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A musician returns to Shelter Island

COURTESY PHOTO World-renowned violinist and Perlman Music Program alumnus Stephen Waarts returns to the Island for a concert this Saturday evening.
World-renowned violinist and Perlman Music Program alumnus Stephen Waarts returns to the Island for a concert this Saturday evening.

When 13-year-old Perlman Music Program (PMP) student Stephen Waarts arrived on Shelter Island in 2010, he remembers feeling “totally overwhelmed by it all.”

Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, the aspiring violinist applied to the program at the last-minute after being introduced to Itzhak Perlman by one of his music teachers. He sent in a tape of himself playing the violin and landed one of 40 coveted positions in one of the most higly-regarded music education programs in the world.

The experience of meeting Mr. Perlman and being surrounded by kids his own age who shared his passion for music was “incredibly surreal,” Mr. Waarts said.

Mr. Waarts now performs worldwide as a professional violin soloist and chamber musician. He won the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Violin Competition in 2015 and is one of five recipients of Lincoln Center’s 2017 Avery Fisher Career Grant, which gives professional assistance and recognition to talented instrumentalists who “have great potential for solo careers,” according to Lincoln Center’s website.

Looking forward to returning to Shelter Island on Saturday, August 18, Mr. Waarts will perform a violin recital of Faure, Ravel, Schumann, and Stravinsky at 7:30 p.m. The performance is part of PMP’s Stires-Stark Alumni Recital Series.

“It’ll be so nice for me because I haven’t been back to Shelter Island since 2013, and PMP is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life as a musician,” said Mr. Waarts, who was a PMP student or “Little” every summer from 2010 to 2013.

The Perlman Music Program is an intensive, seven-week course for “exceptionally gifted” 13- to 18-year-old students of the violin, viola, cello, and bass that takes place at the Shore Road campus every summer.

Led by Itzhak Perlman, a world-renowned Israeli-American violinist and conductor, he’s conducted symphony orchestras around the world and performed at Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration in 2009. To his students, he is simply known as “Mr. P.”

After PMP students graduate, they are encouraged to apply for the exclusive Chamber Music Workshop, attend travel residencies, and enjoy life-long membership in PMP.

About participating in the intensive program as a youngster, Mr. Waarts remembers waking up at 7 a.m., eating breakfast and practicing from 8:30 to 12:30. There were lessons, chamber music coaching sessions and a nightly chorus where students, faculty and staff all joined together in song.

“I have so many happy memories from there,” Mr. Waarts said, noting that PMP’s teaching philosophy is centered around a belief in nurturing the “development of the whole person,” as opposed to just the musician.

His peers were all dedicated musicians — they had to be dedicated to gain admittance into the program — but they were also “just really nice people, for the most part.”

“The Perlmans [Mr. Perlman and his wife Toby] were all about nurturing the community environment,” he added.

Mr. Waarts said he loves the “sense of exploration” involved in getting to know the instrument. “It’s a way of communicating that I couldn’t do without,” he said.

As he travels the world to perform, he still looks back on his summers spent at PMP as being some of the most formative times of his life.

“The summers between 13 and 17 are really important times in peoples lives, so all the teachers that I had were really influential,” he said. “Just today I was working on a chamber piece and was remembering all of the fundamentals that chamber music at PMP taught me.”