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Holladay Journal

Two Holladay teen prodigies to play free concert at Holladay City Hall

Jun 04, 2019 02:48PM ● By Sona Schmidt-Harris

Two Holladay teens, Ezekiel Sokoloff (left) and Caroline Durham, win their respective string divisions at the MTNA Music Competition in Spokane, Washington. The duo will perform a free concert at Holladay City Hall on June 6 at 7 p.m. (Photo courtesy Holladay Arts Council)

By Sona Schmidt-Harris | [email protected] 

Two Holladay teens, Caroline Durham and Ezekiel Sokoloff, won their respective string divisions at the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Competition in Spokane, Washington.  

“I just want to give a broad perspective. If these were athletes, football players or basketball players, they would be front-page news,” Eugene Watanabe said.  Watanabe is founder of the Gifted School in Salt Lake City where both Caroline and Ezekiel “Zeke” study. 

“To have two of them win their respective age categories is really quite an asset for the city,” he said.

A composed young woman, Durham has a restrained yet direct way of speaking.

"I was required to play 25–30 minutes of music in the final round of the competition. I chose contrasting pieces from different periods including the third movement of Bach's ‘Sonata No. 2 in A minor,’ the first movement of the Beethoven ‘Sonata No. 2’ and the third movement, cadenza and fourth movement of the Shostakovich’s ‘Violin Concerto No. 1,’" she said.

Durham, who has a special affinity for Shostakovich, said, “Shostakovich is one of my favorite composers because of the way he communicates emotion through his music. Because of his experience living in Russia at the time of Stalin, the emotion he expresses is raw, abstract and powerful." 

A senior at Skyline High School, Durham will be pursuing a double major in music and neuroscience at Julliard and Columbia in New York City. She wants to study how music affects the brain.

Watanabe said, “Just to give perspective, to get into Julliard, which is arguably by name the most famous school in the world, they take about 15 to 16 undergraduate students — that’s globally, we’re not talking just the US. To be among that crowd, the equivalent in sports would be like getting selected to be a quarterback at Alabama or a point guard at Duke.”

“She and Zeke represent in their age categories the handful of kids, maybe four or five, that are at that elite level.”

Zeke is serious and makes excellent eye contact with adults, but somehow retains the exuberance of youth in the very eyes that meet adults head on.

In the final round of the Junior String Performance Division, Zeke, 13 years old, performed the last movement of Paganini’s “Violin Concerto in D Major,” one of the most difficult violin pieces to perform.  

Zeke said, “What makes it so difficult to perform is not just technically but getting the right style as well — the Italian opera style to the piece — putting that over the technique is the most difficult. Most of his compositions are inspired by Italian operas.”

“Zeke, doing the Paganini concerto, for example, is the equivalent of doing a quad in figure skating,” Watanabe said.

In the final round, Zeke also played Prokofiev’s “Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor,” first movement; and the third movement of Bach’s “Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor.” 

Zeke enjoys the constant progression and betterment he attains from practicing.

An admirer of Bach, he likes the way Bach was able to write very complex pieces with multiple voices. He also enjoys Tchaikovsky, whom he believes has a very romantic and balletic style.

Zeke has been playing the violin for about seven and a half years.

Regarding Durham and Zeke, who will perform a free concert at 7 p.m. on June 6 at Holladay City Hall, Watanabe said, “They’re models of working hard, not quitting, having the discipline to do it every single day, practicing every day for those number of hours — training alone is hard work.”

“Both Caroline and Zeke are outstanding academic achievers as well, and regardless of whether they become professional musicians or not, they’re equipping themselves to succeed in any field that they end up doing. I think that the message is that the community should celebrate those kinds of kids, and also create as an example to other kids that you can achieve this too if you’re willing to work, and these opportunities will open huge doors for these kids.”