What motivates a young girl to aspire to the often solitary life of a concert violinist? In the case of Canadian artist Karen Gomyo, it was a special performance she attended at the tender age of five.
"The Japanese violinist Midori was in town," she says in a phone interview from Atlanta, where she was performing with the Atlanta Symphony. "My mom, who is Japanese, thought, since I was taking violin lessons: 'Why don't we take Karen?'"
Gomyo was entranced and made her decision then and there. "After seeing Midori, I just wanted to do what she was doing," she said. "To have all those musicians behind you -- it is unique."
This talented 30-year-old violinist is making her Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (MCO) debut in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Nov. 21. She's played here before, with Virtuosi Concerts and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Gomyo grew up in Montreal, where she began studying the violin via the popular Suzuki method. "I didn't know it, but my teacher sent a tape of me playing to Dorothy Delay, who was giving a Suzuki teachers master class in Chicago. Ten kids were chosen to play in the master class and I was one of them."
By age 11, Gomyo found herself studying with Delay at the Juilliard School in New York City. Her mother moved with her and Gomyo calls New York home base to this day. "It was a very serious move at a young age," she recalls, "and I was intimidated at first because there were so many students who were better than me, but I was ready to commit to whatever came my way."
Gomyo persisted, studying there for eight years before transferring to Indiana University to work with Maurizio Fuks, and later to New England Conservatory to study with Donald Weilerstein.
Even as a student her performance career had already begun and she travelled a great deal. Despite her busy schedule, she graduated with an artist diploma, the highest-level designation offered by the school, designed especially for gifted performers.
Gomyo will play Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K 219 -- "Turkish" in next week's concert.
"All five Mozart violin concertos are special," she says of her repertoire choice. "They were all composed in the same year -- when he was a teenager -- and yet they are all different and increasingly difficult. This one is the most difficult. It is technically more advanced -- and musically perfect. Despite all the movements being in a major key, there is great character and an intimate feeling about it that is nostalgic; something that makes you cry. That was his genius."
Gomyo is much in demand and thrives on performing, despite a gruelling concert schedule. She will be on stages throughout North America until February when she heads to Sweden, then on to Germany in March and Hong Kong in April.
"There are some months when I am only home for a few days," she says, admitting that travel can be tough. "I don't like waiting in lines at airports and I don't like being in an airplane."
Constantly dealing with jet lag takes its toll. "It's unnatural for our bodies," she says. "I didn't notice it so much when I was a teenager, but now I do." And once she gets to her destination, the challenges continue. "You don't always get a good night's sleep if the hotel walls are thin and you don't always get healthy food. I find that difficult. I travel with my vitamins, try to exercise and wash my hands a lot."
Finding time to practise is a bit of a feat. "I am learning the Britten concerto for the first time," she explains, "and I have to do it in bits and pieces. It's not like when you're a student and you have all the time in the world to learn a piece. Now, concert dates are deadlines."
There is also an emotional side to touring. "It can get pretty lonely," Gomyo confesses. "But when I go home to New York I get re-energized, just being there and seeing my friends." She is engaged and plans to get married in September 2013, schedule permitting. "Otherwise it will have to wait until 2014," she says with a laugh, ever the professional.
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at Westminster United Church. Tickets are $26.50/adults, $24.50/seniors, $7.50/students, and are available at McNally Robinson, the West End Cultural Centre, Organic Planet, or through the MCO website (themco.ca) or MCO's Ticketline (783-7377).