Montgomery County high-schooler Eileen Moudou added one more accomplishment to her musical resume when the 17-year-old violinist was named the winner of the Frederick Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition.
Moudou has studied violin for the past nine years, earning first place laureate in the junior division at the District’s Joseph and Goldie Feder String Competition in 2012. She also made a TV appearance during NBC’s tribute to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and as a soloist performed for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
On March 5, Moudou will perform a solo piece at the Frederick Symphony Orchestra’s concert at Frederick Community College. 72 Hours caught up with her to talk about how she came to love the violin, what inspires her, and what she has planned for after high school.
How did you become interested in playing the violin when you were 8?
In fourth grade, we were finally allowed to pick an instrument to join either band or orchestra, and I had always admired my older friends who were already in the orchestra. I picked the violin because I thought it had a pretty nice sound, and it was cool that they were always seated in the front of the orchestra! I’m just thankful that it didn’t end up being a “phase” that I dropped in middle school. Violin has stuck with me ever since.
When did you realize you were talented?
The definition of “musically talented” seems to vary from person to person. I personally think being musically talented has less to do with what comes from my violin than just having a love of music and an urge to convey this to an audience. For example, I see a rich vibrato as a means for me to show an audience that a particular part in the music is really passionate. However, to answer the question somewhat, I only got the courage to compete [in the Frederick Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition] this past year. I’m constantly doubting my abilities, so it took a lot for me to look objectively at myself as a musician and say, ‘Yeah, you can’t avoid this anymore — time to put yourself out into the real world!’
How much time do you spend playing the violin? Do you feel you miss out on anything?
I spend about two to three hours each day practicing, but I don’t always manage to practice each day. I make up for this somewhat by playing in my youth orchestra, the Maryland Classical Youth Philharmonic, and with our quartet, the Maryland Classical Youth Orchestra Liedergelt Quartet. Most of my time is spent either rehearsing and performing with these guys, or practicing their music and other music. I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on anything because I’m so satisfied with what I’m doing with my music right now. I honestly couldn’t imagine life any other way. Furthermore, being active in music has brought me in touch with other facets of the extracurricular world, so I kind of get the best of both worlds.
What have been some of your favorite performances to watch?
Probably the studio recitals my private teacher hosts every winter and spring. It’s great being able to watch the growth of all the students between each benchmark and seeing younger kids handle the difficulties of playing that I was also going through at that age. They’re sort of a time capsule in a way.
What about performances you’ve been in?
One of my favorites was with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America when we premiered a commissioned piece by Tan Dun titled “Passacaglia: Secret of Winds and Birds.” It was a really cool piece that featured inventive techniques on the string instruments, called for the use of eight rocks at one point in the percussion, and even required the use of cell phones, both from the orchestra members and from the audience. It was quite interesting to rehearse and perform, and sounded absolutely gorgeous when we had perfected it. It was our opening piece for the concerts, and in my opinion, it was the perfect piece to open with.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment so far is probably getting accepted into the National Youth Orchestra. It’s an orchestra that meets every summer for about a month, the first few weeks of which are spent in residency in New York City, closed with a Carnegie Hall performance and then followed by a tour wherever Carnegie chooses. This past year, they visited China, and this coming summer, they’re headed for Europe. They also bring in really cool conductors and soloists, and this, combined with the sheer number of talented applicants, made getting in so competitive that I almost didn’t apply. I’m so glad I did though, because it was truly a life-changing experience, and I made some of my best friends there.
How did you feel when you won the competition?
I was pretty shocked, honestly. I knew that everyone who applied was beyond talented, and I personally didn’t know if I could match that level. It was really such an honor to win, and I’m extremely humbled to be recognized.
You are a co-founder of a free club called Tutti, where you help young children learn how to play instruments. Do you enjoy teaching music as much as you enjoy playing?
Yes! From the start, my teacher, Lya Stern, has been the main reason I have been successful in anything violin-related, and all my musical inspiration comes from her. I love teaching music to younger kids because I get to be a part of that same musical inspiration for them, and I get to pass on that same wisdom that I got from Mrs. Stern when I was their age.
What are your plans after high school?
I’m going off to college where I’ll be spending a lot of time figuring out what my passions are and how to turn them into majors. I know that I’ll be keeping my violin right next to me, but to what extent, I have yet to decide.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I honestly have no idea. I’m pretty bad at making decisions, and pretty good at procrastinating, so I’m going to try and put off making those life-changing decisions until the last minute. And because, of course, that means that more life will have happened to me before I make those choices, who knows what I’ll end up being influenced by? I am, however, looking forward to the spontaneity of it all.
How excited are you to work with the Frederick Symphony Orchestra and appear in its March concert?
Very excited! I can’t wait to perform with them. This will be the first time I have soloed with an orchestra, and I look forward to seeing what playing with the FSO is like.
This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.