Santa Barbara Junior High School students in teacher Karen Dutton’s third-period music class got a treat Friday morning when a star Canadian violinist playing an instrument worth $5 million gave them a private mini-performance.
Violinist Timothy Chooi stopped in to talk and play for about 12 students as part of the Santa Barbara Symphony’s Musical Mentors Program, which gives local students a chance to interact with visiting musicians.
Chooi is performing this weekend as guest soloist in the symphony’s “Classical Knockouts” concert program at The Granada Theatre.
He was introduced to the children by Amy Bassett, director of education and community outreach for the symphony, and Dutton said the students were excited to see Chooi play in person after watching several of his performances on YouTube before his in-class appearance.
“They were in awe,” Dutton told him.
Chooi began by asking the students what instruments they each played. He then played an expressive piece by composer Maurice Ravel, called “Tzigane” — French for gypsy, he told the students — and urged them to pay attention to the free-spirited composition.
As soon as Chooi began to play, the students were transfixed, with one in the front row turning to another and silently mouthing “wow” as the notes carried across the room.
Chooi played other pieces from different time periods, from baroque to neo-classical, asking the students what each piece reminded them of or what emotions it revealed.
He also spoke with the youths about his personal journey to music.
Chooi’s older brother, Nikki, is also a violinist studying at Julliard, and even as a toddler, Timothy wanted to play violin along with his older brother.
His parents gave him chopsticks to play with as a stand-in for the bow and instrument, and he was presented with his first violin at age 3.
“It was cute, but it didn’t have a very good sound,” he laughed.
He kept playing music as a hobby through high school and, as a 15-year-old, decided to audition for Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, where he was admitted and has been studying ever since.
Being a professional musician and a full-time student means he practices two to three hours a day during the week, but six to eight hours on the weekends.
Chooi had to audition for the instrument, which is one of only about 100 in the world.
At 20, Chooi has been able to travel the globe as a guest soloist for many orchestras, and he encouraged the students to continue pursuing music.
“It’s a very interesting life,” he told the students, who lined up for his autograph as the bell rang.
Chooi will perform with the Santa Barbara Symphony at 3 p.m. Sunday at The Granada, 1214 State St. Tickets are $38 to $133. Click here to purchase tickets online.