Adele Anthony and friend, both guesting with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra Friday night.


BLOOMINGTON — Adele Anthony's love affair with the violin began at as early an age as is physically possible.

In fact, at 2½, she was so tiny that her father, also a professional violinist, had to have a custom-made instrument built ... at one-sixteenth the scale of his own violin.

"It was very tiny, probably running from my elbow to my hand," she recalls.

But that's where it all begins: at a reduced scale, on the other side of the globe and then down under ... all the way to Tasmania, the southern island state of Australia.

Anthony's journey in the years since is bringing her our way, to the stage of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, where she is guest soloist for the Illinois Symphony Orchestra's first concert of the new year, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with maestro Ken Lam on the podium.

On the bill, dubbed "Two Titans": Mahler's First Symphony and Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade After Plato's 'Symposium'," the latter featuring Anthony and her violin ... no longer at one-sixteenth scale, needless to say.

"We were very isolated there," Anthony says of her Tasmanian upbringing. 

Even so, the island had its own orchestra, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, of which her father was a member.

"I was always following him around the house, imitating him on a brush and comb," she recalls. "A friend of his was beginning the very first Suzuki (method ) violin group in Tasmania and he suggested that I join."

So little Adele, age 2½, her scaled-down violin in tow, showed up, ready to make some music.

Even at the early age, "I knew I definitely enjoyed the violin."

Her life's path was set, eventually taking her from Tasmania to Adelaide, the coastal capital of South Australia. 

She was all of 6 years old then.

"I continued my studies and was very fortunate to have the opportunity to perform with orchestras there," she says.

"When I was 17, I applied to the Juilliard School in New York. It was very much an unknown thing ... I'd never been to America before, and I didn't know if I'd like being music school. So, to hedge my bets, I applied to medical school at the same time."

Not only did she like music school, she loved it.

"It was such an eye-opening experience to see so many people the same as me from all over the world who'd spent their whole lives playing their instruments. And we were all thrown together into this wonderful melting pot."

A turning point for Anthony was winning the Denmark-based Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in 1996, which opened the door wide to her career as an acclaimed concerto soloist, recitalist and chamber musician

Despite coming from the other side of the globe, Anthony has a Central Illinois connection: Her husband, fellow professional violinist Gil Shaham, is a native of Champaign-Urbana.

The couple met at Juilliard.

"We studied with the same teacher ..." and the rest is history.

Anthony and Shaham still call New York home, where they have three children, and make it a point to never be away from home at the same time.

It involves some creative juggling of tour itineraries, but she says they've found a system that works. 

"We work around our schedules ... we're very fortunate that we have the same management, which makes the coordination much easier," Anthony says.

"It's a challenge sometimes ... we can't do everything that comes along and have to prioritize."

As for her performance this weekend, Anthony says she is excited to be performing a Bernstein piece in the composer's centenary year (born Aug. 15, 1918).

"Serenade After Plato's 'Symposium'," she says, "is a piece I love to play ... I was first exposed to it at Juilliard, and was captivated by it. It's still extremely accessible for the listener, with a lot of variety over its five movements."

If you like Bernstein's better-known "Candide Overture," then, promises Anthony, "you'll love this ... it is such joyous music from a master of song."


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