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Juilliard violinist returns to his roots in El Cajon

El Cajon native Christian Gonzales, a violin student from Juilliard School of Music, is coming back to El Cajon to perform with his first orchestra, the East County Youth Symphony, as a soloist. The concert is on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Kroc Theater as a celebration of his success, his extraordinary talent, hard work, and his passion for violin and classical music.

“ECYS was founded 16 years ago, and Christian is our first alumnus who was accepted into Juilliard,” said East County Youth Symphony co-founder and Artistic Director Alexandra Keegan.

During his performance, Gonzales will play “F Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in e-minor” and Symphony No. 3 “Scottish.”
“Mendelssohn’s concerto is one of the top 10 favorite violin concertos in the world. Its music is bright, elegant, and sophisticated,” said Keegan. “The melodies flow beautifully building a perfect ear-pleasing form. I believe this concerto is always better when performed by a young violinist. I look forward to the Christian’s interpretation of this masterpiece, and I’m confident that it will be brilliant.”

Keegan said Gonzales joined the ECYS in 2012, while in middle school.

“The fact that ECYS was one of the stepping stones for him on the way up to Juilliard makes me very happy,” she said. “This upcoming concert is an exciting event for all of us – ECYS team, all donors who fund our tuition-free program for kids, and our audiences. Christian’s extraordinary talent, his passion for music, his hard work, and his success is an inspiration for our current students and hundreds of music kids from local schools who are coming to this performance. Sometimes, all it takes for a young musician to realize that anything is possible is to see someone who already made it through that path.”

Gonzales, now 23, went to Riverside Charter School in Lakeside, attended UCLA earning his bachelor’s degree in music performance, and will graduate from Juilliard in May 2024 with his master’s degree of music in violin under the mentorship of Greek violinist Areta Zhulla, who became the first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet in 2018, named Young Artist of the Year by the National Critics Association in Greece, and the Triandi Career Grant and Tassos Prassopoulos Foundation Award.

Gonzales said that his parents always wanted some type of music in his life.

“We had no intention that I would be professional, it was just something for me to enjoy and experience,” he said. “My dad, when he was younger played rock and blues guitar in the 70s. He was thinking of being a professional, but things changed and now he works as an engineer for the federal government. Growing up, I heard classical, rock, and started learning a little bit about piano, drums, and guitar. I started taking formal piano lessons in fourth grade when I was 9 at school. A year later, I started violin and fell in love with it and started seeing private teachers, kept on practicing, kept on listening to concerts.”

Gonzales said he joined the ECYS in sixth grade, performed for three years and then joined the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory, began competing, and performing before attending UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, earning his bachelor’s degree.

Gonzales said getting into Juilliard is extremely difficult and growing up he had no point of reference on how prepared he was for a high conservatory education.

“Even at UCLA, I had no idea if I would get in or not,” he said. “But my teachers told me to apply, and I did it. It was a great decision and I love the teacher I am working with,” he said.

Gonzales said youth orchestra gave him the exposure of playing with others, playing under a conductor, and learned how to be independent and express himself as an ensemble member,

“It is very important to your plate,” he said. “On the very minimal level, it makes you become very specific regarding the fundamentals. Rhythm and pitch, blending sound with a section, and keeps you alert. Not only do you have to know the music, but you must see and follow the conductor, hear the people around you, and hear the other sections. It is a lot of multitasking involved, both physically playing and musically.”

Gonzales said it is a “great honor” to be invited to come back and play with ECYS, especially the Mendelssohn Violine Concerto, which he learned in ninth grade.

“It is such a great, well-written concerto,” he said. “It can be exciting. It is so emotionally capturing as well. It is such a hallmark work of the violin repertoire. It is the first major romantic violin concerto that developing violinists learn. It is great to be back with the ECYS and it is also great to revisit this piece also.”

Gonzales said he mostly plays classical music, which is standard for violin training. At UCLA he was a member of the Mariachi de Uclatlán, the first collegiate mariachi ever founded,

“I also played at churches around El Cajon, so I play church music also,” he said. “And some rock and roll, similar to what my dad has done,” he said.

Gonzales said he wants to explore all the things he can do with the violin, as it has become more popular with performers like Lindsey Sterling bringing the instrument to an entirely different audience.

“I am getting into composition and hopefully when I graduate, I will explore more of that,” he said. “I have done some composing here and I want to do more of that. Mostly, for the classical musician it is focused on interpreting preexisting works and reinterpreting them in the modern, more personal lens. It is a historical reinterpretation of how it was done. There are many ways to see classical performance. Over the last century, composers and performers have been separated. Before that it was not always like that. The major composers, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn performed and composed their own works. Now, especially in conservatory, you compose, or you perform. If you look at popular music, they write music, so that is interesting to see.”

Named the winner of the 2022 Atwater Kent Concerto Competition, Gonzales was briefly loaned the 1732 Duke of Alcantara Stradivarius. He also achieved victories in the Musical Merit Foundation of Greater San Diego Competition, the La Jolla Young Artists Competition, the Grossmont Music Scholarship Council Competition, and instrument loans from the UCLA Philharmonia All Stars Concerto Competition. He has also won the Fenstermaker Scholar Award, the Presser Foundation Undergraduate Scholar Award, the Friends of East County Arts Scholarship, and the Carson Kemp Memorial Scholarship. Christian has also won the fellowships to the Tanglewood and Aspen festivals. He has appeared as a soloist with the UCLA Symphony, International Youth Symphony, Cuyamaca Chamber Orchestra. He has also performed as a recitalist for the Da Camera Society of Los Angeles, La Jolla Music Society, La Jolla Presbyterian Church Concert Series, Tanglewood Music Center, Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, Juilliard ChamberFest, and the UCLA Chancellor’s Residence Recital Series among other venues.

Special appearances include the groundbreaking ceremony of the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, composer Samuel Adler’s 95th birthday recital, and performances for the California State Senate and Rotary International. As an educator, Gonzales has taught violin privately since the age of 14. He has been a guest lecturer for the San Diego Youth Symphony and has given masterclasses for the Bruin Chamber Musicians at UCLA and the San Diego Christian Suzuki Strings. His students have won positions in youth orchestras and freelance throughout San Diego.

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