was attending Curtis, Golden Boyer also was awarded a fellowship to attend the annual Aspen Music Festival for three years. It was there that she first met Saint Louis Symphony concertmaster David Halen, who has taught at Aspen for several years.

Generations

When asked to name two younger musicians in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra whom he admired for their talent and potential, concertmaster David Halen quickly mentioned two violinists. One was Celeste Golden Boyer. The Beacon sat down with Boyer to discuss her own musical background and development - and experience working with Halen.

Golden Boyer’s talent as a violinist immediately impressed Halen. But as he continued to work with her and play alongside her at the festival, he also recognized other qualities that set her apart from the other young musicians.

“Celeste has a combination of skills as a violinist that span across all the specialties – from playing with an orchestra and in a chamber music ensemble to being a featured soloist,” says Halen. “And as I learned when I worked with her at Aspen and subsequently with the symphony, she has the talent, leadership and a personal style that makes everything she plays beautiful, and that allows her to go beyond expectations at every turn.”

Golden Boyer also recognized Halen’s ability as an instructor and was thrilled when he asked her if she would be on the substitution musician list for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

“David was such a wonderful teacher and musician,” she says. “And he was kind enough to put me on the sub list for the symphony. I played at Powell Hall for the first time in 2006 and was lucky enough to be called back several times. Finally, in 2011, I was asked to be a member of the symphony.”

Given Golden Boyer’s impressive resume since graduating from Curtis in 2005, the offer to join the St. Louis Symphony was not surprising. Besides her master’s of music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2007, she took the bronze medal at the prestigious International Violin Competition in Indianapolis in 2006. She gained experience as a concertmaster with the New York String Orchestra as well as the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York for the premiere of John Adams’ opera, “A Flowering Tree” in 2009.

In her role as second associate concertmaster, Golden Boyer sits immediately behind Halen and makes sure his musical directives are communicated as effectively as possible throughout the violin section.

“The most important thing is to make sure that whatever David is instructing us to do on a specific piece gets communicated all the way back through the section,” explains Golden Boyer. And it’s my job to replicate what David is doing and communicate it wordlessly.”

It’s a task at which Golden Boyer excels, according to Halen, and just one aspect of her musical versatility.

“I really admire Celeste’s ability to be supportive in terms of her duties as an assistant concertmaster,” says Halen. “And she’s also ready to share her own thoughts about making the sound of the section and the orchestra as good as it can be on every composition.”

Golden Boyer performed her first solo piece as a member of SLSO last November with a well-received performance of Saint-Saens “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra."

This summer, she will expand her experience as a concertmaster with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, filling that role for both “Sweeney Todd” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

And Golden Boyer is looking for other musical opportunities outside traditional classical performances as well.

“I had the opportunity to play with some other string players alongside Erin Bode and her band a few months ago,” she says. “That was one of my favorite things, and I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to do similar things -- as well as more chamber music performances.”

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