Violinist Joyce Zhao excels at music competitions


Sophie Charnell

Life-long musician: Zhao has been playing the violin since she was five years old.

Alexis Yi, staff writer

Bach, Schubert, Kreisler, and Sarasate: all these names fill the repertoire that junior Joyce Zhao, violinist extraordinaire, has under her belt. She has over a decade of musical experience and started entering music competitions in elementary school. Zhao’s been the concertmistress (principal first violin) of the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies’ premier Symphony orchestra for almost every semester since the eighth grade.

Zhao started playing when she was five years old, and now her practice volume is robust. When she’s not preparing for a competition, her practice sessions are around one to two hours a day; when a competition is approaching, the sessions are upwards of three hours. Sometimes, Zhao will come to the school at 7:00 AM to use the practice rooms. Her parents used to have to push her, but now they trust Zhao to get the job done. And she does; even when Zhao hits phases where she lacks motivation, she powers through. “I think everyone has those periods. It’s especially hard when you’re being swamped in schoolwork and extracurriculars, but you have a competition coming up,” Zhao said.

Over the years, Zhao’s achievements have been widely recognized. She has won prizes in the Schubert Scholarship Competition, the Thursday Musical Young Artist Scholarship Competition, the Mary West Solo Competition, and the Music Teachers National Association Student Competitions. She has played with professional orchestras, starting in the 4th grade with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and most recently with the Minnesota Sinfonia in 2016. As of now, she studies under Sally O’Reilly, Professor of Violin at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music. “She’s the one who pushes me to do all these competitions,” Zhao said. “Whenever something isn’t up to par, she’s not shy about showing it . . . she forces me to apply, which forces me to practice, which forces me to grow.”

Junior Jaehyun Hong has known Zhao since middle school. The two are teammates on Mock Trial and practice together during the Orchwinds rehearsals.“She’s an artist who knows how to phrase the music,” Hong said. “She captivates me every time she plays. To me, that’s what makes her a great musician.

Zhao plays flute in Concert Band, participates in Mock Trial, and takes AP classes. She doesn’t plan to make violin a major or minor in college, but she wants to keep it a hobby. When asked about her goal for the rest of high school, Zhao said she “just [wants to] keep having fun with it.”