Written by Carl Peters
In recent months, violinist Alana Youssefian has given performances at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall, at Yale University, as well as at venues in Texas, California, Washington and Canada. Videos of her performances on YouTube have reached tens of thousands of viewers. Next month she’ll be recording her first album, and she’ll be doing it in her hometown, in the church where her mother is still involved in the parish music program.
At one time Youssefian wore a Saint Rose of Lima School uniform, sang in the parish children and teen choirs, and listened to the Spice Girls with her friends. She now has degrees from Oberlin Conservatory, Rice University and The Julliard School, and she makes her living as a traveling soloist, wearing long gowns and performing Bach, Haydn and Vivaldi. Her specialty is “historical performance,” often working with musicians playing historical instruments.
Don’t think stuffy. Youssefian may be the image of sophistication and high art, and she’s given to saying things like, “I can’t recommend Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas enough.” But in her spare time she reads escapist fiction and listens to the Rolling Stones, the Beastie Boys and other popular music. Moreover, those who have seen her on stage describe a magnetic and exuberant performer. One admirer has referred to her as a baroque Lady Gaga.
Pre-performance excitement is always overcome by “a feeling of pure joy,” she said in an email interview.
And once the performance is over, she said, “the joy is compounded with a feeling of gratefulness to my colleagues and audience for the support and love they give back to me.”
“The most rewarding part of the job for me is when someone comes up after a concert and says ‘I used to think classical music was boring, but you changed my mind!’” she added.
Youssefian grew up in an atmosphere of both music and faith. Her mother is a pianist, her brother is a violinist and guitarist, and father is a drummer and guitarist.
“My mother, Ellen Youssefian, has been involved in the music program at Saint Rose Church since I was a baby, and she got me and my brother involved very young,” Youssefian said. She started playing the violin when she was 4 years old and eventually learned to improvise while playing hymns during church services.
“My favorite memories of Saint Rose are centered around my time in the choir, sharing beautiful music with my friends and the church community. Music has its own language and its own ability to touch people,” she said.
“My mom always told me and my brother that our music was a gift to be shared with the community, and I continue to remember that even in the craziness of the professional world,” she added. “I definitely consider my music as an expression of my spirituality; it has always felt like something bigger than me. I’m thankful every day that I’ve been given a gift that can bring so much joy to those who experience it.”
As a student at Oberlin Conservatory, Youssefian quickly became interested in historical performance.
“The approach to the music and the sound the historical instruments produce is so alive, way more relative to singing and speech,” she explained. “The historical repertoire also gave us some of the most beautiful sacred music you will ever hear.”
The album she will record at Saint Rose of Lima Church beginning Feb. 25 will be titled “Brilliance Indéniable: Virtuoso Violin in the Court of Louis XV.” It will feature never-before-recorded works for violin and chamber ensemble by the French composer Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, a virtuoso violinist in 18th-century Paris. Youssefian will be joined by friends Stephen Goist on violin, Matt Zucker on cello and Michael Sponseller on harpsichord.
Youssefian chose to make the recording in Saint Rose of Lima Church for both personal and professional reasons. She refers to the church as “the home of my musical upbringing.” In addition, for the music she will be playing, a church with good acoustics, like Saint Rose, is better than a studio, she said. “The type of music we will be recording is for historical instruments, which sound especially beautiful in the resonance of a church.”
Youssefian and her ensemble will give a performance of the music from the album on Thursday, Feb 28, 7:30 p.m. For more about Alana Youssefian, including recorded performances, go to her website www.alanayoussefian.com/